This post of 1969: A Brief and Beautiful Trip Back by author Sea Gudinski has been adapted from two previous posts, first is the spoiler free review followed by the spoiler full review and summary.
Thank you so much to author Sea Gudinski for providing me with a copy of 1969 in exchange for this honest review.
Spoiler Free Review
1969 is an epic road trip novel through time and space. It has a few fantasy elements that allow it to take some liberties through time but it balances reality with fantasy in the end.
Rhiannon is a young woman in the year 2000. She loves playing the drums in her 1960s rock cover band. She longs for the past, the time in which she thinks she would have belonged.
A series of mysterious events allow her to to travel back to 1969 and fully indulge in her fantasy lifestyle. Drugs and rock music take center stage for her to come of age in the summer of ’69.
She experiments with every hallucinogen you can think of, every psychedelic that could help her unlock the mysteries of the universe. Each trip is described in great detail and seems to come from a place of loving experience.
I do believe that experimenting with psychedelic drugs can be enlightening and fully encourage anyone to do so at least once in controlled and safe circumstances. I completely relate to some of the revelations Rhiannon has while under the influence of substances such as acid, mushrooms, or peyote.
It is important to find your place in the universe and to find your tribe. Rhiannon gets to experience a true sense of wonder and belonging before reality comes back into view.
1969 works very well as a complete novel. By the ending we have learned so much about all of the characters, we care deeply for them. But we only get there by reading a few hundred pages of meandering road trip escapades.
Some of the journeys this group embarks on become a little repetitive or even somewhat dull. The bulk of the book is spent describing drug trips and philosophizing about the meaning of life and everything in the universe. These pages do help to fill out the characters and their relationships to each other which does make for an overall more fulfilling novel but is somewhat tedious while it’s happening.
I found myself craving conflict throughout the fantasy part of the book. Everything was just going way too smoothly and it seemed like Rhiannon’s dream life was never going to end. When it finally did I felt more relieved than anything. I did not wish her harm but I was honestly kind of glad to see her finally face some trials.
Growing up will happen in part through philosophizing and finding meaning but a big part of growing up is overcoming adversity. It wasn’t until Rhiannon had some major issues to deal with that I really felt like she learned anything.
By the end she is a full character, a full person. Her journey is an epic one indeed, it just took some time to realize it. That makes this time travel fantasy even more realistic.
Overall, 1969: A Brief and Beautiful Trip Back is a lovely journey of what it means to grow up in any time period. I can definitely recommend it to fans of road trip novels and any well written contemporary fiction. It’s a handcrafted tale that reflects author Sea Gudinski well.
Life has its ups and downs and all we can do is learn from every encounter along the way.
1969: A Brief and Beautiful Trip Back Summary
1969 is a historical fiction novel that takes the reader on an epic journey through time and space. It explores the trips that we can make linearly through life as well as metaphysically through the aid of drugs.
Rhiannon is our protagonist. At the beginning of the book she is 18 years old in the year 2000. She plays with her jam band who is looking to make it big.
Her mom, Meredith, is completely overbearing. She is a religious prude who does not approve of Rhiannon’s friends or choice of lifestyle. She is so disapproving that she even calls in a missing persons report for her when she misses curfew one night.
But Rhiannon is all about the music and nothing will stop her from playing the drums. She lives to play old 60s classic rock and wishes she had lived then as a hippie instead of as a dreamer in her current era of grunge.
A talent scout is interested in their band and wants them to come out to San Francisco for an official deal. This is Rhiannon’s dream! She’s always wanted to leave Fresno and play professionally. The whole band is very excited by the opportunity.
To celebrate, they score big from a drug dealer. He gives Rhiannon a mystery crystal to smoke. She saves it for later.
After a huge fight with her mom she smokes one of the crystals, later identified as DMT, in her car. She has an incredibly intense trip during which she is certain she died.
Instead, she wakes up in San Francisco with no idea of how she drove there in her car. A group of hippies is greeting her when she comes to and the conversation leads to the discovery that it is in fact the year 1969.
Coincidentally, they are a band and in need of a new drummer. Without questioning this bizarre scenario too much Rhiannon jumps into her new life as a hippie in 1969.
The cast of characters includes Mary, the lead singer and flower child. Bobby, the main guitar and main ego. Aladdin, Bobby’s brother, keyboardist, and wandering philosopher. Space, the anti-capitalist base player. Billy, second guitar and general background player. And Faye, the unreal ethereal tambourine player and lover to Billy.
