Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968

Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968

A mind-expanding dive into a lost chapter of 1968, featuring the famous and forgotten: Van Morrison, folkie-turned-cult-leader Mel Lyman, Timothy Leary, James Brown, and many more Van Morrison's Astral Weeks is an iconic rock album shrouded in legend, a masterpiece that has touched generations of listeners and influenced everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Martin Scorsese...

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Title:Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968
Author:Ryan H. Walsh
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Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 Reviews

  • Jennifer Ozawa

    I found this book utterly riveting. I had no idea about the Lyman compound or any of the bands profiled here. The best nonfiction books feel like stories, and this one did.

  • Andrea

    I did not expect it to be so beautifully written.

    Background: I graduated HS in the summer of 1968 in a town nearby to Boston and hid in my room and lived thru my radio. I visualized a lot of this since I could not get to Boston then.

    The story is really more about Boston popular culture in 1968 than about Van Morrison.

  • Whitney

    This book talked about a LOT of things I love. I did want to hear a little more about the general population and their experience of Boston in 1968 in contrast to the hippies and cult members and musicians he talks about here. The chapter on movies and the Boston strangler was my favorite because of that bigger picture stuff.

  • Christine

    I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways.

    There were so many interesting stories and back stories in this book, that it either needed to be longer or to shorten its scope. The Fort Hill Community alone could have taken up the entire book, as could Van Morrison and his time in Boston. Trying to mash them together, though in time period they really were in sync, does them both a disservice. Then you throw in everything else that was happening at around the same time--Dylan goes

    I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways.

    There were so many interesting stories and back stories in this book, that it either needed to be longer or to shorten its scope. The Fort Hill Community alone could have taken up the entire book, as could Van Morrison and his time in Boston. Trying to mash them together, though in time period they really were in sync, does them both a disservice. Then you throw in everything else that was happening at around the same time--Dylan goes electric, Timothy Leary's LSD experiments, Richard Alpert's spiritual quests, MLK's assassination, the creation of the Black Panthers, the manufacture of "the Bosstown Sound" and that's just some of it!--and everything gets kind of jumbled and glossed over. The interviews are fantastic and what does emerge from this portrait of a year is very good, but it needed either more (pages) or less (subject matter).

  • Matt

    My friend just wrote this one up:

    And so did I, for The Baffler (!!!):

  • Martin

    I enjoyed the book but the title is a misnomer. It is a collection of chapters on the various counterculture happenings in Boston in 1968. It spends a lot more time on the Mel Lyman cult than it does on Astral Weeks but it is never less than interesting.

  • Darcia Helle

    This book is weird, interesting, disjointed, and probably not what you expect.

    First, if you're a Van Morrison fan and you're expecting this book to center around him and the 'Astral Weeks' album, you'll be disappointed. What we have is a hodgepodge of stuff going on in the Boston area during the year Van Morrison lived in Cambridge. The author attempts to tie Van Morrison's presence and the album into everything else, or maybe the other way around, but it doesn't work. Van Morrison and the maki

    This book is weird, interesting, disjointed, and probably not what you expect.

    First, if you're a Van Morrison fan and you're expecting this book to center around him and the 'Astral Weeks' album, you'll be disappointed. What we have is a hodgepodge of stuff going on in the Boston area during the year Van Morrison lived in Cambridge. The author attempts to tie Van Morrison's presence and the album into everything else, or maybe the other way around, but it doesn't work. Van Morrison and the making of the album is actually a small part of this book, in part because his time in Cambridge was mostly irrelevant to the songs. You'll find almost all this content in the opening and closing sections, with tidbits and conjecture sprinkled now and then throughout the rest of the book.

    What this book really amounts to is an overview of everything that was happening in and around Boston in 1968. It feels like Walsh took a series of articles he'd written, grasped for a common thread that would get attention, and then crammed it all together.

    The major focus is actually on Mel Lyman, a musician who claimed to be God, and the small Fort Hill cult he organized. Even that aspect, however, is told in a haphazard way, in bits and pieces throughout, with no coherence to the storytelling method.

    Other topics touched on include music groups that either came from or wound up in Boston in 1968, including quite a bit about The Velvet Underground; true crime stories such as The Boston Strangler; movies and producers, including The Thomas Crown Affair; the Harvard Psilocybin Project, MK-Ultra experiments, Leary, Richard Alpert, and Andrew Weil; and a section about the Bridgewater State Prison for the Criminally Insane and a documentary made there (which was actually filmed in 1966.) The book is only 304 pages without the end notes, so that's a whole lot of content jammed into a short space.

    I found much of the content interesting because I grew up south of Boston, in the town of Bridgewater, not far from the prison. I was only 6 in 1968, so I don't remember any of this from personal experience, but the shadow of it all remained throughout my childhood. If you have no interest in the area, then I'm not sure this book will hold much appeal at all.

    *The publisher provided me with a review copy, via Amazon Vine, in exchange for my honest review.*

  • Faith

    I don't know for whom this book is intended. The title is clearly designed to lure fans of Van Morrison, and the lure worked on me. However, there is actually very little about Morrison and his work in this book. Instead there is a lot of random information about people and events in Boston around the same time that Morrison was there. There are gangsters, a folk music cult, happenings, psychedelic public television, a bank robbery and LSD. I couldn't have cared less about any of it and abandone

    I don't know for whom this book is intended. The title is clearly designed to lure fans of Van Morrison, and the lure worked on me. However, there is actually very little about Morrison and his work in this book. Instead there is a lot of random information about people and events in Boston around the same time that Morrison was there. There are gangsters, a folk music cult, happenings, psychedelic public television, a bank robbery and LSD. I couldn't have cared less about any of it and abandoned the book after about 130 pages. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  • Annie

    Guys, my phone's notes that were recording my thoughts on this book (read on a long train ride several weeks ago, I've been lazy about reviews) got accidentally deleted. So this will be a real short review.

    Basically, it was adequate for what it was, but ultimately the people written about are a bunch of sociopathic wankers and I'm not altogether interested in their lives (I only read this because it's set in Boston, where I live, and I've seen a lot of excited reviews about it). The musicians an

    Guys, my phone's notes that were recording my thoughts on this book (read on a long train ride several weeks ago, I've been lazy about reviews) got accidentally deleted. So this will be a real short review.

    Basically, it was adequate for what it was, but ultimately the people written about are a bunch of sociopathic wankers and I'm not altogether interested in their lives (I only read this because it's set in Boston, where I live, and I've seen a lot of excited reviews about it). The musicians and cult leaders written about are basically losers who accidentally got famous because they were lucky or disturbingly charismatic, not because they had anything substantial to say (fight me. This book quotes Van Morrsion himself in saying something about how all his music was just drunk ramblings and had no meaning. Cannot cite because, well, page numbers deleted. But it happened).

    The writing was fine. It was pretty clearly written but I can't say it held my attention. I'm not sure if that's purely because of the content or whether this was compounded by the writing style. I think the fact that it jumped around between various 60s celebrities made it less engaging for me.

    Whatever. If this era is your thing, have at it. I didn't love it.

    *Edit*

    I just remembered one thing of note- they talk about Mel Lyman and his Fort Hill "community" (cult). Fort Hill- with its Disney princess-worthy, Bavarian-style castle tower randomly dropped in a park in a neighborhood in Boston near me- is actually one of my favourite places in Boston! I had no idea the history of the area, including the fact that many of the cult members still live on the properties that border the park. Definitely something I'm going to think about next time I'm there :)

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