Music In My Life by Alec Wightman – book reviewMusic In My Life: Notes From A Longtime Fan
Alec Wightman
Small Batch Books

In his first book, Alec Wightman recounts his lifelong obsession with music, from experiencing the rock & roll explosion of the late ’60s to becoming chair of the board of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Alec Wightman distinctly remembers when rock & roll first spoke to him: December 1961. He was ten years old. The song was The Wanderer by Dion. And it ignited a lifelong passion for music.

Yet, Wightman never became a musician. He admits the talent just wasn’t there. At school, he’d been asked to narrate the nativity production just to keep him out of the choir. In college, he’d tried his hand at lyric writing, but that was just a bit of fun.

Instead, he made the less than obvious second choice: Wightman became a corporate lawyer. Of course, that didn’t stop him from buying records, poring over album liner notes, or going to concerts. More surprisingly, perhaps, it didn’t stop him from setting up a short-lived (one album) record label, creating a far more successful live music promotions company, or becoming chair of the board of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The perfectly named Music In My Life: Notes From A Longtime Fan details that journey, interspersing personal experiences with interesting factoids (like how Steve Winwood became the best friend of the Hungarian ambassador to US) and carefully researched passages on subjects ranging from the origins of the “Austin sound” to the inner workings of the Rock Hall.

So the reader gets to relive the explosion of rock & roll from 1967 through Wightman’s vivid first-hand memories of live shows by everyone from The Who and The Temptations to Rod Stewart and the Faces and Derek And The Dominoes. We follow the emergence of the singer-songwriter genre through the author’s personal discovery on record and in concert of its rising stars (James Taylor, CSNY, Neil Young, Boz Scaggs, et al) just as they were ascending. We get to understand the evolution of country music from the traditional to Americana that includes a detailed recollection of Dolly Parton performing on the back of a flatbed truck to an audience on hay bales at the 1975 Ashland County Fair.

There are more in-depth sections on Wightman’s personal favourites, like Young. “There is no one I would drive farther to see, pay more to see, or have seen more often than Neil Young,” he writes and goes a long way to prove this, including a particularly engaging description of a show on the “unique” Tonight’s The Night tour. Bruce Springsteen also gets a lot of love and is one of the multiple big names he encounters during his Rock Hall tenure.

The names may not be quite as big, but the interactions are more substantial when he describes the work of his Zeppelin Productions promotion company since 1995. He lovingly describes his experiences working with legends — like spending 48 hours as, essentially, Jimmy Webb’s driver and dealing with the very particular requirements of Art Garfunkel (including a freshly ironed white shirt just before showtime).

But, as exciting as the celebrity anecdotes are, Music In My Life is also very much about the lesser-known artists Wightman has formed lasting relationships with. “Why Tom Petty and not Chuck Prophet? Why Faith Hill and not Kelly Willis?” he asks at one point, emphasising his ongoing quest to find and showcase new voices outside the mainstream. These include the likes of Tom Russell, Dave Alvin, John Fullbright, Rosie Flores, Prophet, and Willis, all described with such generosity that the reader feels compelled to discover them too.

That contagious enthusiasm for music is always at the heart of Music In My Life and only makes the final chapter, which brings Wightman’s story full circle, all the more touching.

~

Music In My Life: Notes From A Longtime Fan is available on Amazon.

Words by Nils van der Linden. You can visit his author profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @nilsvdlinden.

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Once upon a time, in Cape Town, South Africa, Nils was a full-time entertainment journalist. Now, in London, he just does it for fun.

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