Dylan upset the crowd by plugging in at Newport, while We Five had its meteoric million-seller “You Were on My Mind.” The genres aligned in perfect symmetry — or the carnival milk bottles got knocked over, never to be set right again.
Fifty years later, Jerry Burgan, one of We Five’s musicians, probes the question in “Wounds to Bind: A Memoir of the Folk-Rock Revolution.”
But musicology (want to learn about the advent of the 12-string guitar?) is not necessarily the reason to read this remarkable memoir. (“Wounds to Bind” is the final refrain of “You Were on My Mind.”)
Together with writer Alan Rifkin, Burgan sets his sights much higher. The real story is one of too-early success in the same San Francisco scene where sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll would shortly shoulder demure folk-rock rudely aside.
It’s also an intimate portrait of a boyhood friendship ripening into rivalry and then redemption.
The friend was Mike Stewart (brother of the Kingston Trio’s John Stewart). The two played banjo and guitar in Burgan’s Southern California bedroom, no different from thousands of teens. But it turns out that Michael, as he later wanted to be called, possessed a “mystical ability to hear a work in all its parts and hold it in his head.”
This, plus the Kingston Trio link, led the University of San Francisco sophomores to the North Beach recording studio of renowned manager Frank Werber, who figured he could pass the Trio’s baton to a new generation. (The vivid profile of cultural maven Werber may alone be justification for the book.)
In the telling, Burgan sprinkles a lush garden of backstage show biz. Part of Dick Clark’s 1965 musical caravan, which included the Byrds and Paul Revere and the Raiders, We Five found themselves crammed into an impossibly overcrowded bus. Clark intervened with a directive to rent additional vehicles, thereby, “look[ing] like who he was: youthful, reassuring, inseparable from his instincts. ...”
Inevitably, the Hollywood TV gigs (Bob Hope’s and Fred Astaire’s shows) peter out as the excitement of “You Were on My Mind” wanes without an encore. County fair dates and lounge act bookings follow.
Just when the narrative should flag, the writing and drama of personal lives carry the day. Somewhere in the odyssey, Burgan gained introspection.
At book’s end, the where-are-they-now squares are dutifully checked. The details prove poignant.
Some We Five members stuck with music (Mike Stewart, dead at 57, hit it big as a producer for Billy Joel); the bassist became a self-anointed minister to the homeless. The risible sixth member, the drummer, died mysteriously in 1985 from head trauma.
Burgan treats each with unfailing tenderness and perception. That applies to “Wounds to Bind” cover to cover.
Wounds to Bind: A Memoir of the Folk-Rock Revolution
By Jerry Burgan with Alan Rifkin
Published by Rowman & Littlefield