White Bicycles: Joe Boyd's Extraordinary 60s

Posted by Miss Ess, January 9, 2008 06:54pm | Post a Comment
Joe Boyd's recently written autobiography, White Bicycles, is amazing.  I've previously professed my jealousy of Cameron Crowe's life, but I actually think Joe Boyd has overtaken Crowe in that race.  By far.

Although he never won an Oscar (like Crowe), Boyd has had an extraordinary run in the music biz. He was always in the right place at the right time.  It's hard to even hit on all the amazing things he has taken part in here-- there's just so many of them. He was one of the first to arrange and manage European Jazz and Blues tours.  He worked for Elektra and eventually formed his own production company called Witchseason.  He booked an extremely successful club night in London in the 60s that hosted Pink Floyd and The Move, among many others.  He went on to produce artists like Nick Drake, The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention.

In one of my favorite passages in the book, Boyd describes the night at The Newport Folk Festival when he was a stage manager and Dylan went electric.  Reading that portion of the book made my heart race!  If for nothing else, it's worth buying White Bicycles just to read about this momentous occasion in rock history from a fresh viewpoint.  Boyd was truly a part of that evening and remembers it all!  He really must have kept a journal.  It answers some questions about who exactly was in a physical fight that night, who started what and if Pete Seeger did indeed cut the electricity with an axe.  There really was an axe there that night, and that's all I'm gonna say!

There are too many great stories in the book to recount.  I enjoyed the passages about Nick Drake. I felt like Boyd's voice had been missing in the recent books and films about Drake and at last he has gotten his word in about someone who is still such a mystery to his fans.  Seems Drake was a mysterious figure even to those who loved him the best. Boyd has a way of writing that reveals details yet still seems to protect those he keeps near and dear.  It's an admirable style that held my interest throughout. 

I'd never read much about The Incredible String Band before, and Boyd was their right hand man.  He even went to Woodstock with them and recounts the regrettable events that occurred there for ISB.  He also describes ISB's incredibly interesting and bizarre decline into Scientology soon after. 

Basically, the fascinating bits just keep coming in this book.  Boyd went to Harvard.  He's a smart guy, and it shows in his writing.  It's the kind of book where there is so much to dig into that Boyd will just drop a seemingly tiny detail in a sentence at the end of a chapter, like that he had dated Linda Thompson for years, until she finally left him for Richard Thompson!  His life has been pretty nuts. 

I highly recommend this book to music buffs.  The writing is straightforward, entertaining and intelligent, and (more importantly), there's a pleasurable amount of good old fashioned dirt included.  Boyd indulged in drugs during the 60s, but as he says, he didn't overdo it so his memories are all still so beautifully detailed!  Living in London and Los Angeles, Boyd crossed paths with almost everyone who was anyone in the 60s/early 70s pop culture-wise, like Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Roland Kirk, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Vashti Bunyan, and Martin Scorsese.  That's just naming a very few! Boyd's anecdotes about each are hilarious and/or intimate.  The book is one of the most enjoyable I've read about 60s/70s music.

Relevant Tags

Incredible String Band (2), Nick Drake (9), Joe Boyd (8), Bob Dylan (63)