A life-long music fan writes.
This is an interesting book to have come across the review desk, in the wake of some quite weighty submissions of late. In complete contrast to some of the heavily journalistic and/or deeply academic books that seem to be becoming the norm in music writing, what we have here is an unashamed fan letter to music.
Alec Wightman is a corporate lawyer and, by all accounts, a successful one. He is also a life-long music fan who has given his spare time over to promoting increasingly successful concerts, usually focusing on singer-songwriters, that genre being his particular passion. His enthusiasm for live music leads to him becoming first a board member and then chair of the board for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and that, in turn, has brought him into more contact with musicians and the music business and that’s really what this very enjoyable book is all about – a fan writing down his experiences of being around music and what that has meant to him. Something, I’m sure, that will resonate with other fans around the world.
Like so many creative projects of the last couple of years, Alec Wightman’s book came about largely because of Covid. It seems that, over the years, friends and family had suggested he write a book around his experiences with the music that inspired him, and he started to write back around 2016 when health issues for himself and his wife meant he had time available; but progress was slow until the arrival of the pandemic, which seems to have had quite an effect on focusing people’s attention on creativity.
Wightman hasn’t written a book before and, in some ways, that shows; but that’s a good thing. There’s a refreshing honesty and natural humility about this book. What you have here is a first-hand account of, as he puts it, “sixty years of rock and roll fandom, including twenty-six as a promoter and sixteen as a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame board.” That makes for a very enjoyable and informative read. The story starts with his revelationary moment, that time when, just coming up to his eleventh birthday, he hears Dion’s ‘The Wanderer’ on his transistor radio and is hooked for life. We go through his teenage years and his increasing appreciation of the well-written song, first and foremost – the craft of the songwriter and the troubadour’s ability to capture a story in song. We get his college years and the impact of the Kent State killings and opposition to the Vietnam War. Cleverly, Wightman avoids writing extensively about his legal career, a trap that many new writers in his position might fall into. Though this is, essentially, a form of autobiography, he clearly has a strong idea of his audience for this book and, rightly I’m sure, surmises that they’re not going to be interested in the day-to-day work of a corporate lawyer in Ohio. He keeps the book very much about his fascination with the music and his growing involvement with the music business; references to his day job are cursory nods.
The chapter that I found particularly enjoyable was about a third of the way into the book when he talks about the start of his own concert promotions business, Zeppelin Productions (absolutely nothing to do with Led Zeppelin, and that in itself, is a fun story too). You can feel the enthusiasm coming off the page and I would guess it was a chapter he particularly enjoyed writing. It’s fun, entertaining, and contains more than its fair share of valuable information for anyone thinking of going into the concert promotions business.
The great thing about this book is that it could’ve been written by anyone growing up in the sixties and seventies. Yes, they’d have to have become relatively successful in their job and have built up an extensive set of connections in and around the music business but, the point is, that this is a book that anyone who spent their youth, and beyond, obsessed with music could write and, as such, it will appeal to a sizeable audience. It’s not just the Boomer generation that will find this fascinating, though the early part of the book will have more resonance for them, anyone who has felt that siren call of rock and roll and who knows what it feels like to listen to the radio, under the covers late at night, or to obsess over the charts at the end of the week, will relate to this book. It is, at its heart, a love letter to the art of producing songs and that’s something that anyone reading this review will be able to identify with, otherwise, they wouldn’t be here.
As the book progresses it becomes more and more about the concerts he promoted and the work of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and this is also interesting and entertaining; he makes good use of his many anecdotes of encounters with musicians and those around the music business. The book is full of little stories about many names that will resonate with Americana fans – Chuck Prophet and Tom Russell, both now close friends of the author, Gretchen Peters, Jimmie Dale Gilmour and the other Flatlanders Butch Hancock and Joe Ely, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Katy Moffatt, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Art Garfunkel; the list goes on and on and the stories are all entertaining and often offer an interesting insight into the business of small scale touring in America.
I knew I was going to enjoy this book when I read the prologue. Talking about introducing Art Garfunkel for a show he promoted back in 2013 he writes, “Looking out over hundreds of enraptured faces, I realise I have brought enormous joy to all these people. That’s not a sensation most corporate lawyers ever experience.” Wightman writes with enthusiasm, a wry wit, and an eye for a story, all of which makes this a book to seek out.