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Rock Me on the Water: 1974 The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television And Politics Hardcover – 2 June 2021
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- Publisher : HarperCollins US (2 June 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 448 pages
- ISBN-10 : 006289921X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062899217
- Dimensions : 15.24 x 3.48 x 22.86 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 34,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"Convincing. . . . The book truly sparks to life."--PopMatters
Sweeping cultural history. . . . Enriched by interviews with the period's luminaries, including Warren Beatty and Linda Ronstadt, this astute and wide-ranging account shows how L.A. led the U.S. into an era when the 1960s counterculture became mainstream.--Publishers Weekly
"In his brilliant cultural history, Rock Me on the Water, 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."--Los Angeles Review of Books
"I'm absolutely loving Rock Me on the Water, Ron Brownstein's riveting new book about L.A., circa '74, when the City of Angels was the hub of an extraordinary revolution in film, music, culture and politics. Really a fun read. Highly recommended!!"--David Axelrod, Senior Political Commentator, CNN
"More than just summarizing or reviewing what such films and shows were about, the author dives deep into how they were created, financed, promoted and received. His many interviews with actors, writers, directors and executives of that era lend such renderings veracity and energy."--Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"My friend and CNN colleague Ron Brownstein has written a terrific book. Rock Me on The Water tells the amazing story of 1974 and how it changed the U.S. If you're old enough to have lived through 1974, it will bring back memories. If you're too young, you will learn a lot."--Wolf Blitzer, anchor of The Situation Room, CNN
"One of the very best on 1974 -- a hinge of cultural history for American TV, movies & music. All in his new book Rock Me on The Water."--Major Garrett, Chief Washington Correspondent, CBS News
"Ron Brownstein has written a truly terrific book! I moved to LA in Jan. 1974 when this story opens but it is about so much more than a city. It is insider scoops of pop culture leading us out of Nixon, as it will lead us out of Trump. I should be working but can't stop reading."--John W. Dean, CNN contributor and former Nixon White House Counsel
"This is a terrific book about a pivot-point in US cultural history, which led to reshaping our political landscape. Ron Brownstein is a dadgum genius. Highly recommend this book."--Paul Begala, CNN contributor and former counselor to President Clinton
"Timely and relevant." --She Reads
"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."--New York Times
Brownstein knits together the threads of history to show that, for the first time in 1974, politics and entertainment were not separate things, that the line between the two was blurred almost to the point of irrelevance. An insightful, expertly written book.--Booklist
An endlessly engaging cultural history that will resonate with anyone alive in 1974.--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Brownstein's kaleidoscopic account of a historic generational transformation that took place in American culture, American politics, and American life in the crucible of modern Los Angeles during the magical year of 1974. It encapsulates in compelling detail the moment when young people and young ideas were moving in on an older generation, based on the strength of new-found creativity and idealism. It documents the triumphs and failures of that new generation with vividness, humor, and, most of all, deep understanding. Running through every page is the author's deep love for his adopted home. A beautiful ride through an unforgettable time.--Jon Landau
"One of the sharpest analysts of American politics, Ron Brownstein in Rock Me on the Water offers a fresh, vivid and insightful look at how politics and popular culture intertwined to reshape American life at a moment of profound generational transition -- LA in the early 1970s. It's an electric story filled with gripping personalities, compelling backstage histories, and a clear message for the divided America of today: the forces that fear change can win for a time, but in America the future always gets the last word. A lyrical recreation of a magical moment."--Jake Tapper
Rock Me On The Water documents the high-octane storybook world of Los Angeles in 1974 with masterful intimacy and fearless cultural analysis. His well-rendered portraits of Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, Joni Mitchell, David Geffen and other luminaries of the time are sublime. This is an extremely kinetic historical document, and a testament to Brownstein's lasting importance as both a fact-driven journalist and elegant prose-stylist. A must read!--Douglas Brinkley, author of American Moonshot
About the Author
Ronald Brownstein, a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of presidential campaigns, is a National Journal contributing editor and a senior editor at The Atlantic. Prior to joining Atlantic Media, Brownstein was the national affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He has also served as the Times' national political correspondent and the author of the weekly Washington Outlook column. Brownstein is a National Journal alumnus, having served as the magazine's White House and national politics correspondent from 1983-1986, and then as its west coast correspondent through 1989. In addition, he currently serves as a senior political analyst for CNN and also served as an electoral analyst for ABC News during the 2012 election. His most recent book, The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America, was published by Penguin in November 2007.
