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Music from Big Pink

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"Music From Big Pink is a moving book that succeeds not just in vividly evoking its time and place but in distilling one young man's cliched and minor destiny into something approaching tragedy....This well-written first novel captures not just some of the dreams of that bygone era, but the way those dreams died." -Greg Kamiya, The New York Times Book Review Music From Big "Music From Big Pink is a moving book that succeeds not just in vividly evoking its time and place but in distilling one young man's cliched and minor destiny into something approaching tragedy....This well-written first novel captures not just some of the dreams of that bygone era, but the way those dreams died." -Greg Kamiya, The New York Times Book Review Music From Big Pink is faction: real people like Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Bob Dylan and Albert Grossman rub shoulders with fictional characters and actual, documented events thread their way through text alongside imagined scenarios. Through the eyes of 23-year-old Greg Keltner, drug-dealer and wannabe musician, we witness the gestation and birth of a record that will go on to cast its spell across five decades - bewitching and inspiring artists as disparate as The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Travis, Wilco and Mercury Rev.


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"Music From Big Pink is a moving book that succeeds not just in vividly evoking its time and place but in distilling one young man's cliched and minor destiny into something approaching tragedy....This well-written first novel captures not just some of the dreams of that bygone era, but the way those dreams died." -Greg Kamiya, The New York Times Book Review Music From Big "Music From Big Pink is a moving book that succeeds not just in vividly evoking its time and place but in distilling one young man's cliched and minor destiny into something approaching tragedy....This well-written first novel captures not just some of the dreams of that bygone era, but the way those dreams died." -Greg Kamiya, The New York Times Book Review Music From Big Pink is faction: real people like Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Bob Dylan and Albert Grossman rub shoulders with fictional characters and actual, documented events thread their way through text alongside imagined scenarios. Through the eyes of 23-year-old Greg Keltner, drug-dealer and wannabe musician, we witness the gestation and birth of a record that will go on to cast its spell across five decades - bewitching and inspiring artists as disparate as The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Travis, Wilco and Mercury Rev.

