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

  • Jason Rabin

    Not just a deep dive into the Boston origins of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, but a mosaic of the music and cultural scene surrounding them--centered in 1968, with flashbacks, flash forwards and on-theme digressions. As a participant in the local music scene who wasn't yet born in 1968 but very much lives in its aftermath, I can say that my understanding has been greatly expanded by this colorful, insightful and well-researched piece of rock journalism. The word "Astral" itself has new rippling s

    Not just a deep dive into the Boston origins of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, but a mosaic of the music and cultural scene surrounding them--centered in 1968, with flashbacks, flash forwards and on-theme digressions. As a participant in the local music scene who wasn't yet born in 1968 but very much lives in its aftermath, I can say that my understanding has been greatly expanded by this colorful, insightful and well-researched piece of rock journalism. The word "Astral" itself has new rippling spiderwebs of meaning having read this. Wicked fun and infahmative.

  • Tad Richards

    You might expect a book that takes Van Morrison’s legendary album title for its own, and suggests that it will be about Morrison’s time in Boston creating this breakthrough music, to actually be about that.

    The bad news is that if that’s what the book is supposed to be about, it does get a little lost in digressions.

    The very good news is that the digressions—Boston’s counterculture in the year of Counterculture ascendant—are far more interesting than a linear book about Van Morrison and the ma

    You might expect a book that takes Van Morrison’s legendary album title for its own, and suggests that it will be about Morrison’s time in Boston creating this breakthrough music, to actually be about that.

    The bad news is that if that’s what the book is supposed to be about, it does get a little lost in digressions.

    The very good news is that the digressions—Boston’s counterculture in the year of Counterculture ascendant—are far more interesting than a linear book about Van Morrison and the making of Astral Weeks could ever have been.

    Closer than Van the Man to the center of the book is Mel Lyman, the guru of a commune/cult who started as a banjo player, claimed to be God, and built a little empire that outlasted him (he died at some point, no one is exactly sure when) and still exists today.

    For a book about the counterculture, politics and lifestyles, Astral Weeks is surprisingly good about music. For a book about music, it’s surprisingly good about the counterculture, politics and lifestyles. Walsh is a terrific researcher, diligent in tracking down and interviewing more primary sources than one would imagine possible, and he has a clear-eyed understanding of the importance of all of his sources and all of his subjects.

    And Mr. Walsh, if you read your Goodreads reviews, I’d love to get a contact for David Silver, an old and dear friend I’ve lost touch with.

  • 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.

  • John Spiller

    Before purchasing "Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968" by Ryan Walsh, you need to know a few things. (Don't worry, there's no spoilers.) First, it is not one of those book length explorations of the making of a classic rock album in the style of the 33 1/3 Series. Yes, Walsh explores how Van Morrison came to record "Astral Weeks," but it more of a point of departure than the crux. Second, this is not a book length exploration of a given year, a la Jon Savage's "1966". I didn't keep count, bu

    Before purchasing "Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968" by Ryan Walsh, you need to know a few things. (Don't worry, there's no spoilers.) First, it is not one of those book length explorations of the making of a classic rock album in the style of the 33 1/3 Series. Yes, Walsh explores how Van Morrison came to record "Astral Weeks," but it more of a point of departure than the crux. Second, this is not a book length exploration of a given year, a la Jon Savage's "1966". I didn't keep count, but it seemed that Walsh spent more time before or after 1968 than he did in the titular year in question. Third, "Astral Weeks" jump cuts and free associates in a way that will likely annoy folks looking for a fairly linear chronicle.

    Putting aside the doubly misleading book title and the somewhat discursive narrative, is "Astral Weeks" worth reading? I enjoyed it, but I tend to be indulgent of these hippy-dippy Aquarian-age cultural histories. Perhaps a more accurate book title would have been "Mondo Boston," as Walsh spends most of the book documenting the various weirdos and weird scenes in Boston in the late 1960's. The malign center of the book is musician and cult leader Mel Lyman. Lyman was a banjo and harmonica player in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band whose weird charisma and messianic tendencies led to the formation of the Fort Hill Community, a more upscale and successful variant on the Manson Family. For me at least, Walsh's extended treatment of Lyman and the Fort Hill Community were the highlights of the book and easily eclipsed the sections discussing surly ol' Van Morrison. One hopes that Walsh would take a stab at the definitive account of the secretive -- and surprisingly still extant -- Fort Hill Community.

    Walsh covers a lot of territory, which leads to cursory and perfunctory treatment of stories that probably warranted more space. I frequently had the sense that Walsh was giving us the outtakes from bigger stories (Boston Strangler, Leary/Alpert, the Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman) that had been covered more extensively by others.

  • 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 (!!!):

  • Glenn

    This is a (too?) detailed account of events that occurred in Boston/Cambridge in 1968. A chapter is devoted to each of: the end of the folk scene, Van Morrison's band, the groundbreaking TV show "What's Happening Mr. Silver?", the opening of the Boston Tea Party, the start of WBCN, the James Brown concert the night after MLK was killed, the "Spiritualist" movement in Boston, and more. Many many chapters concern Mel Lyman's Fort Hill Community and the "Avatar" newspaper. Finally, there's a chapte

    This is a (too?) detailed account of events that occurred in Boston/Cambridge in 1968. A chapter is devoted to each of: the end of the folk scene, Van Morrison's band, the groundbreaking TV show "What's Happening Mr. Silver?", the opening of the Boston Tea Party, the start of WBCN, the James Brown concert the night after MLK was killed, the "Spiritualist" movement in Boston, and more. Many many chapters concern Mel Lyman's Fort Hill Community and the "Avatar" newspaper. Finally, there's a chapter at the end about Van Morrison and "Astral Weeks", which grew out of his stay in the area at the time.

    As I was a high-school senior hip to all this stuff at the time, I was really excited when I heard about this book and read it asap. Sadly, it just wasn't very interesting. It was really really dry, with little enthusiasm for the subjects and what they meant at the time, with the exception of the Van Morrison material. (The book grew out of a Boston Magazine article about Morrison.) The author was born years after 1968; maybe that's the problem -- it reads as a research paper. The biggest problem was the extensive coverage of messianic Mel Lyman and his commune, who wore out his welcome early, wasn't that interesting, and just wouldn't go away.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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