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With respect to the music, he highlights the careers of singer songwriters Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne along with Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, Crosby, Stills and Nash and the music impresario David Geffen. The way he writes about Ronstadt it seems that he had quite the teenage crush on her. Brownstein was sixteen at the time and likely was not alone.
Among the musicians and the actors Brownstein writes of excessive drug use and bed swapping among his leading characters. At times you needed a scorecard to see who was sleeping with who and as the year progressed cocaine use grew to the extent that it eroded their creativity in the years to come.
On television Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin made social commentary and had big hit with “All in the Family.” Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor, became a caricature of Nixon’s silent majority. But what Brownstein does not understand a good part of the audience was laughing with Archie, not at him. As an aside, I sat next to O’Connor at a wedding and he was far funnier than he was on television. It was also the time of “Maude,” “Mash” and “Mary Tyler Moore.” Brownstein revels in idea that previously untouchable subjects were brought up on television.
Where Brownstein goes astray is when he writes about politics of the era. He spends way too much time on Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. I knew both of them. By 1974 the antiwar movement was a spent force. The real activism on the Left was taking place in the nascent environmental movement which was planting the seeds for today’s housing crisis in California, feminism, and gay rights.
On the Right activism was on the rise in opposition to feminism, school busing and rising property taxes. Those movements would flower later in the decade and bring on the Reagan revolution. In 1974 Jerry Brown was not the future, Ronald Reagan was, and I say this as someone who knew Brown then and served on his Housing Task Force. Jerry Brown was a far better governor 40 years later in his second go around.
Most troubling and not mentioned by Brownstein was that while all of the actors and musicians were partying on, Los Angeles was beset by gas lines, a recession, and the collapse of its manufacturing base. For most people 1974 was a very bad year and what they longed for was escape. It took a while, but Hollywood finally figured it out, just as it did during the Great Depression.
I was on the periphery of the events discussed in the book. To me the book stated out very strong then faded. Brownstein preaches too much and he forgets that entertainment is a business, and that business will not succeed if it beats people over the head by telling them how bad all of the social problems of the country are. As Brownstein notes George Lucas of “Star Wars” fame wanted people to feel better after they left the theater than when they first arrived. I go to the movies and listen to music to be entertained. If I want to look at the flaws in American life, I watch the news and read The Atlantic, of which I am a subscriber.
I made it through 10 pages of Chapter 1-- a weird rehash of things everyone aleady knows about Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty (that has nothing to do with the thesis of the book)-- before finally calling it quits.
A waste of time and money.
In 1974, far from Los Angeles, in Washington, D.C., the Senate’s televised Watergate hearings also took place in the summer of 1974, and then on August 8, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon announced that he was resigning. Television and movies coming out of Los Angeles in 1974 were no match for the televised political drama involving Nixon that summer.
In any event, Brownstein says, “Cultural eras don’t precisely follow the calendar. The creative renaissance in Los Angeles did not begin on January 1, 1974 (or even January 1, 1967). It did not abruptly end on December 31, 1974. But the dynamic that rejuvenated culture and politics in Los Angeles reached their fullest expression through 1974. And as the year transitioned into 1975, forces gathered momentum that would end the city’s revival in movies, music, television, and politics” (page 354).
In Brownstein’s “Acknowledgments” (pages 391-395), he says, “I spent seventeen happy years at the Los Angeles Times” (page 392).