30 review for Music from Big Pink

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    John Niven: So I’ve got this idea… Book Agent: Lay it on me. JN: You know those 33 1/3 books? Ya know, where some writer who isn’t really a writer, well, writes about his or her favorite classic record yada yada yada? BA: Oh sure, I think I’ve read a few of those before. VU + Nico, perhaps? There was a Hendrix one too, if memory serves correct… JN (interrupting): Whatever, it doesn’t matter, they’re all pretty much the same: oooh here’s why this record is important to me, here’s how I was or wasn’t John Niven: So I’ve got this idea… Book Agent: Lay it on me. JN: You know those 33 1/3 books? Ya know, where some writer who isn’t really a writer, well, writes about his or her favorite classic record yada yada yada? BA: Oh sure, I think I’ve read a few of those before. VU + Nico, perhaps? There was a Hendrix one too, if memory serves correct… JN (interrupting): Whatever, it doesn’t matter, they’re all pretty much the same: oooh here’s why this record is important to me, here’s how I was or wasn’t involved, here’s what every song means, here’s a picture of the Bassman head Jimi recorded Voodoo Chile… you get the picture. Half of them so far are barely about the record itself! BA: Okay… so… what’s your point? JN: Sorry, got a little sidetracked here because I am just that excited for what I am about to propose to you. What if… oh, this is good… instead of providing your standard, formulaic, dry account of, let’s say for shits and giggles, Music From Big Pink by The Band, I write from the perspective of someone who hung around the group at the time of its recording? BA: Hmmmm, not sure I follow… you mean like their roadie? You’d interview the roadie and tell the story through their voice? JN: No! Though that’s not a bad idea, either… BA (under his breath): Nor is it really a great one… JN: But my idea is better! Because my character… wait for it… ISN’T REAL. BA: I’m sorry, what? JN: You heard me! He’s not real. As in never existed. A fictional character. BA: [scratches head, appears befuddled] JN: But he’s a fictional character living in a real world, ya dig? It’s, like, historical fiction, man! That way we control the narrative. We wouldn’t even have to do all of the grunt work of research or interviewing old band members or pretending we know the slightest bit about music theory or composition or what have you. BA: So wait, let me be sure I get this straight: you’re proposing to write a non-fiction fiction book about Music From Big Pink? JN: Well, that was just an example, but my approach works with really any record. I’d just need to update certain details to enhance its believability. But just imagine: a young, hot shot wannabe musician starts dealing drugs and finds himself caught up in the late 60s scene where he starts to rub elbows with… who was in The Band again? Whatever, those are just details. This would ultimately be the dealer’s story anyway. BA: So you wanna make a book about a band – in this case, The Band – but it’s not really about them? It’s about their dealer? JN: Precisely. BA: So how are you planning to talk about the record, then? JN: That’s the thing, my man! I don’t! BA: I’m sorry, you don’t plan to talk about Music From Big Pink in a book that’s, correct me if I’m wrong, a book about Music From Big Pink. JN: Nope, I think you’ve pretty well captured it. BA: Okay… hmm… I mean, it’s certainly unorthodox. But if you’re planning on doing what I think you are, you may want to consider revising your approach and, I dunno, make it a bit more about your subject? JN: Oh, see, that’s the thing… I am! All of these other bios and “I was there” accounts read the fucking same, man. It’s boring. Even the sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll stuff gets repetitive after awhile. I wanna position Music For The Big Pink – I guess it’s been decided that’ll be the album I’ll [puts up fingers to motion “bunny ears”] “write” about – as the cultural backdrop for a far more eventful time, and use the dealer as this omniscient presence who’s inspired by the record. BA: Alright, alright, I’m starting to come around. I gotta admit… it’s kinda clever. My biggest fear, though, is that you’re essentially losing any credibility the moment readers discover your book for what it is, which at the end of the day is fiction. I think a lot of… JN (interrupting… again): Can I interrupt for a second here? It’s not totally fiction. Names and places and whatnot will still be the same. The only fiction will be the protagonist, this dealer, whom we’ll provide all sorts of depth; ya know, maybe he’s a rich kid college drop-out with a junkie dad who got mixed up in the scene and became a junkie himself, which leads him to dealing which leads him to the scene which leads him to being The Band’s right-hand man… I’m just spitballin’ here. BA: Which is all fine and good, but no offense, who gives a shit about your “protagonist”? He’s not in the band, he’s not even contributing to any of their music. If I’m understanding correctly, he just hooks them up with drugs. JN (jumping up as if a light bulb went off): What if I make him close friends with one of the band members? Lemme see, which one was the most tragic… shit, that’s a tough choice. For now let’s go with Richard. Let’s say this dealer – we’ll call him Greg – let’s say Greg and Richard are actually super tight friends, which is how he gets roped into their scene. Oh wait! What if we throw a girl into the mix and create a love triangle?! There’s your connection! BA: Remind me what this book is about again? JN: [laughs uncontrollably] BA: Listen, I’ve got a lunch I gotta run to. Interesting talk, though. Put together a little write-up and we can work on it, ok? I think with enough massaging we could make something happen. JN: You won’t be disappointed, old friend. [Fifteen minutes later…] BA: David, sorry for the tardiness. I was just in this baffling meeting with this bizarro guy, I think he’s a writer, but I’m not sure. Trying to sell me on a book about a fictional drug dealer caught up in the late 60’s music scene as it happened. He’s trying to tell me it’s “historical fiction” haha. Writers these days, man. David: Sounds intriguing… wonder if he might he consider a full band instead of a drug dealer? Like an ‘Almost Famous’ sorta thing? I dunno, food for thought. What the hell do I know about music, anyway? BA: About as much as this guy, it seems. Ha! I kid, I kid. So, anyway, how’s the Cloud Atlas tour?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I know about recency bias, that it's to be avoided, etc. But when I read something like this I can't help thinking, This is one of the most inventive biographies I've ever read. . . wait, I think it's actually THE most inventive ever. And even trying to temper the superlatives I can't come up with a more original way to tell a history than what Niven has provided here. Probably the best compliment I can give Niven is that the book feels totally authentic, so much that I was shocked when halfway I know about recency bias, that it's to be avoided, etc. But when I read something like this I can't help thinking, This is one of the most inventive biographies I've ever read. . . wait, I think it's actually THE most inventive ever. And even trying to temper the superlatives I can't come up with a more original way to tell a history than what Niven has provided here. Probably the best compliment I can give Niven is that the book feels totally authentic, so much that I was shocked when halfway through I realized that Niven was born the same year the album came out, so there's no way he could actually know first-hand what it must have been like to be there. But his natural style, the casual narrator and all of the pop-culture details he provides -- really an ingenious way of contextualizing the album when you think about it -- create a totally immersive experience. You feel like you're a part of the Woodstock scene. The writing ain't too shabby either. Niven employs almost a Beat sensibility with poetic word choice and dynamic rhythms that keep dialogues snappy and build momentum through the frequent action scenes. He has a natural ability with chapter endings, for example on p.48:That's how you get dramatic news. That's how you hear the big stuff. Not in some emergency room, or sitting down face-to-face with someone all serious. It's when you're pulling off a shoe, changing channels and lighting a cigarette, or reaching for a can of spaghetti in the kitchen cupboard. The phone rings, or someone comes through the door looking at you funny, and that's when you get told. So I'll always remember pulling my coat off that night, the night Skye spiked me, the night I really heard The Band -- as opposed to The Hawks -- for the first time. It was a real cold, blue December night, with the new snow all pearly outside and the stars way up in the sky and now my mother was dead.Or how about when he describes his first time shooting up heroin, when his own father tied him off and stuck him? p.76:. . .We looked at each other for a long time before he got up and came and sat on the edge of the tub. He tied me off and tenderly stroked a vein up, the whole scene a crazy parody of a father bathing his child. . . He slipped the needle efficiently, medically, into the thick vein that ran straight into the center of my elbow and pushed her home, shooting me up for the first time. I saw fireworks in a warm summer sky. Celluloid burning through in a projector. White-out. Black hole.If you could fault this book with something it's maybe that the musicians and album are too peripheral to the general debauchery perpetrated by the fictitious protagonist. There's not so much biography as there is compelling tragedy. But despite this casual treatment of the should-be protagonists, you come away not only with a decent idea of the album's creative process but also of each individual band member. You get to know Manuel, Danko and Levon as if they were brothers. And through the narrator you understand how Garth and Robbie didn't quite fit in with the rest of them. Even the Dylan stuff feels totally natural, almost voyeuristic. What it comes down to for me is that I've now read two of these 33 1/3 books, this and Marquee Moon, which discusses one of my Top 5 favorite albums ever. Big Pink doesn't crack my Top 5 (though The Band's self-titled follow-up does!), but this book is a much more interesting story about the album. The Television book is a more traditional biography but gets bogged down in tiresome minutiae. I much prefer this innovative, counterintuitive, and incredibly organic telling that Niven gives us. . . after all, the biography's freakish style encapsulates its subject matter far better than a traditional narrative could have. I strongly recommend it for fans of The Band, Dylan, Woodstock, or literary fiction. Not Bad Reviews @pointblaek

