Music We Love.

White Bicycles: Making Music in the Sixties.
Joe Boyd.
review by William Gillespie

“The prediction that our biggest dilemma in the new millennium would be how to use the endless hours of leisure time freed up by computers has proved to be futurology’s least amusing joke.” (267)

This book has a soaring opening and closing that stand above most rock memoirs in the quality of the prose, but the body of the book is a meandering guitar solo, proficient but improvised. Joe Boyd’s life, like that of many 1960s rock memoirists, is remarkable for the number of historic people and events he was involved with. The names drop like heavy hail. The acts he was responsible for discovering, producing, and promoting are less impressive. There is a strange self-effacement; I was frustrated that I didn’t know what he felt or thought, whether he took drugs, or whether he loved the rock music he dedicated his life to, after his work with jazz and bluesmen (for whom his enthusiasm was more evident) had waned in the early 1960s. I wanted more Joe, until I realized that, as a baby boomer, he was showing remarkable discipline by eliding himself from his own story and focusing on the people around him. In that respect, I can forgive him for his lack of excess in his self-descriptions. More troubling is the lack of music in his story. There is not one memorable scene set inside a recording studio, no description of any particular song he helped produce, and very little in the way of musical terminology to back up his thumbs up/thumbs down appraisal of the acts he was witness to. As one of the proprietors of the UFO club in swinging London, he was at the helm of the movement. Yet it is unclear whether he was moved by it. The most intense passages deal with Nick Drake, whom Boyd had some obvious affection and respect for. 

This memoir is a complex piece of the 1960s puzzle, filling in a number of gaps, especially considering that I had never heard of the man before Alex of Constant Velocity recommended the book to me. There is a CD that accompanies the book (sold separately) which is also a hodgepodge of not arresting semi-psychedelic folk rock. Do I like the CD? The book? The man? I’m not sure. But I like the fact that, before Beatlemania, if you really wanted to work in the music industry, you could. I’m not sure that, today, a simple desire to be a rock producer would get one as far toward that goal as would connections or asskissing.

listen to our radio show ROCK GEEK FM and talk back at