Brownstein’s new 400-page 2021 book is a love song to the television, movies, and music coming out of Los Angeles in the early 1970s – well before his years at the Los Angeles Times. His book is also a loving valentine to certain values of activists of the 1960s such as Tom Hayden (born in 1939) and Jane Fonda (born in 1937). Because Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 (page 5) tended to be over-represented in demonstrations in the 1960s, Brownstein works with a contrast between Baby Boomers and their parents – variously known as the Greatest Generation or as Nixon’s “silent majority.”
The values advanced in critiques of American life in the 1960s that Brownstein celebrates include “greater suspicion of authority in business and government, more assertive roles for women, more tolerance of pre-marital sex, greater acceptance of racial and sexual minorities” (page 4; also see page 288).
According to Brownstein, those values advocated in the 1960s “were not widely accepted before they were infused into the movies, television, and music emerging in this period [the early 1970s] in Los Angeles” (page 4). According to Brownstein, the right “definitively lost the [cultural] war” “[i]n the struggle for control of popular culture” (page 4).
Brownstein later streamlines the values of “the social movements of the 1960s” as “suspicion of authority, greater personal freedom, more respect for marginalized groups, and increased tolerance of differences” (page 389).
Disclosure: Like President Joe Biden (born in 1942), I was born before 1946 – in my father’s hometown in the state of New York. However, in my case, my father was a decorated soldier in World War II. So my parents were part of the Greatest Generation. In the 1960s, I listened to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speak on the campus of Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 12, 1964, and then again on March 25, 1965, in Montgomery, Alabama. Over the 1970s, I taught approximately one thousand black inner-city youth under open admissions. For example, in 1975-1976, I taught English at the City College of the City of New York (CUNY) during CUNY’s idealistic experiment with tuition-free open admissions, which helped bankrupt New York City in May 1976. Only years later did I receive my May 1976 paycheck. In the 1960s and early 1970s, I was also an antiwar demonstrator against the Vietnam War. Consequently, I did not vote for the native Californian Nixon in 1968 or in 1972 (nor did I vote for the native New Yorker Trump in 2016 or in 2020).
For the record, neither the City of Los Angeles nor the University of California ever funded a large-scale idealistic experiment in tuition-free open admissions comparable to CUNY’s. For a sober reflection on CUNY’s multi-campus experiment, see Theodore L. Gross’ book Academic Turmoil: The Reality and Promise of Open Education (Garden City: Anchor Press/ Doubleday, 1980). But also see Jane Maher’s book Mina P. Shaughnessy: Her Life and Work (Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1997).
But please also note that Brownstein’s book was published by a publisher in New York, not by a publisher in Los Angeles. Then again, arguably book-reading Americans may not contribute as much to American popular culture today as movies, music, and television out of Los Angeles did in 1974.
Now, why did the native New Yorker Brownstein write his celebratory book about his adopted hometown of Los Angeles?
In Brownstein’s “Prologue: Magic Hour in Los Angeles” (pages 1-10), he provides his own answer to this crucial question -- but it prompts me to pause and say, “What?!”
You see, Brownstein says, “The early 1970s represented a confrontation between a massive younger generation intent on change and a political order controlled by older generations opposing such change [including the Greatest Generation who had fought in World War II]. That struggle, between those who welcomed and resisted new attitudes and arrangements, has echoes today in the conflicting visions of a president [Donald J. (“Tweety”) Trump] who mobilizes a political coalition focused on restoring a more racially and culturally homogenous America [a Trump coalition including not only still living older whites in the Greatest Generation, but also, presumably, many now aging white non-college-educated Baby Boomers who may not have been so intent on change in the 1960s and 1970s] and the huge Millennials and their younger siblings have changed the culture more quickly than they have changed the politics. But America’s diverse emerging generations will inevitably stamp their priorities on the nation’s politics as well, even if those priorities evolve over time. Today, the Millennials and Generation Z, the two largest cohorts of Americans born after 1981, represent a larger share of the total American population than the Baby Boomers did even at their peak” (page 9).
