Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968

Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968

by Ryan H. Walsh

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Overview

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 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, Jr. 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 film shoots, Astral Weeks is the secret, wild history of a unique time and place.

One of LitHub's 15 Books You Should Read This March

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735221369
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 351,415
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ryan H. Walsh is a musician and journalist. His culture writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Vice, and Boston Magazine. He was a finalist for the Missouri School of Journalism's City and Regional Magazine Award for his feature on Van Morrison's year in Boston, from which this book developed. His rock band Hallelujah the Hills has won praise from Spin magazine and Pitchfork; collaborated on a song with author Jonathan Lethem; and toured the U.S. extensively over their 10-year existence. The band won a Boston Music Award for Best Rock Artist, and Walsh has twice won the award for Best Video Direction. He lives in Boston with his wife, the acclaimed singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler.

Table of Contents

Prologue: In the Beginning 1

1 Against Electricity 9

2 God's Underground Newspaper 27

3 The Silver Age of Television 51

4 Paul Revere Is Shamed; Being a Brief History of the Bosstown Sound 75

5 The White Light Underground 105

6 Scenes from the Real World 137

7 I Saw Young Coming from the Cape 175

8 A Little More Light into the Darkness of Man 189

9 The Noises That Roar in the Space Between the Worlds 211

10 Something in the Bricks 229

11 We Have All Been Astrals Many Times 255

Epilogue: Afterwards 281

Acknowledgments 305

Notes 309

Bibliography 329

Index 347

What People are Saying About This

author of The Comedians - Kliph Nesteroff

In this incredible new book, Ryan H. Walsh takes us through late ‘60s Boston in all its splendid morning glory. The forgotten hippie band Ultimate Spinach. The psychedelic TV show What’s Happening, Mr. Silver. The story of how Don Rickles’s mafia connections helped Van Morrison break a contract. Astral Weeks is filled with fascinating new information and page after page of mind-blowing, psychedelic revelations.

author of Sticky Fingers - Joe Hagan

Astral Weeks is many things: a deeply-reported illumination of the Boston underground of the late ‘60s; an investigation of a mysterious cult leader; the skeleton key to a canonical album by Van Morrison. But at its heart is a journalist’s quest to understand the very air that was breathed in a single moment in time, a personal reading of the poetry of history, and a yearning to trace the invisible byways of inspiration itself.

author of Dreaming the Beatles and Love is a Mix Tape - Rob Sheffield

The lost story behind a timeless album—a wandering Irish songwriter named Van Morrison, stuck in a strange town called Boston in 1968. Ryan H. Walsh digs deep into all the moment’s cultural and spiritual chaos, with a bizarre cast of characters—making the music sound even weirder and more beautiful than it already did. There’s no rock and roll story quite like Astral Weeks.

author of Occult America - Mitch Horowitz

A magical mystery tour into an untold chapter of countercultural history—the ivy-walled, lace-curtained city of Boston, it turns out, concealed an underground scene as offbeat as anything found on the Haight or the Lower East Side. Ryan H. Walsh takes us down all of its rabbit holes in this lushly told historical portrait.

author of The Murder of the Century - Paul Collins

Astral Weeks is a veritable time machine to the folly and ferment of 1968 Boston—a time when James Brown could stop a riot, a movie star could get mixed up in bank robbery, and a high school kid could find himself backing one of rock’s great bands.

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