September 19, 2008
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
While in Darkness There Is Light is a fascinating book in many ways. The story of five privileged American young men (including Howard Dean's brother Charlie Dean) building a communal farm in Australia in the Vietnam era of the 70's captures the idealism of the times while pointing out the times' tragedies with the death of Charlie Dean in Laos.
Howard Dean's moving introduction sets the book off perfectly.
In her own words, here is Louella Bryant's Book Notes essay for her book, While in Darkness There Is Light: Idealism and Tragedy on an Australian Commune:
As I wrote the nonfiction book, While in Darkness There Is Light, I listened to music from the time the book is set—the Vietnam protest era. The songs from the years 1969-74 held mantras for the time. The lyrics were political and spoke of outrage about the escalation of the war and about government corruption. Here are a few tunes that I listened to several times while drafting the manuscript.
“For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield is a classic protest song: “There’s battle lines being drawn / Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” In 1970, students took to the streets with placards that said “No more napalm” and “Make love, not war.” The song is a call to action; it encourages young people to speak their minds and let their voices be heard. Now’s a good time to play the song again.
“The Long Road Home” by Credence Clearwater is more metaphor than a direct entreaty to activism. “Long as I remember the rain been coming down./ Clouds of mystery pouring confusion on the ground. / Good men through the ages, trying to find the sun; / And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain.” There was a rain of bombs and gunfire in Southeast Asia when Fogerty sang this song in 1969, and it seemed no one was able to stop the chaos and the dying. No one seemed to care except young people rioting in the streets and artists singing their songs. Where are the artists today?
The Allman Brothers’s “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” got me writing from the hips instead of the head. The song suggests leaving society and becoming self-reliant, which is what the characters in the book did—except they moved a bit farther than the outskirts of town, all the way to Australia. This “back to the earth” movement found its way into the music of the era and defined the trend of dropping out and showing our parents that there was a better way to live than blindly supporting a system we no longer believed in. Are you listening?
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “East-West Live,” released in the late 1960s, is a sort of rock-jazz groove with Elvin Bishop on lead guitar that marked a transition to a new sophistication, a heady coolness that was an activism all its own. In my book, the young men who started Rosebud Farm had the idea to practice socialism with an alternative lifestyle that balanced work and camaraderie. This contemplative mindset was radical in the same way that the Transcendentalists in the 1850s were radical in establishing the Brook Farm commune in Massachusetts. Paul Butterfield opened my paradigm and set my muse free from syntactical fetters.
Finally, Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” came out on his 1974 Planet Waves album and brought back our idealism. “May you build a ladder to the stars / and climb on every rung / and may you stay forever young.” By the time this song came out, the boys in my book were nearing their mid-twenties and thinking about settling down, all except Charlie Dean, who was killed by Pathet Lao forces while traveling in Laos. Dylan warned them to hold to their youthful idealism, and most of them have. At least three of the men are living their dreams in Australia. Others may have “sold out” with big paying jobs in the U.S., but they still carry their idealism in their hearts. As for Charlie, let’s hope he’s looking down on us from that tall ladder in the stars. He, more than any of us, will stay young forever.
Louella Bryant and While in Darkness There Is Light: Idealism and Tragedy on an Australian Commune links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)