For the record, in the 2020 presidential election, Trump received the most votes ever cast for a Republican running for president. Fortunately, Joe Biden received millions of more votes than Trump did.
In any event, Brownstein’s rationale for his 400-page nostalgic and sentimental trip down memory lane to 1974 in movies, music, and television coming out of Los Angeles is to set up an encouraging view of cultural change for the younger Americans born after 1981. Please don’t misunderstand me here. In general, I have no objection to trying to encourage younger Americans born after 1981. No doubt younger Americans and older Americans today need to be encouraged as we cope with the losses of loved ones to Covid-19 and with the economic struggles of the fallout from the worldwide pandemic.
But your guess is as good as mine as to how many Americans born after 1981 will find Brownstein’s 400-page nostalgic and sentimental trip down memory lane to 1974 in movies, music, and television coming out of Los Angeles encouraging. My guess is that only the most nostalgic and sentimental aging Baby Boomers who did not vote for Trump in 2020 will enjoy reading Brownstein’s book.
Not surprisingly, Edmund Gerald (“Jerry”) Brown, Jr. (born in 1938; twice two-term Governor of California: 1975-1983 and 2011-2019) appears in Brownstein’s book, initially because he dated the singer Linda Ronstadt in 1971 (pages 66 and 374; see the “Index” for further page references to Brown and/or to Linda Ronstadt [born in 1946]). Jerry Brown is the son of Edmund Gerald (“Pat”) Brown, Sr. (1905-1996; two-term Governor of California, 1959-1967).
In Brownstein’s Chapter 12: “December: Transitions” (pages 352-389), he says, “No individual life encompasses a generation’s experience, but the extraordinary long arc of Brown’s career did provide a yardstick to measure the enduring impact of the social and political movements that inspired him during the 1960s. Many of the causes Brown championed over his career emerged from those movements. Ideas that seemed novel or threatening when Brown first raised them (more inclusion of women and people of color, greater tolerance of gay rights, more emphasis on sustainable living and renewable power) have become mainstream. Those were undeniable gains, but they represented only one side of the ledger. The ascent of the Baby Boomers, which became the largest cohort of eligible voters in 1984 and held that title until the Millennial generation surpassed them in 2020, never produced the larger political transformation that youthful leftist activists such as [Californian] Tom Hayden once anticipated. Instead, a decades-long struggle between the liberal wing of the Baby Boom, which dominated [news-media accounts about] the generation’s identity during the 1960s, and its more conservative and traditional elements [of little or no interest to the media in the 1960s], which grew more assertive over time [e.g., in the 2020 presidential election], fueled the heightening polarization that reshaped American politics after the 1960s. The liberal Baby Boomers, on most fronts, won the war over changing the culture, but they never achieved a lasting political victory. It was telling that the four Baby Boomers who (so far) have won the presidency are divided between two Republicans (Donald Trump and George W. Bush, born three weeks apart in June and July 1946) and two Democrats (Bill Clinton, born only a few weeks after them in August 1946, and Barack Obama, born nearer the boom’s end, in August 1961)” (page 375).
Now, in Brownstein’s “Index” (pages 429-439), there are helpful entries on film industry and racism, film industry and women, music industry and racism, music industry and women, racial equality, sexism, television and racism, and television and women. However, despite the fact that Brownstein frequently refers to Nixon as an important touchstone throughout his text, Nixon’s name does not appear in the “Index” – nor do the names of prominent national politicians that Brownstein often mentions (e.g., Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York (1925-1968), who was assassinated on June 6, 1968, in Los Angeles).
In conclusion, if you are already familiar with at least some of the movies, music, television, and politics of the 1970s that Brownstein discusses, you might enjoy his book, even if you were born after 1981. However, if you are not already familiar with at least some of the movies, music, television, and politics that Brownstein discusses, you might not enjoy his book.