Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970

Rock & roll bookends

Summer Reading

Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970

by David Browne
Da Capo, 392 pp., $26

There are many ways to connect the dots between the acts on this marquee. For example: The Beatles' Apple Records released Taylor's solo debut, Taylor played banjo on Neil Young's "Old Man," and Young's Buffalo Springfield was co-billed with Simon & Garfunkel at the Monterey International Pop Festival. Rolling Stone Contributing Editor David Browne uses these four artists and the calendar year 1970 as an organizing device to chronicle capital-R rock music's transition from late 1960s insurrection into early 1970s introspection. By 1970, both American involvement in Vietnam and protest against the war had peaked. CSNY's "Ohio" immortalized the killings at Kent State, but few remember that most Americans initially thought the Ohio National Guard was justified in its actions. Meanwhile, the Beatles split up in public, Simon & Garfunkel dissolved in private, Taylor emerged from mental malaise to become a star, and CSNY hit No. 1 with Déjà Vu while simultaneously succumbing to internecine squabbles. David Browne tells the story well enough, but fragmentation alone does not constitute a compelling cultural thesis. Fire and Rain reads as four separate story arcs held together with nonpivotal intersections. The ascendancy of female collaborators such as Carole King and Joni Mitchell against the backdrop of women's liberation is barely touched upon. Mitchell gets more ink as Graham Nash and James Taylor's girlfriend than as an artist, while Rita Coolidge only merits mention as the Yoko who broke up CSNY. As such, the story of 1970 hardly seems lost at all.

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