?Most of the rock history that?s been written by critics and historians has been written primarily by people who have a very rose-tinted view of the ?60s,? says author Clinton Heylin. ?Even though I was born in 1960, I have no nostalgia for the ?60s. When you?re dealing with iconic figures, particularly iconic ?60s figures, one is always banging up against people?s prejudices, people?s preconceptions of what they think was important or not important. I thought it was high time that somebody came at it minus the rose-tinted lens.?
That should serve notice that Heylin ? who?s also written books about Bob Dylan, the bootleg industry and most recently ?Babylon?s Burning: From Punk To Grunge,? ? has not produced another cut-and-dried rehash in his latest book, ?The Act You?ve Known For all These Years: A Year in the Life of Sgt. Pepper and Friends? (Canongate).
As the subtitle indicates, Heylin?s book is about more than just the creation of a landmark album; it?s also about the milieu in which that album was created, how the music of the period immediately influenced the music of the ?70s that followed and how the myths that grew up about Pepper have obscured elements of the real story.
The book not only covers The Beatles? work, but also that of Dylan, The Beach Boys, The Move, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd, among others.
?In order to understand Pepper, you need to look at everything that was going on around it,? Heylin explains. ?Literally, considering what was going on across the corridor from the Beatles at Abbey Road Studios in 1967 in Studio 3, Pink Floyd were inventing prog rock. Most people coming to Pepper at this distance will know some of that stuff, but may not have built it up into a clear picture. And that?s the point of doing the book ? to show, ‘Aha! This is where it fits in.'”
Heylin leaves no stone unturned. For instance, he takes a deeper look at the claims by John Lennon and Paul McCartney that ?Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds? was not about LSD but was inspired by the title of a drawing of John?s son, Julian. As Heylin points out, McCartney even has said the ?Lucy?? title was written on the drawing, while a picture of it published in Steve Turner?s ?A Hard Day?s Write? has no writing on it at all.
?I don?t dispute that there was a drawing, and I don?t dispute that it triggered something in Lennon?s imagination,? says Heylin. ?But the whole thing of the words spelling LSD is absolutely a deliberate little nudge-nudge, wink-wink.?
Heylin also re-examines moments that others may think of as trivial, such as the contention that The Beatles first met Pink Floyd at Abbey Road Studios on March 21, 1967.
?There?s always been something wrong about that story,? says Heylin. ?And when I thought about it, I was like, no, there?s no way. McCartney saw Pink Floyd play in October ?66. He was going down to the UFO Club [where the Floyd played regularly] in ?67; there?s no way he would?ve waited until the end of March to go and say hi.?
Heylin found confirmation of his theory in an interview with Barry Miles, a McCartney friend and author of McCartney biography ?Many Years From Now,? who remembered first meeting Pink Floyd at an Abbey Road session with McCartney a month before. It?s the kind of detail that clarifies how the musicians? interactions with each other influenced their own work.
And certainly one element of the Pepper story that?s been forgotten over time was that the album was not universally acclaimed at the time of its release.
?If you actually go back and look, you?ll find that it was very much a mixed bag of opinions,? says Heylin. ?There were a lot of diss