  3. 5 out of 5

    Meagan

    I think I like the idea of this series more than I've enjoyed reading any of the individual volumes, with the exception of this one. I read this imagined history/novella while lazing around a room at the Howard Johnson's in Saugerties, NY, and I had a heck of a time putting it down. There are some albums that seem to come from a world of their own that we might glimpse, but can never enter. "Music From Big Pink" is one of those albums, and Niven took a courageous leap headfirst into that world. I think I like the idea of this series more than I've enjoyed reading any of the individual volumes, with the exception of this one. I read this imagined history/novella while lazing around a room at the Howard Johnson's in Saugerties, NY, and I had a heck of a time putting it down. There are some albums that seem to come from a world of their own that we might glimpse, but can never enter. "Music From Big Pink" is one of those albums, and Niven took a courageous leap headfirst into that world. Yeah, you could argue that it isn't true, but it's a heck of a lot more entertaining that the umpteenth dissection of every mouldy old country and blues album gathering dust in the corner of Big Pink and its impact on Robbie Robertson's use of tremolo. (Okay, actually, I would find that entertaining, too.) Mainly, I'll be honest, the real reason I love this book is because, out of everything I've read on The Band and Dylan, this one really gives Richard Manuel his due. Even if it is only an "imagining" of these people and their world, Niven gives his version of Manuel just as much soul as Manuel himself put into those songs, and it makes for a great companion piece, true or not.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Spectacular. Many have tried, but it's rare when fiction & rock crit work together so well. Told from the perspective of The Band's (fictional) drug dealer in Woodstock, circa '66-'68, it's pitch perfect, joyous, and heart-breaking -- especially when Niven's narrator hangs out with the late Richard Manuel. Gets the spirit of the music and then some, channeling Manuel's high, haunted voice. Spectacular epilogue circa '77. I've been on a big Band kick all summer, and tried to read it as slowly as Spectacular. Many have tried, but it's rare when fiction & rock crit work together so well. Told from the perspective of The Band's (fictional) drug dealer in Woodstock, circa '66-'68, it's pitch perfect, joyous, and heart-breaking -- especially when Niven's narrator hangs out with the late Richard Manuel. Gets the spirit of the music and then some, channeling Manuel's high, haunted voice. Spectacular epilogue circa '77. I've been on a big Band kick all summer, and tried to read it as slowly as possible. Still wish it was longer, and I think it could've been.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Scott Cumming

