Atlantic Senior Editor Ronald Brownstein tells the kaleidoscopic story of one monumental year that marked the city of Los Angeles’ creative peak, a glittering moment when popular culture was ahead of politics in predicting what America would become.
In his brilliant cultural history...Brownstein drops enough names to fill the once-massive Los Angeles phone book (remember those?), elicits memorable moments from several entertainment industries, and recalls political machinations across decades ... Rock Me on the Water segues seamlessly between movies, music, and television, often adding politics to the mix ... Brownstein’s coverage of the second half of 1974 sometimes repeats information about people and events, as might be expected in such a dense, lengthy study, but he also underscores 'new faces, new voices, and new stories' on the ever-changing horizon.
These are not new stories, of course — the brief window of early-1970s creative filmmaking, the Laurel Canyon music scene, the golden era of television. All have been relentlessly examined, artifacts of a once-mighty baby boomer civilization. What Brownstein has done is expertly knit the scenes together, giving the reader a plus-one invite to the heady world of Hollywood parties, jam sessions and pitch meetings, as well as a pointed demonstration of how culture can be made and unmade. By the time we approach the end of that fascinating year, it’s clear that the creative frenzy is about to come to a screeching halt ... Brownstein is at his most convincing when describing the film and TV worlds, which produced the most radical assault on mainstream culture ... It’s unfortunate that Brownstein spends so little time exploring the Black film and music worlds. They’re discussed in just one chapter, into which he also stuffs the exclusion of women in Hollywood. Brownstein’s lens is focused squarely on what white men had to say in film, television and music, making the book itself a demonstration of that same problem. Even the stories of discrimination that the successful producers Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Julia Phillips faced feel like detours off the main freeway ... Perhaps the most salient lesson of Brownstein’s engrossing book is that surely as day follows night, America devours its most provocative cultural expression and spits it back up, polished and unthreatening.
A sweeping account ... Brimming with nicely woven stories, gossip, and insights, Brownstein’s book recounts month-by-month the cultural upheavals of the year ... Some of the author’s stories will be familiar to many readers. But he has interviewed artists like Linda Ronstadt, Warren Beatty, and others in depth, and explores the backstories of songs, TV shows, and movies in ways that recreate the energy and excitement of the era ... the author has crafted an unusually readable story of how Los Angeles once ruled popular culture. His book will conjure a welcome blast from the past for many readers. For others, it will be a bright introduction to the year when flower power burst into the wider American cultural life.