On an otherwise quiet day in early September 1971, music lovers descended upon the quiet hamlet of Satsop, Washington – just a stone’s throw down the road from Olympia – to experience what many believed would be the worthy follow-up to the legendary Woodstock Music Festival from just two years earlier.
Billed as the “Satsop River Fair and Tin Cup Races,” this extravaganza initially boasted such marquee names as Ike and Tina Turner and Eric Clapton until monetary issues whittled the lineup down to only a handful of hale and hardy bands. One of those bands that did play there that day, The Buoys, much like the Satsop music festival itself, has largely been forgotten over the ensuing decades, reduced to only a half-forgotten memory for the 150,000 fans who were lucky enough to be there.
Enter Maxim W. Furek and his corrective to rock and roll history: “Somebody Else’s Dream: Dakota, The Buoys, & ‘Timothy,’” a book dedicated to preserving the story of The Buoys and Washington’s own brief connection with them.
In a tour de force bit of writing, author and rock journalist Maxim W. Furek has rescued from the dustbin of music history the surprisingly riveting story of the little-remembered 1970s band called The Buoys. That this book is not only part celebration of a creative era in music whose like we’ve not seen since, but also equal amounts cautionary tale of the bacchanalia which went hand-in-hand with that creativity is all mere icing on a very rich and filling history. Music aficionadoes and historians take note: You’re in for one special treat with this 348 page gem.
There was a time – 1971 to be precise – when all any self-respecting music fan could talk about was an oddball folk and pop hybrid song called Timothy, performed by The Buoys.. The quirky piece picked up with a solemn glee where other previous novelty songs left off – Stranded in the Jungle by The Cadets, Transfusion by Nervous Norvus - and resembling nothing less than The Kingston Trio’s 1959 smash Tom Dooley on a bad and dirge-like acid trip, Timothy. As envisioned by composer and songwriter Rupert Holmes and translated by American roots band The Buoys, it touched upon the very taboo subject of cannibalism in a coal mine.
More than “touched upon” actually; Timothy dove head-first into the murky waters of the subject with a bravura that, in early 1970s America at least, was unheard of. Parents and community leaders reacted in outrage over the questionable lyrics of Timothy, radio stations banned the tune from their playlists, insisting that it was quite simply the worst song ever pressed onto vinyl. Of course, this created even more of a desire from the public to hear exactly what everyone was making such a big fuss over. For their dark pioneering spirit, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pennsylvania band scored a sleeper hit on the coveted Billboard charts and a few obscure lines of note in the annals of rock and roll history.
If this were almost any other book, the Timothy controversy would be the apex and the climax of the story of The Buoys, with perhaps a coda relegating the rest of the history of this five-person band to but a few more pages. Credit where it’s due, the scribe who brought us the critically praised book The Death Proclamation of Generation X is too smart to fall into that trap.
In Furek’s capable hands Timothy and its supporters and detractors almost feel like a springboard to the next acts in the far-flung lives of The Buoys and the author runs with it, delivering an unexpected tale that really isn’t that uncommon in the world of entertainment: A group of good-natured underdogs who latch onto the brass ring before succumbing to the excess of the 1970s rock and roll lifestyle.
Along the inevitable pathway, the small-town-boys-made good brush up against some of the serious movers and shakers of their time. It’s here the book truly shines as it takes such rock luminaries as Frank Zappa and Sly and the Family Stone and places them in a context wholly different from the pages of Creem and Rolling Stone in which they’re oft-times portrayed as nigh god-like. In Furek’s work they and others of their ilk are delightfully human, brought back down to earth and finally revealed as the simple (yet highly talented) people they’ve always been.
What Somebody Else’s Dream ultimately transforms into as the reader peels back the layers is nothing less than a wide-eyed panorama of an America far in the 2023 rearview mirror. It’s a call-back to a simpler and alternately more difficult time worthy of other commentators on this country and its landscape such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Peter Guralnick and Bob Greene.
As the story of The Buoys progresses beyond 1971 and Timothy, its not only the band that morphs and changes, so too does America, twisting and contorting Mississippi River-like as it struggles to keep up with the sheer excess of the times. What’s left standing at the end of the day – and at the end of Furek’s brilliant book – is nothing short of both hopeful and hopeless, a bittersweet paean to a band and an era which briefly captured musical lightning in a bottle.
Ryan Vandergriff writes from Olympia about the arts scene here.