'The Diamond Sky': good old Sixties

December 07, 1997|By Craig Nova | Craig Nova,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Beneath the Diamond Sky," by Barney Hoskyns. Simon & Schuster. 221 pages. $30.

When discussing politics and history, one needs to establish some credentials, and so to clear the deck in this department, I should say that I come to reading "Beneath the Diamond Sky" as someone who graduated from Berkeley in 1967. I remember, for instance, going to Oakland in these years to sell a motorcycle to the Hell's Angels, who were then living in a house with the Jefferson Airplane, and part of the negotiation, as I recall, had to do with the Angels taking out a baggy of pills, of unknown identity, and passing them around. Everyone took a handful and washed them down with a quart of beer. Ah, as Gary Larson would say, the memories.

In any case, in confronting this book, the first thing is to face up to the fact that it is difficult to say what it really is.

Ostensibly it is an enthusiastic account of the heydays of music in Haight-Ashbury and Berkeley in the late Sixties when such outfits as the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane got their start. This account involves a kind of gee-whiz style in which the author lightly passes over a number of events in which people such as Timothy Leary, the Merry Pranksters, and assorted band members got high.

These trips and those years are described in a style that can only be called "breathless liner notes," just as this book seems to be almost completely un-tainted by any experience, or only very slight experience, with original research (aside from a deep reading of Tom Wolfe). So, we hear, as if we didn't know, that Janis Joplin came from Texas and that Bill Graham was square but knew how to organize things. People took a lot of drugs. People had a lot of sex. A lot was happening on the street. The Diggers tried to feed everyone. And then there is the actual text. This is a description of a place where some musicians were staying: "The shack instantly became a den of dexedrine ingestion and sexual iniquity, a sanctuary for runaway teen vixens." Poetry it ain't, but talk about wallop.

Still, the most troubling thing of all is the tone of this book, which, as nearly as I can make out, is an attempt to recapture the enthusiasm of the era. The years we have had to think about this half- decade seem to have not entered into the author's awareness at all, at least in any way that gives him a moment's pause. Drug overdoses? Heroin addiction? Didn't he lose even one friend to this plague, and didn't it affect his estimation of these years at all?

Well, the best of this era was its freshness, but even the passage of a small amount of time (and media attention) made the freshness wilt, and so nothing got older much faster than the Sixties. This fact seems to be lost on the author of "Beneath the Diamond Sky." The best thing you can do, if you want to try to remember this era is to listen to Janis Joplin's "Need Someone to Love."

Still, one wonders how this book came into being, and I suspect the real motive behind it is that someone at Simon and Schuster thinks there is going to be money in the boomers' nostalgia for the Sixties. Or, as the author says about something called, as you will remember, the Trips Festival, "it turned out this hippie shit could actually pay."

Craig Nova has published nine novels, most recently "The Universal Donor," in June. A movie is in the works based on his 1982 novel "The Good Son."

Pub Date: 12/07/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.