I wonder at times if critical acclaim for books about 60s may say more about the folks running book reviews than the books themselves. (Call it Tree of Smoke Syndrome.) But there’s a convincing case for Zachary Lazar‘s novel about the Rolling Stones, Sway, in last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, even if it serves more to remind me how great this book is:
This is a novel about the ’60s in which the great political upheavals, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, civil rights, Vietnam and the assassinations are barely mentioned. The Beatles, who stood for the greatest sustained explosion of the utopian ideal in all of pop, are dismissed by one character as a group “from Liverpool of all places.” In contrast to the love-and-peace ethos the decade is remembered for, every early Stones gig here ends with a fight. Crowds seem to pack Midlands blues clubs for the sheer pleasure of trying to beat up the band. In “Sway” the freedom that is often vaunted as the cri de coeur of the ’60s is entirely stripped of its communal ideal. It is, instead, a way for people who have always felt themselves on the outside not to feel they have to fit in. It’s a freedom that can result in “Street Fighting Man” or “Scorpio Rising,” or in a group of murderous hippies invading two homes and slaughtering the inhabitants on the orders of a petty thief and failed rock star. Freedom, Lazar is saying, does not inevitably result in noble aspirations.
Largehearted Boy has a playlist for the novel compiled by Lazar.