Anoth­er Lit­tle Piece of My Heart: My Life of Rock and Rev­o­lu­tion in the 60s

Richard Gold­stein

  • Review
By – June 14, 2016

If the title of Richard Goldstein’s mem­oir makes you reach instinc­tive­ly for a bot­tle of South­ern Com­fort, this book is for you. (If not, lis­ten to Big Broth­er and the Hold­ing Company’s Cheap Thrills” a few times, then read the book.)

Gold­stein came of age in the Bronx in the 1960s, and like so many of his con­tem­po­raries liv­ing in out­er bor­oughs and sub­urbs through­out the coun­try, his week­ends were spent seek­ing refuge from ticky-tacky in what­ev­er emerg­ing coun­ter­cul­ture scene could be found in the nether reach­es of his metrop­o­lis – in Goldstein’s case, the moth­er lode com­pris­ing the streets, crash pads, and cafes of Green­wich Vil­lage and what would soon come to be called Alpha­bet City. The young Gold­stein immersed him­self in the sights and sounds of the East and West Vil­lages and man­aged to par­lay his tal­ents and expe­ri­ences into a gig at the Vil­lage Voice, where he rose to become the world’s first rock music crit­ic ever.

The first half of his book is giv­en over to an account of Goldstein’s adven­tures in this new won­der­land, recall­ing an era that is almost impos­si­ble for any­one who wasn’t there at the time to imag­ine. The seeds of a new cul­ture were being sown and ger­mi­nat­ed in the fer­tile soil of baby-boomer leisure and rest­less­ness, dom­i­nat­ed by musi­cians (the term rock star” hadn’t been invent­ed yet) who were sel­dom in it for the mon­ey, though they rarely said no to the sex, drugs, and alco­hol that came with the territory.

Gold­stein care­ful­ly doc­u­ments both his hopes and dis­il­lu­sion­ments with how this promise played out, for good and ill. This is a book in which peo­ple loom large – from titans such as Mick Jag­ger, Janis Joplin, and Jim Mor­ri­son to such minor fig­ures as the Fugs, the Plas­ter Cast­ers, Tiny Tim, and a pletho­ra of young men who chose to adopt the nom de paix of Groovy – all of whom col­lec­tive­ly give an indis­pens­able, trip­py tang to the main dish on offer. (Goldstein’s reflec­tions on the sad life of Tiny Tim, as well as his rec­ol­lec­tions of hang­ing out at Ratner’s with Janis Joplin, are alone worth the price of the book.)

Ulti­mate­ly, Gold­stein can­not con­fine him­self to dis­cussing the music scene alone. He doc­u­ments the growth of the hip­pie move­ment, includ­ing a lengthy excur­sion to San Fran­cis­co dur­ing the Sum­mer of Love, where he found an ugly mis­ery lurk­ing beneath the flow­ers-in-the-hair, and con­cludes with the rise of such would-be rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as the Yip­pies and the Black Pan­thers, whom he sees as hero­ic and redemp­tive fig­ures. Here, as through­out the book, Goldstein’s opin­ions are provoca­tive, and his prose has a com­pelling flair.

Where Gold­stein is syn­op­tic and per­son­al, Car­lin stays firm­ly in the third per­son in his nar­ra­tive of the career of one indi­vid­ual: Mor­ris Levy, the dri­ving force behind the Man­hat­tan jazz club Bird­land and the impor­tant inde­pen­dent label Roulette Records. While there is an impres­sive cast of musi­cal artists parad­ing through the pages of the book — Count Basie, Char­lie Park­er, Joey Dee, Tom­my James, and more — they are treat­ed as large­ly inter­change­able fig­ures in a seem­ing­ly time­less moral­i­ty play that pits the Unscrupu­lous against the Unwary, impor­tant not for the music they cre­at­ed but for being exploitable put­ty in the hands of the avari­cious Levy.

Tales of how intim­i­dat­ing mach­ers like Levy took advan­tage of vul­ner­a­ble artists who, at least ear­ly in their careers, put a high­er val­ue on fame and the hedo­nis­tic perks of star­dom than they did on mon­ey, are legion by now, and schemes sim­i­lar to those that Levy con­coct­ed, most of which revolved around the shad­owy world of music pub­lish­ing,” have been doc­u­ment­ed many times over. What made Levy stand out from the crowd?

Car­lin lives up to his title by doc­u­ment­ing Levy’s ties to orga­nized crime; Roulette’s offices were a vir­tu­al­ly undis­guised club­house for mob mus­cle who would make Luca Brasi seem tame. But when he gets down to cas­es, he pro­vides both too much detail and not enough sub­stance to sus­tain the reader’s inter­est. Levy’s schemes were so com­pli­cat­ed that they are vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble to explain, or fol­low, and despite the best efforts of able pros­e­cu­tors and plain­tiffs’ lawyers, many claims against Levy could not be con­clu­sive­ly proved, lead­ing Car­lin to fill in a lot of blanks with spec­u­la­tions about what might have, or must have hap­pened, rather than sol­id facts.

Bill Bren­nan is an inde­pen­dent schol­ar and enter­tain­er based in Las Vegas. Bren­nan has taught lit­er­a­ture and the human­i­ties at Prince­ton and The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. He holds degrees from Yale, Prince­ton, and Northwestern.

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