Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music

Rock & roll bookends

Summer Reading

Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music

by Rob Young
Faber and Faber, 672 pp., $25 (paper)

The title of Pink Floyd's 1967 debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was appropriated from a chapter of Kenneth Grahame's 1908 novel, The Wind in the Willows, a mystical children's classic set in pastoral England. That lineage from old British art and literature, especially the work of the Romantic poets, to the British folk revival of the late 1960s serves as the focus of Electric Eden, a masterful examination of what's deemed "music born out of the battle between progressive push and nostalgic pull." This epic tome is a work of supreme scholarship, authoritative and well-researched, with an average of roughly 40 footnotes per chapter, but it reads almost like a long-form feature – fitting, given author Rob Young's longstanding tenure as editor of the UK's The Wire. It's the British folk counter to Julian Cope's JaprockSampler: How the Post-War Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock 'n' Roll, providing historical and political context while profiling some of the most prominent artists of the era: the Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and Fairport Convention, among others. Young establishes a compelling pattern of "the inward exodus, with musicians in pursuit of rural tranquility" – evidenced by artists ranging from the McCartneys at Kintyre to Donovan on Skye island – and the ongoing influence of and fascination with American roots music. For example, Texas folklorist Alan Lomax, who fled the States for eight years after being blacklisted in Sen. Joe McCarthy's infamous Red Channels in 1950, is credited with providing "a thunderbolt of energy" to Britain's folk revival and helping align the movement with more radical activism. In doing so, Electric Eden firmly plants the freak flag of Old, Weird America back on English soil.

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Rob Young, Pink Floyd, Alan Lomax, Fairport Convention

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