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Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  838 ratings  ·  161 reviews
A mind-expanding dive into a lost chapter of 1968, featuring the famous and forgotten: Van Morrison, folkie-turned-cult-leader Mel Lyman, Timothy Leary, James Brown, and many more

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 Scorse
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 6th 2018 by Penguin Press
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Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
I don't know for whom this book is intended. The title is clearly designed to lure fans of Van Morrison, and the lure worked on me. However, there is actually very little about Morrison and his work in this book. Instead there is a lot of random information about people and events in Boston around the same time that Morrison was there. There are gangsters, a folk music cult, happenings, psychedelic public television, a bank robbery and LSD. I couldn't have cared less about any of it and abandone ...more
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I did not expect it to be so beautifully written.

Background: I graduated HS in the summer of 1968 in a town nearby to Boston and hid in my room and lived thru my radio. I visualized a lot of this since I could not get to Boston then.

The story is really more about Boston popular culture in 1968 than about Van Morrison.
Jennifer Ozawa
I found this book utterly riveting. I had no idea about the Lyman compound or any of the bands profiled here. The best nonfiction books feel like stories, and this one did.
Jack Saltzberg
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What do The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, The Velvet Underground, Van Morrison, the Mob, The Bosstown sound, and an LSD based cult have in common? They were all active in Boston in 1968.
I, like many others, read this because I thought it was going to be about the making of the album Astral Weeks. While it is touches on Van preparing to make that album, it is really about the underground scene in Boston. While that year in San Francisco has been extensively written about, this is kind of an untold story
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Guys, my phone's notes that were recording my thoughts on this book (read on a long train ride several weeks ago, I've been lazy about reviews) got accidentally deleted. So this will be a real short review.

Basically, it was adequate for what it was, but ultimately the people written about are a bunch of sociopathic wankers and I'm not altogether interested in their lives (I only read this because it's set in Boston, where I live, and I've seen a lot of excited reviews about it). The musicians an
Jan 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways.

There were so many interesting stories and back stories in this book, that it either needed to be longer or to shorten its scope. The Fort Hill Community alone could have taken up the entire book, as could Van Morrison and his time in Boston. Trying to mash them together, though in time period they really were in sync, does them both a disservice. Then you throw in everything else that was happening at around the same time--Dylan goes
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, i-own
This book talked about a LOT of things I love. I did want to hear a little more about the general population and their experience of Boston in 1968 in contrast to the hippies and cult members and musicians he talks about here. The chapter on movies and the Boston strangler was my favorite because of that bigger picture stuff.
I got this book because I am an epic fan of the album Astral Weeks, and Van Morrison. I didn't know that it was almost entirely a history of Boston, a city I know and love in 1968. If I knew Morrison lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts at some point, I'd forgotten. So what is there not to love about this book - plenty.

As other reviewers have noted, this is not a book about Astral Weeks, and Morrison. The first chapter and the final chapter do focus on the man and the album, and throughout the book
Apr 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the book but the title is a misnomer. It is a collection of chapters on the various counterculture happenings in Boston in 1968. It spends a lot more time on the Mel Lyman cult than it does on Astral Weeks but it is never less than interesting.
My friend just wrote this one up:

And so did I, for The Baffler (!!!):
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I give this a 4 only because the writing, at times, was a bit "uneven". What a fascinating book! Right here in my back yard such WILD things were happening 51 years ago! From great "hippie" music (Bosstown Sound, WBCN), to a burgeoning study of the supernatural, to an "upscale" cult in Roxbury that STILL exists and warranted a cover story in Rolling Stone in the day, to, of course, Van Morrison's "oeuvre" as referenced in the title and conceived and recorded right in Cambridge. Let's see, what a ...more
Sep 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scenes, music
If I ever heard Van Morrison's Astral Weeks album, I am not aware of it; being more of a fan of the Them period. However, I was motivated to buy this book because I lived in Boston in 1968. Even though I was six, the weirdness of the place came through loud and clear.

Turns out Van Morrison's brief sojourn in Boston dovetailed with a lot of strange happenings at the time, most notably that many of the musicians who played with him were part of this Manson-esque "family" living in Roxboro called "
Bob Schnell
A cursory glance at the jacket of "Astral Weeks" by Ryan H. Walsh might lead you to believe that it is centered around Van Morrison's time in Boston. While that is partly true, you don't have to be a fan of Van Morrison to enjoy the book. The author did extensive research to pull together all of the disparate elements of Boston underground society that combined to make 1968 memorable. From the Velvet Underground's residency at the Boston Tea Party to the Harvard LSD experiments and the commune a ...more
Darcia Helle
This book is weird, interesting, disjointed, and probably not what you expect.