    This novel just captures a moment in time. That point where the counter culture spilled into being the culture. The Band could never exist now how it did then and I'm not asking it to, but there's a romance and a reality shed in this one. Greg Keltner is a college dropout, drug dealer who has struck up a friendship with members of Dylan's backing band providing them with the necessary chemicals in the primary, but being a good person to get fucked up with two. It's one of those where nothing happe This novel just captures a moment in time. That point where the counter culture spilled into being the culture. The Band could never exist now how it did then and I'm not asking it to, but there's a romance and a reality shed in this one. Greg Keltner is a college dropout, drug dealer who has struck up a friendship with members of Dylan's backing band providing them with the necessary chemicals in the primary, but being a good person to get fucked up with two. It's one of those where nothing happens and everything happens. It's about the character and the change he sees and how it changes him. There are a fun cameos throughout and a sense of what Dylan meant to the 60s that might have been toned down by time. I love books like this and found this engaging and exploratory. I'm probably going to have to check out more Niven now.

  6. 4 out of 5

    James Porteous

    Excellent imagining of a young drug dealer's life in the orbit of Dylan and his backing band around Woodstock in the sixties. Author Niven says on the 'Is it Rolling Bob' Bob Dylan podcast that Robbie Robertson read it and asked "was this guy there" - praise indeed since Robertson comes off as a bit of an asshole in the book. Or "focused" to put it politely I have read all Niven's books and am a fan, but I thought this first novella was actually one of his strongest. My only quibble was that I do Excellent imagining of a young drug dealer's life in the orbit of Dylan and his backing band around Woodstock in the sixties. Author Niven says on the 'Is it Rolling Bob' Bob Dylan podcast that Robbie Robertson read it and asked "was this guy there" - praise indeed since Robertson comes off as a bit of an asshole in the book. Or "focused" to put it politely I have read all Niven's books and am a fan, but I thought this first novella was actually one of his strongest. My only quibble was that I don't think the Americans would use the c-word quite so much - that is the Scot coming out in Niven

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    It started with Big Pink the house. Then came the LP, The Band’s classic 1968 debut record that lodged itself so thoroughly in our cultural subconscious we’ll forever be humming its lines, “Pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ ’bout half past dead . . .” Now Music from Big Pink is also a novella by John Niven, No. 29 in Continuum’s quirky and admirable “33 1/3” series that matches seminal rock albums to good prose. Niven’s is the first fictional treatment, and it’s easy to see how he might have spi It started with Big Pink the house. Then came the LP, The Band’s classic 1968 debut record that lodged itself so thoroughly in our cultural subconscious we’ll forever be humming its lines, “Pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ ’bout half past dead . . .” Now Music from Big Pink is also a novella by John Niven, No. 29 in Continuum’s quirky and admirable “33 1/3” series that matches seminal rock albums to good prose. Niven’s is the first fictional treatment, and it’s easy to see how he might have spied a worthwhile story up there in the mountains of Woodstock. “When I think about that album, I still have to laugh about how close the songs were to our lives,” drummer Levon Helm wrote in his memoir This Wheel’s on Fire. “The characters that appear in the lyrics -- Luke, Anna Lee, Crazy Chester -- were all people I knew. The music was the sum of all the experiences we’d shared for the past ten years, distilled through the quieter vibe of our lives in the country.” Alas, there’s no one named Luke in Niven’s story; instead, he distills his vibe through Greg Keltner, an earnest, music-loving college dropout-slash-dope dealer who’s always saying stuff like “Hey, wanna go to the john and get fucked up?” Greg follows a friend to Woodstock and ends up supplying the likes of Bob Dylan, his infamous manager Albert Grossman, and of course Helm and the boys. In place of Anna Lee, meanwhile, there’s Skye, whose name sort of says it all. She’s Greg’s inevitable crush, a girl born with a Rolling Rock in her fist and who likes to respond to everything with “Rilly?” to which Greg is prone to shoot back, “‘Yeah.’ Yeah rilly, you fuckin’ bitch.” And as for Crazy Chester -- well, he could be just about anybody. In Niven’s book they’re all tripped out or coked up, so that after one Crazy Chester ingests too much powdered Khe Sanh, another Crazy Chester decides that the only remedy is a few ice cubes punched through the back door. Greg gives us that moment with typical stoner understatement: “He and I looked at each other. I shook my head. No way, man, I didn’t even know the fuckin’ guy. ‘Ah, fuck it,’ he said.” Ah, fuck it indeed. That’s the level at which Niven’s characters operate -- “classic cliché shit,” to quote Greg—which is maddening and ultimately deadening, especially since Big Pink begins with such a big syringe full of pathos. It’s 1986 and Greg, no surprise here, is a real mess, barely getting by, when he sees the paper: Richard Manuel of The Band is dead. A suicide. Greg puts on the album, which plays “good and slow, slow as memory, the beat of my heart. Read my full review here: http://bit.ly/2ekzC29

