- Hardcover: 560 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 4, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743230108
- ISBN-13: 978-0743230100
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,683,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000 Hardcover – May 4, 2004
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Martin Torgoff came of age just about the same time as the drug boom, a circumstance that informs his overview of America's "Great Stoned Age." Chronicling the irrepressible onslaught of mind-altering substances from the end of World War II through the close of the century, Torgoff (whose previous publishing efforts have centered around rockers Elvis Presley and John Cougar Mellencamp) intersperses the personal with the historical. Laying the groundwork with his own recollections of indulgence beginning in the late 1960s, the author flashes back to the Beat era, which he asserts opened the door for all that followed. Interviews with the obscure and celebrated add color and detail to the chronicle. Here's Herbert Huncke, the unapologetic hustler and heroin addict who lurked on the periphery of '50s bohemian scene and turned up as a character in William Burroughs' pulp memoir Junkie. Into the 1960s, there's acid guru Timothy Leary, poet Allan Ginsburg, record producer Paul Rothchild, Woodstock MC Wavy Gravy, and others caught up in a wave of revolutionary experimentation and excess. The '70s leads to the cocaine craze (embodied here by party girl Suzie Ryan), which begets drug wars (with plenty of casualties on both sides), Just Say No, the crack epidemic, and rave culture. While Torgoff's tome is too capricious to serve as the final word on America's drug obsession, it's eminently readable and entertaining, thanks to its expansive, pop-culture-informed tone. There's an almost insane momentum to this tale, with dozens of astonishing twists and turns. Imagine Jimmy Carter's drug czar, Dr. Peter Bourne, snorting cocaine at a party thrown the by pot legalization group NORML. Then picture George H.W. Bush's point man on drugs, William Bennett, remarking in an interview that it would be "morally plausible" to behead drug dealers. So much for moderation. --Steven Stolder
From Publishers Weekly
Torgoff challenges what he calls America's "cultural amnesia" about recreational drug use during the last half-century, staking out a rhetorical middle ground that acknowledges both the pervasive cultural influence and the costs of overindulgence. The problem with his panoramic account is its focus on celebrities, especially among the creative classes, whose stories have already been told. That makes for a series of often stunning imagesâ"Charlie Parker in the grip of heroin addiction, Wavy Gravy confronting Charles Manson, John Belushi snorting cocaine on live TVâ"especially given Torgoff's skills as an interviewer (and the good fortune of getting to talk with key figures like Herbert Huncke and Timothy Leary before their deaths), but at the expense of discovering what happened once various drugs made their way to ordinary folks in the suburbs. Torgoff (who won an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for American Fool, about John Cougar Mellencamp) does touch on that by opening with his own early drug use on '60s Long Island and closing with a poignant encounter with an aged homeless junkie, and the book could have used more stories like that. The discussion of the government's "war on drugs" is somewhat scattershot; though detailed on President Carter's flirtation with relaxing the laws and the militancy of the "Just Say No" era, there's nothing about Nixon's policiesâ"a particularly stunning omission since the DEA was created during his administration. Torgoff creates compelling juxtapositions, and he's not afraid to ask difficult questions, but he hasn't truly broken new ground.
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Pictures and a summary of the cast of characters would have enhanced the book. All in all a good read.
CFMWH starts with the drug scene in the 1950s Beat Generation, where Bird Parker slowly destroys himself with heroin and Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg delve deep into marijuana. From there the Torgoff takes us into the 60's, hippies, and the Summer of Love. The 1970's discuss the club scene and the emergent drug smuggling from South America. The 80's and 90's see the rise of gangs, and the emergence of Ecstasy.
Torgoff's prose is highly readable, and CFMWH is a page turner in an odd sort of way. Torgoff's greatest achievement is one that's hard to gain when writing on a topic like illegal drug use: being evenhanded but not necessarily neutral. He's got his own story of addiction to tell, but it doesn't bleed into the narrative. Some of his characters make it; some don't. All are changed. CFMWH is an attempt to answer "what did it all mean?" We may never know, but Torgoff's book tries to guide us through the experiences of those who took the long, strange trip.