The whole first act of the book deals with Rhiannon wanting to leave her life in Fresno and all of the conflict that built to this yen. The whole second act is her getting exactly what she wanted.
The long second act, the bulk of the book, meanders through various drug trips, philosophizing, and general conversation. Bobby and Rhiannon form an unstructured romance and the band plays successful gigs across California.
They spend a lot of time experimenting with various psychedelics and the author lovingly describes each trip in great detail. As someone who is not unfamiliar to acid and shrooms I can say that I could definitely relate to the experiences described. However, it gets really boring to read about it after a while.
The long second act starts to feel tedious and dull. It’s well written but seems drug out (pun intended). Everything is idealized and seems to be viewed through very rose tinted glasses. After the book is finished it makes sense that the second act needed to be this long but while you’re in it you kinda wonder if it’ll ever go anywhere else.
They take a road trip to Woodstock and there continues to be very little conflict or anything of interest plot wise. Rhiannon is basically just living out a fantasy.
However, things finally shift in tone when they return from Woodstock. The home they left behind has been filled with squatters who have been less than respectful to their property.
But they quickly dismiss this bummer when they hear that a record company wants to sign their band immediately. They pack up for LA and leave San Francisco behind.
LA turns out to be a less than desirable scene as well. As it’s known for, it’s full of phonies. But they tell themselves it’s just while they’re recording.
Bobby lets pre-fame go to his head rapidly. He becomes an ego monster who no one wants to deal with. On top of it he dives very deep into the hard drug scene. Heroin is his number one vice and he starts using daily.
Cocaine is fueling the rest of the band trying to run on sleepless nights and party as hard as a fresh young band is expected to. Space draws the short straw and ends up the first of the group to feel real consequences for this lifestyle.
He’s arrested for the copious amount of marijuana he purchased for the group and they are not even close to able to pay his bail. He’s sentenced to 30 years in prison. Hard reality has now hit. That ideal dream life is officially over.
They return home to their abode in San Francisco to find that Bobby spent the electric bill money on heroin and he and several other junkies are laying in the dark with needles still in their arms.
Aladdin can no longer take seeing his brother like this and bails. Faye and Billy announce they’re pregnant and leave as well.
Rhiannon is attempting to hold on to her dream of living in the past until she wakes Bobby from an overdose and he is ungrateful. He beats her, steals her cash, and runs off.
Rhiannon and Mary find him dead in an alley. Grief stricken Mary runs home to try to overdose herself. Rhiannon rushes her to the hospital but is too afraid to see her die to stay. She finds her way back to her car and decides the only course of action left is to attempt to return to her home in the year 2000.
She smokes the remaining DMT and successfully brings herself back to the future. She walks into her house to find that no time has passed but also finds that her mother recognizes her in a new way. Meredith is Mary. She did survive. And she grew up to have a daughter she named after the friend who saved her life.
She overcompensated for her past sins by being overbearing. She thought she recognized Rhiannon but thought that made her insane so she never dared tell anyone. They talk and hug and reconcile and forgive each other every discression.
Tending to her current obligations, Rhiannon goes across the street to meet with her band. She recognizes the lead guitarist’s father, coincidentally, he’s Aladdin. They talk after her friends leave and are both in disbelief but extremely happy to see the other is well.
Rhiannon continues her journey with this band to San Francisco but it is not the place it used to be. Not only has it changed, she has changed. In what seems to others to be an overnight transformation she no longer drinks, smokes, or does many things she used to.
She starts to notice the same mistakes being made with this band as she already experienced before. She is fully jolted when the guitarist discovers heroin. She rushes back to Fresno to tell Aladdin and beg for his help.
He suggests that she tell them all the truth. The time travel and everything she learned along the way no matter how unbelievable. They don’t have to make the same mistakes. It can work this time.
She sits them down to tell her tale and the book goes full circle.
Although the middle seemed to drag at the time it was necessary to make the ending work. It was because of all of their conversations and experiences and philosophizing that the reader fully understands the relationships and how impactful everyone’s fall is.
As a whole the book is a spectacular epic. But it only works as a whole. Just like a good band each piece needs each other piece to find harmony.
If you are a fan of road trip books this one will be even more favorable for you. It’s meandering but ultimately finds its destination.
4/5 drums 🥁🥁🥁🥁
If you like 1969: A Brief and Beautiful Trip Back you may also enjoy Curse of the Ninth.
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Buy it here: 1969: A Brief and Beautiful Trip Back