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Band's Music From Big Pink Paperback – Nov 16 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic (Nov. 16 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082641771X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826417718
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 12.2 x 1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #320,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Harry E. Horne on Jan. 23 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Why would you make a fictional story up about a real album? Did this guy want to be in The Band? I grew up in Toronto and this guy pretended to grow up in Toronto. His geographical facts are way off for a start. Thousands of miles from Toronto to New England-what?? California is west, not south. This book doesn't belong in a series such as 33 1/3 books. In fact it doesn't belong in any series of books. Total rubbish!
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Format: Paperback
While the book is compelling and provides insight into the Band and their time in Woodstock, it is just too depressing. It is well written and the notion of the long term pain of the drug use is strikingly illustrated. I was hoping for some reflection of the joy those guys experienced in the basement of Big Pink - it shines through the Basement Tapes - but there is little of that here. I can't listen to In A Station or Country Boy without thinking of the sad Richard in this book. For me just too much information.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
I applaud the author's and publisher's attempt to do something different in this series .... Aug. 13 2007
By Clare Quilty - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
... but the fact remains: This album deserves a more fact-based approach from the 33 1/3rd series.

Author John Niven takes a unique strategy in writing about the Band's classic debut, "Music From Big Pink."

He writes a short novel that follows a character through key events in the history of the Band during the late 60s and in rock music in general.

Anybody who loves this group is bound to have, at some point, looked at Elliott Landy's photographs of the guys hanging out at their country house in Woodstock, or read Levon Helm's biographical account of the time, and thought it must've been great to have been there.

The guys were making great music in the basement, spending their new money on booze and fast cars, playing pick-up gigs, hanging out with hippie chicks and frequently cranking out a tune with a post-crash Bob Dylan. Sign me up, I'm down for exactly all of that.

And so is Niven's fictional main character, Greg Keltner, a young dope dealer who befriends Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm (and -- ha ha -- gets a cool brush-off from Robbie Robertson).

Through Keltner, we get an enthusiastic (almost stalkerish) witness to the band's rise and its eventual stagnation.

But there are problems:

Keltner has an almost "Forrest Gump"-ian ability to be in the right place at the right time. He's there when Manuel offers up an early solo version of "I Shall Be Released" (at Robert Ryan's apartment in the Dakota, no less); he's there when they read their first "Rolling Stone" rave; he's there the very day the guys pack up and move out of Big Pink (which happens to be the exact same day Andy Warhol gets shot). Granted, Niven wants to hit the high notes, but after a while Keltner's timing begins to feel a bit on the nose. History dictates the story's narrative flow and so dictates where Keltner will be, which makes him seem even more synthetic.

More troubling, however, are the sections were Keltner's *not* dropping in on the Band, when he is in fact taking a chapter to attend his mother's funeral and go on a bender, or checking out a new film called "The Graduate" while ripped to the gills on LSD, or visiting his downtown smack connection (who just happens to be hanging out with Lou Reed and listening to an early pressing of "The Velvet Underground & Nico") or spending a few pages writing a song.

I realize Niven largely wants to illustrate how "Music From Big Pink" soothed the hungover heads and hearts of a lot of burnt-out hippies in 1968 and 69, but since Keltner's a fiction ... do we care about his sad and extensive family history or his floundering romantic life? I didn't so much.

In fact, Keltner's a pretty hapless contradiction -- a heroin dealer with a heart of gold.

He deals hard drugs (and, in one scene, actually gives Bob Neuwirth's snarky entourage a dose he knows is too potent), but also vomits with despair when the girl of his dreams reveals she's actually in love with Richard Manuel. Fortunately for him -- but not for the reader -- he later gets her on the rebound and it just feels icky.

Here's one of their encounters:

"She was eating fried chicken, her perfect teeth tearing meat off the bone, her fingers getting greasy and slippery while she talked and laughed. I ordered some too. She looked like she'd gotten some sun. 'You look like you've gotten some sun,' I said."

Which is to say that the writing ... could be a little tighter and a lot better. If the style and syntax were as good as the research, this would be an excellent little book for fans.

But even if it were better, I still don't think this is the appropriate venue for "faction," or the right place for some characterizations of real people that are, frankly, uniformly undercooked.

I can't help it. I want actual *information* about this great album -- I want the secrets, the liner notes, the science of John Simon (who gets two brief mentions in the current context), the genuine schematics of Albert Grossman's plotting, a deeper look at the songwriting process. Yes, I'll admit it, I want the standard, boring music book info. Music books tend to be steak and eggs. And when you order steak and eggs, you don't want a cake that looks uncannily like steak and eggs.

