I just finished Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California this afternoon. Ever since I read Bob Spitz’s massive biography of the Beatles, every few months I feel a tickle to read another biography of a rock or pop musician. This book seemed to cover a lot of bases: mostly the LA scene 1967-1976.
The great sadness in reading these books is the thread of drug addiction. It’s much more than a thread, really. Something substantial enough to strangle a person dead–literally. And take out a good number of loved ones and friends in the process.
One theme struck me, though, as I was reading of the culture of pop musicians in the late 1960’s. Many of them thought they were advancing human culture through a better way of living. On that point, I don’t mean the drugs. Early in some of these massive careers, some of these musicians seemed to genuinely believe there was a better way. I think the optimism of the 60’s was authentic for many people.
There were two things dragging the LA music scene down. First was the effect the Manson murders had on the subculture. Hoskyns details the wake-up call it was for people on Manson’s fringe and those on the fringes of those folks. It was a very rude awakening to the abject evil that humanity, even a humanity seeped in 60’s good-feeling liberalism, could experience.
Then as I read into the 70’s, and the litany of addiction leading to wasted artistry, broken relationships, insanity, and death pounded away, this became a very depressing read. What people thought was a certain freedom in chemicals turned out to be not only a prison, but a descent far away from the ideals of the 60’s.
The children of these rock stars were mentioned very peripherally, but I wonder how their lives have turned out with parents distracted by fame and chemical dependency.
And yet, I thought how similar this has been to the conservative moral movements in the decades since. The moral majority reached a certain ascendancy in the 80’s, yet many religious leaders were rocked in scandals before the decade was out. That bumper sticker “the moral majority is neither” rang true for people who identified the hypocrisy that conservativism or religion was seen as a voucher for virtue. And it’s no different for the folks like Deal Hudson and any number of others we see falling and failing mightily as any kind of a beacon of moral superiority.
It strikes me as a sounder approach to shun the prospect of my group claiming a moral superiority over others. Certainly, it’s not the kind of thing to boast about. I was also reading in this book of the few musicians who checked out of the limelight and quietly faded to a devotion to family and good health. Those threads in Hoskyns’ book ended as musicians were fired for not buying into the drug scene, for not giving in to big egos, and for being replaced by other musicians more hip, more in keeping with the emerging corporate image.
It’s a good read. Very interesting, I’d admit. After about 150 pages, it had an eerie and sad sameness to it. I felt like I was reading about one big mistake being made over and over again, sort of like a cocaine hit being lived over and over again like on some twisted cover of Groundhog Day. I can only imagine it was far worse living through it.