Mitch Myers,
The Boy Who Cried Freebird:
Rock & Roll Fables & Sonic Storytelling

(HarperCollins, 2007)

Music and pop journalist Mitch Myers has assembled 44 short pieces in The Boy Who Cried Freebird. Some are new, some were previously published in magazines or heard on NPR. Included are true stories, biographical glimpses into the lives of popular or slightly non-mainstream musicians of the past half-century.

Other pieces are pure fiction, most often being the continuing adventures of young Adam Coil, a sometimes misguided music aficionado. In fact, Adam takes center stage for the opening essay as the boy who yells "Freebird!" at a selected, auspicious moment of each concert he attends -- until one group of savvy musicians meets his challenge.

Some of these "fables" are stories that are being passed on second- or third-hand, thereby lending to each one a mystical did-it-really-happen air. We revisit the work of Frank Zappa while at the same time remembering those days when "Oh Happy Day" by the Edwin Hawkins Singers was on the radio. We learn about the relationships between Harry Smith and Allen Ginsberg and between Art Blakey and Theolonius Monk. In the world of fantasy, we can wonder at the cosmic power of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," the possibility of a secret, extra track on a Robert Johnson CD, or the goings-on in a record store after hours.

Some of the selections are quite informative, and some are just downright fun. I believe any tribute to the use of the cowbell in rock music is long overdue. If you didn't know anything about Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music album before you picked up this book, your void will be filled here. And Myers has created an interesting new game: determining the nuance between a rock "classic" and a rock "anthem." (Hey Mitch, what about Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll"? Or Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit"?) Surely the most bizarre story in this collection features Sherman "George Jefferson" Hemsley and Gong musician Daevid Allen. I may never watch TVLAND again.

Myers' writing style keeps you reading, even if you don't recognize the names of the people he's talking about. You want to turn the pages, just to follow his well-crafted prose. And if at times you cannot ascertain the difference between his fact and his fiction, you can turn to the credits appendix, where Myers has thoughtfully provided pertinent explanatory information. It's only appropriate that the dust jacket uses that icon of rock concerts: the image of a lifted hand holding a flaming cigarette lighter.

The Boy Who Cried Freebird is an entertaining read for Baby Boomers who do indeed believe in musical magic. Younger, devoted students of American music history should be inspired by it as well.

review by
Corinne H. Smith

29 December 2007

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