  8. 4 out of 5

    Richard Block

    Praise Your Idols John Niven was obsessed by the Band - one of my favourite bands too - and this tribute novella hits the spot. Greg is a small time drug dealer from Toronto who skips his studies, heads to Woodstock and hangs out at the fringes with the Hawks, soon to be the Band. The excess so wonderfully played in Kill Your Friends has its debut here, with Greg dealing, drinking, snorting, tripping and coming to terms with unrequited love and the realisation that his friends inhabit a higher pl Praise Your Idols John Niven was obsessed by the Band - one of my favourite bands too - and this tribute novella hits the spot. Greg is a small time drug dealer from Toronto who skips his studies, heads to Woodstock and hangs out at the fringes with the Hawks, soon to be the Band. The excess so wonderfully played in Kill Your Friends has its debut here, with Greg dealing, drinking, snorting, tripping and coming to terms with unrequited love and the realisation that his friends inhabit a higher plane in music. Studded with wicked wit and credible observation about the truly famous - who are taciturn, sarcastic and condescending - especially Dylan and Robbie Robertson - this is really a study itself destruction of Richard Manuel and the character Greg. It is more serious than it appears at first, and a tad maudlin, but it is still very cleverly imagined and executed. John Niven was a rocker, that seems certain, and is so convinced of the greatness of Manuel (more than Robertson). He thinks Music from Big Pink is their masterpiece - but I think it is The Band - a flawless, top 10 of all time album. Short,enjoyable and full of warmth, like one of his heroin's rushes

  9. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    The 33 1/3 series uses a variety of authors and approaches to dissect an album. The latest that I have read in this series is Music from Big Pink. It's ... different. It's a novella instead of a discussion of the album itself, and on one hand, I like the idea of taking such a different approach to a topic, but at points the narrative veers so far away from the album/band that I'm not sure I can call it a successful move. John Niven, the author, writes an interesting story; however, my problem wi The 33 1/3 series uses a variety of authors and approaches to dissect an album. The latest that I have read in this series is Music from Big Pink. It's ... different. It's a novella instead of a discussion of the album itself, and on one hand, I like the idea of taking such a different approach to a topic, but at points the narrative veers so far away from the album/band that I'm not sure I can call it a successful move. John Niven, the author, writes an interesting story; however, my problem with this being part of the series is that I know nothing more now about the album than I did before, which I would say makes it the least successful of the 5 or 6 33 1/3 books I've read. Even the one I haven't been able to finish (swordfishtrombones) gave me *something* new to consider about the album/artist.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Grant Ellis

    This is a great little book and so well written especially given the author was only born at the time he depicts and was raised in Scotland; just about as far removed as you can get from the utopian ideal of late sixties Woodstock. The details suggest that Niven was a contemporary of Dylan's in-crowd. As a huge fan of The Band, I was worried about this being a flimsy attempt at fictionalising a period that I cherish. I have already read many books on them including Levon's, Robertson's and even This is a great little book and so well written especially given the author was only born at the time he depicts and was raised in Scotland; just about as far removed as you can get from the utopian ideal of late sixties Woodstock. The details suggest that Niven was a contemporary of Dylan's in-crowd. As a huge fan of The Band, I was worried about this being a flimsy attempt at fictionalising a period that I cherish. I have already read many books on them including Levon's, Robertson's and even Barney Hoskyn's who writes a very gushing foreword praising Nivens ability to immerse the reader ni the times. What I found was a novella that cleverly uses The Band as characters on the periphery of the protagonists plight and in so doing, we learn more about the times that they lived through. On criticism as a result of this, is that the reader new to The Band and their fabulous music will not learn much from this book so the title is a bit misleading. In that, I am surprised therefore that it was commissioned as a 33 1/3 book as the series is usually a very deep dive on an album. Readers looking for facts should refer to one of the titles mentioned above of the liner notes of 'A Musical History' - the lavish box set that came out a few years ago.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Turned me off a bit at first: it’s fictionalized, so right away I wondered “was the drug abuse really THIS extreme?” I got used to it after a couple chapters, partly because most of the truly wacko drug use centers on the narrator, who is a dealer and not part of The Band. There is the obligatory overdose scene, complete with scatological gross-out semi-humor, but what really did me in was a scene where the narrator shoots up with his grieving junky father. But his story is interesting, and once Turned me off a bit at first: it’s fictionalized, so right away I wondered “was the drug abuse really THIS extreme?” I got used to it after a couple chapters, partly because most of the truly wacko drug use centers on the narrator, who is a dealer and not part of The Band. There is the obligatory overdose scene, complete with scatological gross-out semi-humor, but what really did me in was a scene where the narrator shoots up with his grieving junky father. But his story is interesting, and once you get to the release of the album in question, it’s all pretty cool. I don’t know if I understand anything more about this record than I did before, though. The depiction of Richard Manual is probably very accurate, and is of course deeply sad. I’m old enough that I read this stuff and I just want to go back in time and parent everybody…but Niven’s characters are just so fucked up, you come away feeling that it was an absolute miracle that this transcendent music ever got made…

