We are so excited to present author/musician Ryan Walsh as part of our summer Thursday evening series! The New York Times has named Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 one of the "17 refreshing books" to read this summer.
Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is an iconic rock album shrouded in legend, a masterpiece that has touched generations of listeners and influenced everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Martin Scorsese. In his first book, acclaimed musician and journalist Ryan H. Walsh unearths the album’s fascinating backstory–along with the untold secrets of the time and place that birthed it: Boston 1968.
On the 50th anniversary of that tumultuous year, Walsh’s book follows a criss-crossing cast of musicians and visionaries, artists and hippie entrepreneurs, from a young Tufts English professor who walks into a job as a host for TV’s wildest show (one episode required two sets, each tuned to a different channel) to the mystically inclined owner of radio station WBCN, who believed he was the reincarnation of a scientist from Atlantis. Most penetratingly powerful of all is Mel Lyman, the folk-music star who decided he was God, then controlled the lives of his many followers via acid, astrology, and an underground newspaper called Avatar.
A mesmerizing group of boldface names pops to life in Astral Weeks: James Brown quells tensions the night after Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated; the real-life crimes of the Boston Strangler come to the movie screen via Tony Curtis; Howard Zinn testifies for Avatar in the courtroom. From life-changing concerts and chilling crimes, to acid experiments and film shoots, Astral Weeks is the secret, wild history of a unique time and place.
Ryan H. Walsh is a musician and journalist. His culture writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Vice, and Boston Magazine. He was a finalist for the Missouri School of Journalism’s City and Regional Magazine Award for his feature on Van Morrison’s year in Boston, from which this book developed. His rock band Hallelujah the Hills has won praise from Spin magazine and Pitchfork; collaborated on a song with author Jonathan Lethem; and toured the U.S. extensively over their 10-year existence. The band won a Boston Music Award for Best Rock Artist, and Walsh has twice won the award for Best Video Direction. He lives in Boston with his wife, the acclaimed singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler.
"The result is a complex, inquisitive, and satisfying book that illuminates and explicates the origins of Astral Weeks without diminishing the album’s otherworldly aura." - The New Yorker
"Walsh has a knack for connecting the mundanities of day-to-day history with the great and timeless moments that spring out of them." - "First Sentences" - The New York Times Magazine
A "fantastic chronicle" - Rolling Stone
10/10 - PopMatters
★★★★ Spectrum Culture
"The story he has unearthed is so mind-boggling, so full of extraordinary detail and coincidence...this is a wonderful book, I think, funny and interesting and absorbing." - Nick Hornby in The Believer
"Walsh was drawn to write this book because he was so moved, as is anyone with a soul, by what became Morrison’s masterpiece. He honors that art with his own." - Esquire