Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators and Eccentric Visionaries of '60s Rock.
San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books, 2000. 295 pages.
Includes a free CD with songs by some of the artists discussed (including "Reno, Nevada")
Richie Unterberger is the prolific All Music Guide contributor whose name pops up most often when you're looking up great sixties music. He specializes in lesser-known, forgotten, or underappreciated artists, and his first book, Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll, profiled 61 such artists from the fifties to the present. His second book, the comically over-titled Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators and Eccentric Visionaries of '60s Rock, focuses solely on the sixties, the decade with the highest concentration of great underappreciated artists. This is, I believe, a better book, because it reduces the scope to 19 artists and discusses each in greater length and depth.
For the chapter on Richard and Mimi Fariņa, Unterberger interviewed Mimi Fariņa, Carolyn Hester (the folksinger to whom Fariņa was married briefly before he met Mimi), Bruce Langhorne (the great session guitarist for countless folk artists), and Paul Williams (the early rock critic and founder of Crawdaddy magazine). Through these interviews Unterberger uncovers a wealth of new information and insights into the art and personalities the great folk-rock duo. Published in the year 2000, this concise, 17-page essay was for a brief time the best source of information on the Fariņas, a long-overdue follow-up to the tantalizing impressions given by friends such as Eric Von Schmidt, Joan Baez, and Judy Collins in previous publications. But 2001 saw the publication of Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mimi Baez Fariņa, and Richard Fariņa, which is now the most in-depth treatment.
Nevertheless, Unterberger's essay is still a worthy addition to the small body of critical writing on the Fariņas, since much of the material he uncovers here is not included in Hajdu's book. I found Carolyn Hester's comments on Fariņa particularly revealing. Her ambivalent judgment of her ex-husband brings together many of the disparate threads floating throughout Fariņa's legacy. She relates a story that Fariņa told her about his adventures in Ireland, when he helped blow up a British patrol boat that he thought was unmanned, and found out later that there had been people on the boat (Fariņa used these incidents for the short story, "An End to a Young Man," reprinted in Long Time Coming and a Long Time Gone, but with no hint that it was a true story). Reflecting on this incident, Hester said:
"I think that was one of the shocks of his life, and maybe is really at the heart of his whole life after that. Going for broke, and 'I don't have anything to lose. I've already lost,' as it were. I honestly feel that's a key to his life. I'm sorry to say that, but looking back, I feel that that really affected him. He was a con man and he had a lot of problems, and left quite a trail behind him. But some of it was because of that shock, I think."This revelation throws a lightning-flash of understanding on some of the more shadowy aspects of Fariņa's art, particularly the guilt and the yearning for death that haunts so many of his lyrics and prose writings.
Well, I don't want to give everything away, so go out and buy this book. You can also visit Richie Unterberger's website, where you will find, among other things, a transcript of the Bruce Langhorne interview.
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