Hoskyns is the editorial director for Rock's Back Pages, an online archive for music journalism. He's also the author of Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World's Greatest Rock Band, Hotel California and Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits. His new book, Small Town Talk, is Woodstock's musical history, beginning with its earliest days as a bohemian arts colony. We caught up with Hoskyns, 56, by phone from London.
What's on your nightstand?
I'm reading Karl Ove Knausgaard's Some Rain Must Fall. It's Book Five in the (My Struggle) series. I love the fact that you get into this guy's life. I thought Boyhood Island (Book Three) was the greatest writing on childhood. I really never read anything like it. He is extraordinary. ... It's an audacious literary enterprise.
My second book that I'm reading is West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein. I love oral histories. My oral history on Led Zeppelin was slightly inspired by her Edie, and in reading this, I kind of have gone back to the memories of the impact Edie had for me, and I also really like West of Eden. I've always been fascinated with the L.A. music scene. I could sort of read anything about the early days of Hollywood and the kind of occurrences she's writing about — the Doheny family, Jack Warner and Jennifer Jones are a few. It's an extraordinary story.
When you read a book on a place that you've written about, what do you hope to find?
I'm actually very interested in what Hollywood did to people. I don't know what it is, but there's just always something. I love looking at the kind of conjunction of glamor, money, darkness, mental illness and sunshine, and I also love people just talking. So, to be honest, I just like reading these people talking. You suddenly have Jane Fonda talking and then Dennis Hopper. It's just interesting people at an interesting time in Los Angeles.
And I have a third book that I will be reading — Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock'n'Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim. It's an interesting book about the London underbelly. I've always been interested in performers and the subculture found in England in the 1960s and 1970s. Litvinoff is an interesting and slightly tragic figure. He just connected with an interesting mixture of people. He was a center of a strange web.
Can you talk about then versus now? Could there ever be another Woodstock?
When it comes to the town of Woodstock, I think there are a lot of little towns like Woodstock where you can be in the country, but you can have a fairly bohemian community. In terms of Woodstock the festival, I don't think there can be anything like that again. That was the blueprint for the folk festival. It was so much more chaotic and authentic, really, than festivals are today, which are very well organized and very corporate with sponsors. The debauchery is quite contained, and obviously the counterculture of rock music can't really be replicated. It was a radical revolution for its time and happening for the first time. It would never have quite the same impact.
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