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    A novella written from the point of view of The Band’s drug dealer in 1967-68, set primarily in Woodstock. It primarily tells the dealer’s story, including how his life intersected with The Band when they were living in big pink, writing and recording Songs From Big Pink. The protagonist describes the songs as he hears them across the months in Woodstock. For example, he describes Richard Manuel playing piano and singing I Shall Be Released in the back room at a party to just a few people while A novella written from the point of view of The Band’s drug dealer in 1967-68, set primarily in Woodstock. It primarily tells the dealer’s story, including how his life intersected with The Band when they were living in big pink, writing and recording Songs From Big Pink. The protagonist describes the songs as he hears them across the months in Woodstock. For example, he describes Richard Manuel playing piano and singing I Shall Be Released in the back room at a party to just a few people while the people hanging around Bob Dylan and the other superstars in the front room have no idea they’re missing something transcendent. It’s an effective way to illustrate the power of the music on The Band’s brilliant first record.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Splenda

    I have really enjoyed reading various books in this series, so I figured I’d branch out a bit more to learn more about other great albums in music history. I am not a connoisseur of The Band’s music, but certainly enjoy them nonetheless. Music from Big Pink is arguably their masterpiece. I was frankly a bit disappointed with this novella. As a mini-drama, it was fantastic - telling the riveting story of a drug dealer who rubbed shoulders with members of The Band during the making of this album. I have really enjoyed reading various books in this series, so I figured I’d branch out a bit more to learn more about other great albums in music history. I am not a connoisseur of The Band’s music, but certainly enjoy them nonetheless. Music from Big Pink is arguably their masterpiece. I was frankly a bit disappointed with this novella. As a mini-drama, it was fantastic - telling the riveting story of a drug dealer who rubbed shoulders with members of The Band during the making of this album. This setup painted a crazy picture of the mood and feeling during this time period. As a story documenting the making of the album, it fails. Probably 1/4 of the novella deals with this and ultimately it is a waste of time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tom McInnes

    Having read several John Niven books and only kinda liked some of them as sort of snide entertainments (what a friend of mine would define as “HMV books”), I picked this up only because I am currently in the grips of a recurring and ever-evolving Bob Dylan obsession and the promise of his tangential appearance in a fictional(ish) story was simply too much for me, in my Zimmerman-addled state, to resist. Little could have prepared me, then, for a work of such keenly felt pathos, evocative period c Having read several John Niven books and only kinda liked some of them as sort of snide entertainments (what a friend of mine would define as “HMV books”), I picked this up only because I am currently in the grips of a recurring and ever-evolving Bob Dylan obsession and the promise of his tangential appearance in a fictional(ish) story was simply too much for me, in my Zimmerman-addled state, to resist. Little could have prepared me, then, for a work of such keenly felt pathos, evocative period conjuring, and deep aching melancholy for a time and place and feeling that, though utterly specific, feels universal and powerful and moving. Which begs the question: if Niven has this in him, why doesn’t he do it again?

  15. 5 out of 5

    L.

    I tend to dislike the fictionalized entries in the 33 1/3 series, and this one was no exception, though it was at least better than a couple of the other ones. The writing is passable, but the characters ultimately feel like an assortment of cliches, making it hard to tell how much of anything was based on true events. The only thing one really gathers about the album from reading this novella is that an insane amount of drugs went into its production, and that the author clearly thinks Richard I tend to dislike the fictionalized entries in the 33 1/3 series, and this one was no exception, though it was at least better than a couple of the other ones. The writing is passable, but the characters ultimately feel like an assortment of cliches, making it hard to tell how much of anything was based on true events. The only thing one really gathers about the album from reading this novella is that an insane amount of drugs went into its production, and that the author clearly thinks Richard Manuel is the best member of The Band.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Coole