"Big Pink: A Novella," alas, is kind of that cake.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A great piece of fiction about rock'n'roll March 31 2007
By Jimmy Guterman - Published on
Format: Paperback
Richard Manuel's voice has haunted many people, and one of those people is John Niven, author of an outstanding novella called Music From Big Pink that came out in 2005 but I just got around to reading on a plane last week (mid-'07). Read it, please. Written from the point of view of a drug dealer who associates with the members of The Band and the general Woodstock explosion of the late '60s, it details the promise and broken promise of that time with precision, wit, and an amazing command of and love for its source material. Not since David Shipper's Paperback Writer, decades ago, have I read a piece of fiction about rock'n'roll that so captures the big themes and microscopic details that make a life lived in music -- either as a practicioner or a hanger-on -- so thrilling and harrowing. It's as open and dark as Manuel's voice on the album that gave it a title. I'm not going to describe in much or quote any of it here because I want you to read all of it without me inadvertently ruining any of it. But this is that very, very rare piece of rock'n'roll-drenched fiction that actually feels like rock'n'roll.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Great April 17 2006
By D. Richman - Published on
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. But be warned: if you are looking for a book that describes how the album was made don't look here. "Music from Big Pink" is more fiction than fact, and the central focus is on what life might have been like in Woodstock at the time - the parties, the drugs, the music.

What really struck me about this book was the Niven's use of evocative language. The way he described the Band songs, especially when he was hearing them for the first time, was poignant, rich, and insightful. Hearing the narrator talk about the songs really made me want to listen to the tracks; and when I did, I certainly had an enhanced experience.

Overall it was pretty good. I say buy it!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Go with an open mind. Otherwise forget it. Jan. 21 2008
By L Esquivel - Published on
Format: Paperback
I'll admit I wasn't instantly glad to learn that this entry into the 33 1/3 series was in fact a novella rather than a more typical factual based analysis of one of my favorite records. Oh well. The truth of the matter is that almost in spite of itself it manages to be entertaining enough to hold your interest. If you're looking for deep reflections on the emotional power of The Band's music this isn't a bad place to look. If you want those reflections to be tied exclusively to facts rather than fiction then seek out other avenues. But for my money this book does the job of what I believe the 33 1/3 series intends to do, albeit in an unorthodoxed fashion -capture the mood of a record, drawing from the time in history it was created and people involved in it's creation.

The great thing about the album Songs From Big Pink is that the times in which it came into being were times when the unthinkable could be a reality, both the good and the tragic. That's what holds the author's narrative together, the possibility that the main character, an average slub, could have rubbed elbows with such a talented and ultimatley famous group of artists. Even the passages that veer completely away from The Band and their music and focus on character development only deepen the profound emotional connection the author conjures up between artist and audience, hitting on just how intimate The Band's music was and still is.

I would have probably preferred a more conventional analysis of this album, but as a fan of this music I can say that much of Niven's prose do resonante with me and the way he translates his character's emotions and reactions to witnessing first hand the evolution of a milestone record is certainly commendable and worth the read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Zeitgeist March 14 2011
By Michael P. McCullough - Published on
Format: Paperback
I'm on a reading project where I am going to read all the 33 1/3 editions available to me (via our library and also from my little brother Kevin).

This is the second 33 1/3 issue where I hadn't heard the album until reading the book (I found both the CD and the book from the library) and this is the first 33 1/3 that I didn't really love the book; but having said that I need to say that I liked the book better than the album.

I'm a long distance runner and I like to drop the album into my ipod and listen to it while running. *Music From Big Pink* truly brought me down - emotionally. This is not music for people who are moving - it is sit on the couch in a darkened room music. The songs aren't sung as much as they are moaned. Even though The Band had multiple singers they all have a sort of whiny tone - and I felt sorry for the drummer - didn't he want to bang those drums a bit harder and maybe faster? I realize the music evolved from the Bob Dylan sound of that era - but fortunately Dylan had a self-confident, sneering, angry tone (that really worked, I'd say).

I have to say I'm not unfamiliar with The Band - in HS I had (and often listened to) the album *Rock of Ages* and much of MFBP is on that album.

Back to the book - as the other reviewers mention there isn't too much in there about MFBP. It is more about the zeitgeist of that scene. That works for me - but I'd be upset if it were about an album I truly loved and wanted to know more about. I'm not sure why the album is so depressing - I imagine that being young and on a lot of different hard drugs is sort of fun (I wouldn't know from experience) and, as we find out in the book, being old and still being on a lot of hard drugs is NOT FUN.

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