Projected nostalgia is the most delicate of emotions to evoke through words. It makes you miss a time and place you never saw; it makes you long for memories that don’t exist. Another Little Piece Of My Heart, a memoir by Richard Goldstein, one of the first rock critics ever, loosely chronicles the music and political situation of the US in the 1960s. I’m not particularly enamoured by the counterculture music landscape of America in that era (blasphemy!), and I was born several decades after its collapse, but his account still made me feel like I belong in that little fragment of history. The hippies and the Yippies, the radicalism of the youth, experimentation with music and LSD, tie-and-dye, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the military and political stance of the Government — it all feels like it grew from an intimate scene that I was a part of.
To back up a little though, at first Goldstein seems like that guy — the self-involved geezer prattling on about personal glory with no small degree of shallow bravado. How he shared a connection with Andy Warhol, who revealed to him Warhol the person, not just Warhol the personality. How John Lennon summoned him for a casual chat. How he was fearless in his solidarity with oppressed blacks fighting the good fight. As you get to know him, you realise the initial crowing is merely a kind of flickering and endearing insecurity about a sense of belonging and identity. He allows for self-doubt and introspection, indulges his Icarus-esque desire to explore, to absorb the aesthetics and the revolutionary power of honest music. The writing is perceptive and sensitive — a reflection of the writer — and provides a nuanced account of the ’60s — “a collection of recollections”, he admits, leaving room for the occasional fact-checking mishap any memoir is bound to have — only occasionally lapsing into the romance of the past. Goldstein’s view of the hippies — a movement he at various points embraces and casts aside — and the notion of LSD-induced enlightenment, is even-handed; his putdown of cloudheaded acid guru Timothy Leary is a thrilling and articulate passage. In between descriptions of dried pigeon sh*t on his shirt and his “sleek serenity”, Goldstein writes: “Listening to his rap, I concluded that the real reason was intellectual mediocrity. His spiel was a blend of ideas bobbing around in the cultural soup.”
Goldstein reserves the most affectionate and caring sections of the book for Janis Joplin; emotional passages, free from judgment, narrate her bruised past, her love for a drink, her insecurities, her rebellion, and most of all her insistence on committing her very soul to the music and the art of performance.
Goldstein has a distinguished past, covering important events, interviewing important musicians and pop culture icons, writing for prestigious publications (he established a home for himself at the Village Voice) about music, the revolution, sexual politics. He acknowledges his rise as an “upwardly mobile” Jewish boy from a humble housing project in New York, while the discomfort or, alternately, the delight of finding himself in contrasting worlds — from escaping police brutality because of his short height to running around on a beach stoned with Brian Wilson — finds its way into the book. Another Little Piece Of My Heart shuffles between Goldstein’s personal battles as a 20-something New Journalism writer, detailing his tryst with drugs and the socio-political setting of New York, California, Chicago, San Francisco and the various cultural divergences, his emotional experiences on LSD, and his seemingly ambiguous sexuality that one would, at first, put down to the sexual revolution of the ’60s — free love — a time where everyone was humping everything. It’s only as the book progresses, and possibly through the recurrence of an enchanting man who goes by the name of Groovy, do you realise that he’s searching for an identity, not merely partaking in the accepted frivolity or promiscuity of the era. (He came out in the 1970s.)
Dropcap OnPlaced against the personal stuff are his various run-ins with the music celebrities of the time, a particular highlight in the book. He spends time trying to understand the intellectual and political angst that fuelled not just great music but also the self-destructive tendencies these artists had, painting Jim Morrison as a tender poet whose theatrical performance is drawn out against the selfish-drunk trope that his real life personality emanated. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is depicted as a genius with unattainable potential, while his relationship with the Beatles and Bob Dylan is far more distanced, adopting a tone of admiration and awe (though he did pan Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when it first came out). He questions the honesty of The Who’s instrument-smashing ritual, and yearns for spontaneity as opposed to the far more orchestrated, arty and focussed music coming from New York (Velvet Underground, for instance). Goldstein reserves the most affectionate and caring sections of the book for Janis Joplin; emotional passages, free from judgment, narrate her bruised past, her love for a drink, her insecurities, her rebellion, and most of all her insistence on committing her very soul to the music and the art of performance. (He does preserve the sanctity of certain relationships, particularly with his wife at the time, Judith, by not revealing too much, and admits to doing the same for several others in the epilogue.)
Slowly, the book progresses from rock music to the Revolution, as Goldstein, following the tragic downfall of friends and important figures of the time and the decay of the movement and its descent from idealism into faux-rebellion, develops a kind of disillusionment and bitterness — a severe case of “the blahs”. He moves on from writing about rock, finding himself in the midst of antiwar and civil rights protests and a wavering writer’s block; Black Panthers and white people together, sympathetic Black Muslims, the Yippies, Abbie Hoffman threatening to contaminate the city water supply with LSD, gunshots going off, “Pigs eat sh*t” chants directed at cops, riots, Martin Luther King, Jr (and, subsequently, Bobby Kennedy) getting assassinated, hippies placing little flowers in the barrels of guns of soldiers from the National Guard — soldiers who themselves sympathised with the cause of the protestors — it was a time of great strife. Will such a movement ever surface again in modern times? Maybe, but not in the same way, says Goldstein. Where will you be when the Revolution comes?