With a title nod to Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man, Flanagan’s 645-page epic about rock music spans more than four decades in the life of the Ravons (Rave-ons), a fictional band that starts in London and careens like a pinball through the music universe that unhinged the popular consciousness with the arrival of the Beatles. The behind-the-scenes tales are told in the steady, likeable, first-person delivery of the band’s manager, Jack Flynn, who starts as a neophyte lawyer who shoulders the management of the Ravons’ tours and music contracts from his firm’s senior partners. The charismatic star—Emerson Cutler—is being sued for divorce and wants to catch his faithless wife in flagrante in a hotel in Spain (as leverage against his own adultery). Jack is dispatched to do the job because “you are young, Flynn. You are part of this… new vogue.” The year is 1967, and Jack’s life is forever changed.
The band members have very distinct personalities, and it’s quite a ride as the group breaks up, reassembles, suffers reversals, betrayals, marriage, divorce, drugs, alcohol, wealth, and poverty. Seen through the pragmatic eyes of Jack—the manager as confessor/father/nursemaid/fixer—the last four decades of the 20th century come alive in small details that give rise to larger, context-setting philosophical musings about how humans respond to the changing culture with fear and love, wit and courage, greed and selfishness. Even if you weren’t there, it’s fun to revisit the times—except when it’s not. The crashes, the greed, the waste of talent and energy, the money-grubbing snobbishness—from Woodstock up to 9/11 and a few years beyond—the last four or five decades have a lot to answer for. The story drags here and there, but at the end, you don’t want to leave Jack and his friends behind.