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BOOK REVIEW: ‘High Notes: A Rock Memoir’ By Richard Loren With Stephen Abney

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Book 'High Notes: A Rock Memoir' by Richard LorenWhen people consider the music industry, many probably think of it simply as the musicians themselves, combined with a few managers and groupies. Of course, we at Infectious Magazine know better. We know, and often talk with, many of the vast individuals that make the music world turn. From the managers and road crew all the way to the entertainment journalists and consumers – we all play a crucial role.

Richard Loren was a well-known man in the early days of rock and roll. Having worked with various musical artists since the late 1960s, he has a lifetime of experience and knowledge of the industry’s inner workings and equally as many stories to tell. In his upcoming book, High Notes: A Rock Memoir (full title – High Notes: A Rock Memoir, Working with Rock Legends Jefferson Airplane Through the Doors to the Grateful Dead) Loren shares it all, no holds barred. The book is said to be “part history, part travelogue, part cultural coming-of-age tale” by the author himself, and it truly is.

Broken into four parts, High Notes is an excellent read for those that lived during that time, as well as those intrigued by this formative era of rock ‘n’ roll. As a youngster, naturally I fall into the latter category. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for oldies music and often think I was born in the wrong decade, as I did many times reading this book. Regardless, I find that reading tales of behind-the-scenes happenings from some of the biggest names in music and discovering that they are truly just as human as the rest of us to be most fascinating type of story. Nowadays we may get this type of  inside look at musicians on DVD, but I’m one of those that still believes certain narratives are best described in words on a page.

Beginning with the time spent with the famously flamboyant and witty pianist Liberace (lib-er-ah-chee), Richard Loren’s memoir spans the globe through his work alongside multiple big name bands and roughly two decades worth of memories. From New York City to California, even periods of time in Europe and Canada, Loren’s escapades not only illustrate what it meant to be an agent and manager in a time when “rock music was a movement,” but it reminded us that despite our romanticism of the music industry, it is not always the fun and games we believe it to be. Amidst it all, I find it awe-inspiring what Loren did in those twenty years, including the commonplace rite of passage that is questioning career choices (like many of us have struggled through), quitting the business completely after a drug induced epiphany and spending a year in Europe, eventually creating his own management/promotions startup back in the States with fellow professionals, to starting all over again with questioning his path. Fortunately he proved how nothing is truly set in stone, even when it comes to careers.

While it is a well-known fact that the decades in which Loren graduated from college and began his career in the music industry – the late 60s and 70s – were a time of experimentation, especially when it came to drug use, High Notes illustrates just how high those times were. A puff shared here and there, as well as trying new forms of psychedelics on a whim and bouts of growing their own drugs in flowerpots, are scattered throughout the novel, so much so that you wonder how Loren remembers details of his experiences at all. These occurrences are definitive of the generation and era, however, so I pass no judgment on their inclusion in the book. It should just simply be noted for those concerned about any mature content.

Richard Loren, author of 'High Notes: A Rock Memoir'

Even amidst the good and bad, the ups and downs, and the strange and crazy that comes with the business, Loren, in my opinion, wrote a handful of intriguing anecdotes that, despite any circumstances in which he came about them, can still be applied to anyone, any life, and any situation. Whether it is the idea that “destiny can find you no matter where you are,” or the concept of going on your personal journey, “following whatever touched [your] heart or caught [your] attention,” coming across these quotations in the text resonates with the free spirits and souls in all of us. That just as we strive for liberation today, so many people were doing the same in the past… just in different ways.

One passage in High Notes that caught my attention most was no more than five pages into the book. Found in the final paragraph of the prologue, this excerpt helps to remind us (or at least me) of the importance of memories and not only recollecting them for ourselves, but also sharing them with those that come after us. It is quotes like this that set the stage for the rest of the novel, and what Loren sought to accomplish by writing High Notes.

Loren writes:

“Looking back was satisfying as it was difficult, and I highly recommend the process as a universal ritual everyone should endeavor to make. To tell the story of your life in words, songs, pictures, or whatever medium you choose will allow you the opportunity to know yourself in a profoundly affecting way. It can be a voyage of self-discovery and lead to peace of reconciliation. Perhaps, just as importantly, it leaves a record of passage for those who follow, a thread that helps to bind the fabric of the passing years.”

Overall, Loren’s written style is very candid and flows well. He does jump from topic to topic, as well as introducing and immediately dismissing people without much consideration or back story.  I would probably do the same, though, with roughly half a century’s worth of stories. Likewise, the quickness of his recollections could also be a way to demonstrate the reality of his fleeting time with a variety of people, even if he didn’t think much of those individuals (such as Andy Warhol).

At times, the movement through the book can get slightly jumbled. Loren will, for example, discuss his feelings regarding a death of a person he knew – like Jim Morrison – but then continue later on with further accounts that include that person. I find that death typically signifies the end of a recollection and reintroducing that person in the following chapter interrupts the seemingly chronological flow of the biography. It may just be something I recognized as a writer myself, but it is by no means a deal breaker.

Nevertheless, High Notes: A Rock Memoir  is a nostalgic depiction of events for those who were of age from the 60s to the 80s, as well as exactly the type of saga you’d expect about the the lives of musicians. But it also reveals a greater understanding for what truly happened and a deeper look into the lives and lifestyles of those people. Old reports of these times only ever tell of the sex, drugs, destruction, and rebellion. Richard Loren represents and shares the truth of an entire community of artists and revolutionaries that we have spent years trying to understand. In light of reading this book, I would love to read more adventures from Loren’s life, including some of the other (possibly even lesser) bands he was able to work with, as well as a more in-depth look at his travels.

High Notes: A Rock Memoir by Richard Loren with Stephen Abney will be published in November 2014.

Check out the book’s website for more.

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Rachel Policano

Writer - Reviews & Features
Journalist/writer, Photographer, Designer. I'm obsessed with all things music, films, books, fashion, and travel. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr for more!

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