Astral Weeks
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. In his first book, acclaimed rock musician and journalist Ryan H. Walsh unearths the album's fascinating backstory--along with the untold secrets of the time and place that birthed it: Boston 1968.On the 50th anniversary of that tumultuous year, Walsh's book follows a criss-crossing cast of musicians and visionaries, artists and "hippie entrepreneurs," from a young Tufts English professor who walks into a job as a host for TV's wildest show (one episode required two sets, each tuned to a different channel) to the mystically inclined owner of radio station WBCN, who believed he was the reincarnation of a scientist from Atlantis. Most penetratingly powerful of all is Mel Lyman, the folk-music star who decided he was God, then controlled the lives of his many followers via acid, astrology, and an underground newspaper called Avatar.A mesmerizing group of boldface names pops to life in Astral Weeks James Brown quells tensions the night after Martin Luther King is assassinated; the real-life crimes of the Boston Strangler come to the movie screen via Tony Curtis; Howard Zinn testifies for Avatar in the courtroom. From life-changing concerts and chilling crimes, to acid experiments and hippie entrepreneurs, Astral Weeks is the secret, wild history of a unique time and place.

Astral Weeks Details

TitleAstral Weeks
Author
ReleaseMar 6th, 2018
PublisherPenguin Press
ISBN-139780735221345
Rating
GenreMusic, History, Nonfiction, Biography Memoir, Culture, Pop Culture, Biography