    This is a great little novella which really makes you feel you're there with The Band and Dylan. I've noticed that some of the other reviews have pointed to the fact that the album itself isn't a huge part of the story, which some people may find annoying. I think the character of Greg Keltner is well realised, although his reflective moments do take on a Holden Caulfield quality sometimes, especially the cinema scene. The most impressive thing about the novella is Niven's ability to make you fe This is a great little novella which really makes you feel you're there with The Band and Dylan. I've noticed that some of the other reviews have pointed to the fact that the album itself isn't a huge part of the story, which some people may find annoying. I think the character of Greg Keltner is well realised, although his reflective moments do take on a Holden Caulfield quality sometimes, especially the cinema scene. The most impressive thing about the novella is Niven's ability to make you feel like he was there and recounting the vibe and lifestyle of those guys in Woodstock in 1968.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    The novella approach taken in these 33 1/3 books can be really hit or miss, which led me to put this one off for years now. As much as I loved the album, I wasn't going to be happy about a fictional take that fell flat. That wasn't a problem here, I found this to be oddly affecting while still managing to paint a picture of the album itself. I wasn't expecting this to be so good, but I loved it. The novella approach taken in these 33 1/3 books can be really hit or miss, which led me to put this one off for years now. As much as I loved the album, I wasn't going to be happy about a fictional take that fell flat. That wasn't a problem here, I found this to be oddly affecting while still managing to paint a picture of the album itself. I wasn't expecting this to be so good, but I loved it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Eric Scotch

    This is like being 22 again and hanging with folk in the early throes of summer, a budding relationship flowering, months of mutual happiness ahead, no worries in the world. Like the line near the end says “life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone”, which is kinda true, kinda sentimental if you read this in your goddamn 40s. I’m not sure about these books where real people make an entrance, but this one is alright.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    This book is basically doing lines off of snapshots of a time period with a few famous people in them: you may notice the people and go "oh, yeah!" but really they were just window-dressing for the drugs. There's some music sprinkled in there, too, I guess. It is boring reading about people doing drugs. This book is basically doing lines off of snapshots of a time period with a few famous people in them: you may notice the people and go "oh, yeah!" but really they were just window-dressing for the drugs. There's some music sprinkled in there, too, I guess. It is boring reading about people doing drugs.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    Took a while to read this despite being into the subject matter. It was his first go at written a full noven, so fair dos. Some evocative scenes and it did make me listen and want to listen to The Band more, so two out of five might be a bit harsh.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ted Gurley

    Niven took the series to a new level with this novelized picture of the people, time and tone of Music From Big Pink. Enjoyed the portraits he painted of each of the core member of The Band, especially Richard and Levon. Well done!

  22. 5 out of 5

    David Peat

    Great novella: truly believe, even though it is fiction. Brilliantly researched and as a fan, some sign posting to where he went next. Just a shame it wasn’t longer. I wasn’t alive when the book was set, but evolved what you’d expect from that time of Woodstock.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jonny Brick

    Incredibly vivid picture of the hip parts of the USA in the late 1960s, with fully fleshed-out characters and situations. Best enjoyed with the album itself.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brian Kovesci