First, if you're a Van Morrison fan and you're expecting this book to center around him and the 'Astral Weeks' album, you'll be disappointed. What we have is a hodgepodge of stuff going on in the Boston area during the year Van Morrison lived in Cambridge. The author attempts to tie Van Morrison's presence and the album into everything else, or maybe the other way around, but it doesn't work. Van Morrison and the maki
John Spiller
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Before purchasing "Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968" by Ryan Walsh, you need to know a few things. (Don't worry, there's no spoilers.) First, it is not one of those book length explorations of the making of a classic rock album in the style of the 33 1/3 Series. Yes, Walsh explores how Van Morrison came to record "Astral Weeks," but it more of a point of departure than the crux. Second, this is not a book length exploration of a given year, a la Jon Savage's "1966". I didn't keep count, bu ...more
Jason Rabin
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not just a deep dive into the Boston origins of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, but a mosaic of the music and cultural scene surrounding them--centered in 1968, with flashbacks, flash forwards and on-theme digressions. As a participant in the local music scene who wasn't yet born in 1968 but very much lives in its aftermath, I can say that my understanding has been greatly expanded by this colorful, insightful and well-researched piece of rock journalism. The word "Astral" itself has new rippling s ...more
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a (too?) detailed account of events that occurred in Boston/Cambridge in 1968. A chapter is devoted to each of: the end of the folk scene, Van Morrison's band, the groundbreaking TV show "What's Happening Mr. Silver?", the opening of the Boston Tea Party, the start of WBCN, the James Brown concert the night after MLK was killed, the "Spiritualist" movement in Boston, and more. Many many chapters concern Mel Lyman's Fort Hill Community and the "Avatar" newspaper. Finally, there's a chapte ...more
Tad Richards
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
You might expect a book that takes Van Morrison’s legendary album title for its own, and suggests that it will be about Morrison’s time in Boston creating this breakthrough music, to actually be about that.
The bad news is that if that’s what the book is supposed to be about, it does get a little lost in digressions.
The very good news is that the digressions—Boston’s counterculture in the year of Counterculture ascendant—are far more interesting than a linear book about Van Morrison and the ma
Paige Morse
Mar 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was so interesting to me as a college student. It takes a specific album, then zooms out to contextualize the time and place surrounding it. Interwoven into the story of Astral Weeks are fascinating stories that happened in Boston in 1968. As a Massachusetts native, I found these stories incredibly interesting. I’d recommend the book to classic rock fans, history fans, Boston natives, and college students interested in cultural history. As an American Studies major at college, I would ...more
Jul 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Primarily enjoyable for its evocation of a time and place, dominated by the cult-like Fort Hill Community in Boston, the hallucinogenic 60's of Timothy Leary, and to a lesser extent, the recording of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. The writing style is well-paced and the interviews with Peter Wolf and Lewis Merenstein are illuminating regarding the year Van Morrison spent playing in Boston and recording this album. There are interesting coincidences and appearances by other celebrities or artists w ...more
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
Didn’t care for the book that much. Save yourself the time and just read Lester Bangs’ transcendental review of Astral Weeks:

Van Morrison's Astral Weeks was released ten years, almost to the day, before this was written. It was particularly important to me because the fall of 1968 was such a terrible time: I was a physical and mental wreck, nerves shredded and ghosts and spiders looming and squatting across the mind. My social contacts had dwindled to almost none; the presence of other people ma
Doug Birkitt
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
i thoroughly enjoyed this book. so many cool interweaving stories in boston circa 68. highly recommend. also, an excellent companion read is Love Goes To Buildings on Fire.
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Originally a smaller piece on Van Morrison & his time in Boston during the summer of 1968 leading to his recording in the fall, in New York City, the landmark record album of the title. Those stories are fantastic & thrilling to read, evoking a Boston & Cambridge from another world. Many stretches make for riveting reading, including Walsh's odd encounter with local legend Peter Wolf, Van's old chum from the time, and the tales of other area band members. Unfortunately, to expand the article int ...more
Other reviewers have already said much of what I agree with. I was lured in by the title, expecting more about Van Morrison than what I got. Reading the Epilogue I realized that the author original wrote a shorter piece and then expanded it to a full book. Also the writer had a whole team of college student workers helping with the research. The bibliography and the list of interviews is long. The book is more about Mel Lyman I think than it is about Van Morrison.

That being said I was born just
Matt Fitz
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Born in 1968, I only discovered Van Morrison in my late teens in the 80s and felt like my parents' generation did me a disservice. That's what lured me to this book about 1968. Interesting look at not only Van Morrison, but the whole Boston music and scene, marketed as the "Bosstown Sound, which promoted the blend of psychedelic and folk rock scene. T. My disappointment with this book was it's lack of clarity and focus. It seemed more like a series of loosely connected articles about just how di ...more
Jay Gabler
Mar 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Not for the casual fan of Van the Man, but people who love Astral Weeks (the album) or follow the Boston music scene will appreciate this detailed history. I reviewed Astral Weeks (the book) for The Current. ...more
Tom Killeen
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredible. As a music fan and lover of history,this combines the two for one magnificent ride through the year of 1968, See how Van Morrison,Peter Wolf,Velvet Underground,Timothy Leary all converge in Boston,while the world is boiling with rage and new discoveries.Highly recommend! Ryan Walsh has worked his ass off and the end result is a gem.
Paul Wilner
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
He’s done a lot of research but this doesn’t work. The only great (or good) Boston musicians are the J Geils band. Van crashed there for awhile and wrote a great album, but he’s an Irishman. The Velvets played the Tea Party a lot but they’re a New York band, always and forever. Mel Lyman was a dangerous asshole and his followers were foolish dupes. Hard pass, unfortunately.
Van Morrison’s second solo album, “Astral Weeks,” seems to come out of nowhere. Those accustomed to the overplay of “Brown Eyed Girl” on oldies radio and assuming that’s what Morrison is all about — even if they like that version — are in for a surprise if they turn on “Astral Weeks.” Better essayists than me, most notably rock critic legend Lester Bangs, have already expanded at length on the album’s musical qualities, with a lot of words like “transcendent” thrown around. It really is worth yo ...more
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There are many questions floating around in my head after reading Astral Weeks. Near the top are “Should I finally put in the time with Van Morisson’s Astral Weeks” and “How did I miss all this!”.

Astral Weeks is more than just history, it deserves to be studied. And really, you shouldn’t complain because Ryan Walsh did all the hard work for you. In this deceptively dense book, Walsh focuses on a particular location at a particular time: Boston in 1968. What could possibly be occurring there that
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