Astral Weeks Review

  • Faith
    January 1, 1970
    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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  • Christine
    January 1, 1970
    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).
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  • Matt
    January 1, 1970
    My friend just wrote this one up: http://artsfuse.org/168480/book-music...
  • Tad Richards
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Andrea
    January 1, 1970
    I did not expect it to be so beautifully written.Background: I graduated HS in the summer of 1968 in a town nearby to Boston and hid in my room and lived thru my radio. I visualized a lot of this since I could not get to Boston then.Comments:Moulty!Peter Wolf as the hero
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  • Ed Mckeon
    January 1, 1970
    I was 15 in 1968. I remember attending a union gathering with my parents and wandering around the streets in my paisley shirt, dodging in and out of head shops, record stores and hippie boutiques only now realizing that the tiny bit of Bosstown that I experienced was like a turntable stylus, only me scratching the surface. This book is amazing. I picked it up because I'm a huge Van fan, and have always loved Astral Weeks. Ryan Walsh, who is looking at a seminal year from the remove of five decad I was 15 in 1968. I remember attending a union gathering with my parents and wandering around the streets in my paisley shirt, dodging in and out of head shops, record stores and hippie boutiques only now realizing that the tiny bit of Bosstown that I experienced was like a turntable stylus, only me scratching the surface. This book is amazing. I picked it up because I'm a huge Van fan, and have always loved Astral Weeks. Ryan Walsh, who is looking at a seminal year from the remove of five decades, pulls back the cover on a city awash in LSD, racial unrest, youth in revolt and an arts movement as progressive as the one happening on the West coast. Who do we meet? Well, Van Morrison, of course, a Belfast lad lost in his art and in a city that didn't embrace him as fully as he wanted. We also meet Lou Reed, James Brown, Janet Planet, Timothy Leary, Antonioni, Don Law, Barney Frank, Mel Lyman (and his "family"), Jim Kweskin, Maria Muldaur, Peter Wolf and more. This well-researched history reads like an unbelievable novel. Highest recommendation.
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  • Tim Niland
    January 1, 1970
    This is an fun book that often strays well afield of its title, but remains consistently interesting regardless. In 1968, Van Morrison was deeply in flux, in the hole to Bert Berns widow and shady mob fixers, so he bolted for Cambridge, MA, radically remaking music as acoustic folk-jazz. At the same time, nearby Boston was undergoing its own changes, with the traditionally conservative town upended by racial and generational strife. This was exemplified by Mel Lyman, a jugband harmonica player w This is an fun book that often strays well afield of its title, but remains consistently interesting regardless. In 1968, Van Morrison was deeply in flux, in the hole to Bert Berns widow and shady mob fixers, so he bolted for Cambridge, MA, radically remaking music as acoustic folk-jazz. At the same time, nearby Boston was undergoing its own changes, with the traditionally conservative town upended by racial and generational strife. This was exemplified by Mel Lyman, a jugband harmonica player with a god complex, who created a Manson family like cult that took over a city block, and published its own counterculture newspaper. Add to this a free form radio and TV station, and excellent rock hall The Boston Tea Party, and there are many interesting threads for the author to pull upon. So what does this have to do with Astral Weeks, recorded in New York with top shelf jazz musicians? Not so much, but it is a fine yarn, well spun, and fans will of Morrison or American cultural history will find it quite enjoyable.
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  • Steve Sanders
    January 1, 1970
    In Astral Weeks, Ryan Walsh gives us parallel portraits of two gifted musicians —Van Morrison and Mel Lyman—and the divergent ways in which they responded to what Philip Roth called “indigenous American berserk.” Lyman channeled the rhetoric of utopia and transcendence into the Fort Hill commune, allowing the high-minded ideals to curdle into violence, exploitation, and cult of personality. Meanwhile, Walsh deftly illustrates how Morrison—a surly, antisocial expat, hiding out in Boston from mob- In Astral Weeks, Ryan Walsh gives us parallel portraits of two gifted musicians —Van Morrison and Mel Lyman—and the divergent ways in which they responded to what Philip Roth called “indigenous American berserk.” Lyman channeled the rhetoric of utopia and transcendence into the Fort Hill commune, allowing the high-minded ideals to curdle into violence, exploitation, and cult of personality. Meanwhile, Walsh deftly illustrates how Morrison—a surly, antisocial expat, hiding out in Boston from mob-connected record execs—emerged from decidedly unromantic circumstances to produce not only his greatest album (arguably Rock’s greatest album, the genre’s Ulysses), but the only work of art that genuinely lived up to the Aquarian Age ideals of rebirth and transcendence. Now if only Peter Wolf’s bootlegs of Morrison’s 1968 performances could see the light of day.
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  • Ian Hamilton
    January 1, 1970
    Walsh doesn't really succeed at formulating an effective overarching thesis. There are too many disparate ideas that make the read a little disjointed. Too much emphasis is placed on the Fort Hill Community; I think there's a good reason why this group has been largely forgotten by history. I did really appreciate the parts that focused on Van Morrison and the Astral Weeks record, one of my personal favorites. Similarly, I learned a lot of more about the backstory of the City's behind-the-scenes Walsh doesn't really succeed at formulating an effective overarching thesis. There are too many disparate ideas that make the read a little disjointed. Too much emphasis is placed on the Fort Hill Community; I think there's a good reason why this group has been largely forgotten by history. I did really appreciate the parts that focused on Van Morrison and the Astral Weeks record, one of my personal favorites. Similarly, I learned a lot of more about the backstory of the City's behind-the-scenes involvement in supporting the 1968 James Brown show in the wake of MLK's assassination. 2.5/5.0
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  • Jay Gabler
    January 1, 1970
    Not for the casual fan of Van the Man, but people who love Astral Weeks (the album) or follow the Boston music scene will appreciate this detailed history. I reviewed Astral Weeks (the book) for The Current.
  • Jeff
    January 1, 1970
    A mistakeShould have read the description more carefully. If you care about Van Morrison or folk music scene in Boston in 1968, it's probably good. I'm not at all interested in either.
  • Larry
    January 1, 1970
    This was really awesome. (it happens to be about one of my top 5 albums and a place I've lived so the subject matter was a sure hit but it surpassed my expectations)
  • Richard
    January 1, 1970
    This was a truly absorbing read. A model of blending cultural & music history.
  • Charles
    January 1, 1970
    I realize that an author is not required to write the book that any reader would prefer from him/her, but rather should follow his/her muse and be true to that. However, with a book entitled Astral Weeks, one really might expect a really thorough study of Van Morrison's seminal album. If that is what a reader expects (as I did), this is NOT the book. Readers must wait for ch. 11 (final chapter before the epilogue) for even a step by step explanation of the three recording sessions. Walsh does al I realize that an author is not required to write the book that any reader would prefer from him/her, but rather should follow his/her muse and be true to that. However, with a book entitled Astral Weeks, one really might expect a really thorough study of Van Morrison's seminal album. If that is what a reader expects (as I did), this is NOT the book. Readers must wait for ch. 11 (final chapter before the epilogue) for even a step by step explanation of the three recording sessions. Walsh does allude to the album frequently through the book. But this "secret history of 1968" is only secret to anyone unaware of the burgeoning rock scene in and around Cambridge Mass during that year, and also unaware of the admittedly fascinating tale of the Fort Hill family gathered around Mel Lyman. Frankly I found Walsh's obsession with details about the Lyman group to be increasingly tedious, as well as his recounting well known (as in NOT SECRET) details of the psychedelic scene, the civil rights movement, and much of the rock trivia he proposes. Hence a disappointment for me, but I went into the book looking for something other than what Walsh delivers.
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