Doggett, Peter. There’s a riot going on

Canongate Books, $29.95

Gil Scott-Heron may have proclaimed “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” in 1970, but when it comes to revolution, it seems there’s still a lot to report.

A study of the near-symbiotic relationship of revolutionaries and rockstars, “There’s a Riot Going On” follows the radical movements of the 1960s as they (frequently) dissolve into self-interest, infighting, and commercialism in the early 1970s. It sets a scope that is gigantic, canvassing black power, the peace movement, and women’s liberation. (And with such a cast of individuals and organisations, reading some chapters feels like wading through an acronym swamp: SNSS, SDS, FBI, HUAC, JCO,RAM,US, SCLC, WITCH, NAACP, NOW, IRA, CIA, LSD…)

Doggett weaves all these strands of revolutionary history chronologically from 1965 to 1972 within a framework of music, mainly rock and jazz. Together, the threads remain untangled, and the resultant tapestry makes up in detail what it lacks in colour.

Few of the era’s big names escape scrutiny, such as John Lennon, who comes across as alternately propagandistic and naïve, Bob Dylan, an unwilling “peace prophet” and stalked by activists, James Brown, powerful and unashamedly capitalist, Mick Jagger, outed as a posh misogynist whose revolutionary offering, Street Fighting Man, seems an exercise in opportunism.

For this reader, not born during those ‘swinging sixties’, it reads more like a studious chronicle than memory trip, which is probably the strength of such an encyclopedic effort. Instead of the nostalgia industry’s baby boomers, who’ll find fault or fervour within these hefty recollections, Doggett’s ideal audience is their kids, gens X Y and Z.

An attractive guide to the revolution/rockstar relationship, it’s a rock journo’s history, and not a definitive history of seven years of dissent. But what a fun place to start.

2009

 

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