    Blah. I don’t want fiction in this series.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    If the premise had been described to me -- a novel about a fictional character who ran with The Band in late 60s Woodstock as they created Music From Big Pink -- I wouldn't have been expecting much, but this ended up being one of my favorite so far from the 33 1/3 series. If the premise had been described to me -- a novel about a fictional character who ran with The Band in late 60s Woodstock as they created Music From Big Pink -- I wouldn't have been expecting much, but this ended up being one of my favorite so far from the 33 1/3 series.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This is an unusual entry in the 33 1/3 book series since it is a fictional look at a seminal recording rather than a work of analysis. The author attempts to present a look at life in and around Woodstock in 1967-68, the time period that Bob Dylan's backing musicians were putting together one of the greatest albums in rock history, with those real people just part of the experience of fictional narrator Greg Keltner, another Canadian transplant who is a fairly successful drug dealer who has move This is an unusual entry in the 33 1/3 book series since it is a fictional look at a seminal recording rather than a work of analysis. The author attempts to present a look at life in and around Woodstock in 1967-68, the time period that Bob Dylan's backing musicians were putting together one of the greatest albums in rock history, with those real people just part of the experience of fictional narrator Greg Keltner, another Canadian transplant who is a fairly successful drug dealer who has moved from NYC to Woodstock. The author has clearly read much of the material that is out there in regards to The Band, Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman, et. al., and is generally faithful to the superficial image of each musician (Garth as odd genius; Richard as the sad clown; Levon as good-old boy who develops a taste for heroin and sushi; Rick as the fast-driving boy who gets all the girls; Robbie as cold and aloof, having learned from the best, Bob Dylan). He develops some of the "characters" enough to rise above these superficial images, though, and the fictional characters are believable enough that I can imagine them being pretty representative of the population that was moving into that area during this time period and who would become even more prevalent after the Woodstock Festival. I had a particular interest in the topic, not just as someone interested in this music, but as someone born during 1968. It's a year of great turmoil in American culture, and this novella looks at a different aspect of American culture which had long-lasting impacts, albeit one which was of course affected by the political events of that year. John Niven's attempt to paint a picture of this time and place does not shy away from the consequences of the drug culture of the time, and this is particularly relevant as it demonstrates the beginnings of the self-destructive behaviors which would eventually break up The Band a decade later. Although I enjoyed this read, it wasn't perfect - Greg is so often in the right place at the right time, but that's necessary for some of the factual details about the musicians and the creation of the album to come through; some of the episodes in his personal life could could have been condensed in favor of more about the band members. And something that I don't blame the author, who is Scottish, for not knowing, but an editor should have caught this: during a trip back to Toronto for his mother's funeral, he mentions not having seen many of these relatives since a Thanksgiving years before, "a few days after Kennedy was shot." Canadians actually celebrate Thanksgiving in October, unlike those of us south of the border who sit down for our turkey in November.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Magdalen Karrs

    A concept fiction in a nonfic series, about a band (THE Band), that loved a theme.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    The first I've read from 33 1/3's series of books about various albums. This one is different for the series, from what I understand. Instead of a an analysis or history of the album, it's a novelization (or it's short, so maybe it's a novella-ization) of the events surrounding the album's genesis in Woodstock. It's told from the point of view of a guy who acts as drug dealer to the band (not The Band at this time), and includes portraits of many of those around the band, including Bob Dylan and The first I've read from 33 1/3's series of books about various albums. This one is different for the series, from what I understand. Instead of a an analysis or history of the album, it's a novelization (or it's short, so maybe it's a novella-ization) of the events surrounding the album's genesis in Woodstock. It's told from the point of view of a guy who acts as drug dealer to the band (not The Band at this time), and includes portraits of many of those around the band, including Bob Dylan and a host of others, both fictional and ficitonalized. The story is pretty good, though it doesn't add an awful lot to what those of us who followed this group know about them. The author is pretty successful at capturing the characters of the various musicians, and of the times, in Woodstock and New York. It's a quick and engaging read. I seem to be reading books about rock and the sixties these days, and the next one is a longer, more substantial book...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marlena

    This novella is written from a perspective of a drug dealer, depicting the careless life of musicians in the late 60's. John Niven goes on describing the Woodstock era that had an impact on that time and the short life of the group The Band who were under the wing of Bob Dylan in the period when they recorded their most famous album 'Music from the big pink'. I really enjoyed the relationships between the people in the story and the way the main character paints his adventures with The Band and This novella is written from a perspective of a drug dealer, depicting the careless life of musicians in the late 60's. John Niven goes on describing the Woodstock era that had an impact on that time and the short life of the group The Band who were under the wing of Bob Dylan in the period when they recorded their most famous album 'Music from the big pink'. I really enjoyed the relationships between the people in the story and the way the main character paints his adventures with The Band and his emotional life associated with this. Also, I loved the way Bob Dylan is described, carrying himself in some parts of the book in a mysterious fashion. This serves as an inspiration for my writing and I really hope that, in the future, Niven can gives us more fiction on the rock'n'roll.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alan Wood

    I haven't read any of these 33 1/3 series... I only read it because I love John Niven's writing. At first I presumed there must be two authors of the same name because this was totally different from his other books. I have to say I missed his whit and found the characters quite bland and there was no plot to speak of. However, it was only afterwards I learned about the context of this series and it kind've made sense. If you're a bit of a 60's music nerd, then I guess it'd be quite enjoyable. R I haven't read any of these 33 1/3 series... I only read it because I love John Niven's writing. At first I presumed there must be two authors of the same name because this was totally different from his other books. I have to say I missed his whit and found the characters quite bland and there was no plot to speak of. However, it was only afterwards I learned about the context of this series and it kind've made sense. If you're a bit of a 60's music nerd, then I guess it'd be quite enjoyable. Read it if you're a fan of the series and want to get a feel of the whole 60's 'vibe'... but John Niven at his best?... no.

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