By The Time We Got To Woodstock: The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Revolution of 1969
by Bruce Pollock
Just like every decade since Noah won America’s Cup, the 1960s were the Most Important Decade Ever. Unlike the previous 600 decades of recorded history, children questioned their parent’s values, cut their hair funny, and were generally heading to Hell in a Hand Truck. Veteran rock journalist Bruce Pollack was there, and in this cyclical and repetitive volume he drops the names of the iconically famous and the justifiably obscure. If you were born after mom and dad partied like it was 1999, this volume might give you a less-than-Wikipedia-level insight into the decade of Kennedy and Nixon and the roots of classic rock. For the aging baby boomer, you’ll be reminded just how venal and commercial your heroes were, from James Brown to Paul Simon. I don’t believe I’ve read much of Pollock’s rock journalism, but after a bloody, tortured crawl though this 282-page epic of namedropping and acid flashbacks, I doubt I’ll be browsing the Rolling Stone archives for his byline.
What really grinds at the reader’s patience is the bulletized approach to storytelling – This is Spinal Tap told with Power Point. We learn that folk singers and the bohemians found enlightenment from Elvis and the Beatles and the Civil Rights movement, then took massive quantities of LSD while all the uncool guys cut their hair short, bought into the American dream, and peacefully went off to Vietnam to die like good soldiers. We were promised a revolution by the residents of the Brill Building, but the evil record industry was only interested in profits and that’s why they plugged songs about love and teen sex and the injustice of the System. Social progress made money, and that was all that mattered. Even progressive FM radio failed to change the world – as soon as ratings rose and FM receivers penetrated the market, idealism and cool song segues went out the window and it was just more of the same Top 40, but with better bandwidth range. Then Nixon got elected because Richard Daley felt bad about throwing the 1960 election to Kennedy. So says Bruce Pollock.
I won’t argue with any of Pollack’s facts – he did pass joints in the innermost sanctum of rock and roll – but his organizational skills in this book feel like he’s still tokin’. He assumes the reader lacks any attention span, and we endlessly return to one or two sentence summaries of the Shaggs or Dylan or Mother Earth or Carole King. One chapter, “Three Minutes of Heaven,” pushes this annoying structure to its limits and gives us a play-by-play of the Billboard charts. At least in a good statistics textbook, we learn how to make sense out of endless tables of numbers. Here, we fill space with scattered facts. Even a History Channel documentary on Nostradamus is better organized. The only really useful aspect of this book is at the end. Pollock provides a month-by-month listing of important events and record releases and a thorough list of references. I say: Go read the references, and write your own, more coherent history. Pollock is no Ken Burns.