The Magic Years: Scenes from a Rock-and-Roll Life

Hardcover, 6 x 9, 344 pages.
ISBN: 9781597145251.

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By Jonathan Taplin

Jonathan Taplin’s extraordinary journey has put him at the crest of every major cultural wave in the past half century: he was tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band in the 60s, producer of major films in the 70s, an executive at Merrill Lynch in the 80s, creator of the Internet’s first Video-on-Demand service in the 90s, and a cultural critic and author writing about technology in the new millennium. His is a lifetime marked not only by good timing but by impeccable instincts—from the folk scene of Woodstock, to Hollywood’s rebellious film movement and beyond, Taplin is not just a witness but a lifelong producer, the right-hand man to some of the greatest talents of both pop culture and the underground.

With cameos by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Martin Scorsese, and countless other icons, The Magic Years is both a rock memoir and a work of cultural criticism from a key player who watched a nation turn from idealism to nihilism. Taplin offers a clear-eyed roadmap of how we got here and makes a convincing case for art’s power to deliver us from “passionless detachment” and rekindle our humanism.


The Magic Years remarkably shares how Jon Taplin was on the front lines of so many pivotal and historic events. He has a helluva story to tell. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen a lot of it with my own eyes.”


“Jonathan Taplin has lived many lives and all of them have intersected with greatness. In this candid, insightful memoir, he chronicles his collaboration with seminal artists, including Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, and Martin Scorsese. This is a fascinating insider perspective of a time that forever changed music and film.”


The Magic Years reads like a Magical Mystery Tour of music, loss, beauty, family, justice, and social upheaval. Taplin’s natural, engaging style and his family story are central to its great appeal. Reading this book was in part like reading about my own formation, but through the prism of Taplin’s keen eye. He is a deeply thoughtful, moral, and courageous human being, who knew and worked with the most important figures in folk and rock music, both those behind the curtain and those under the lights, and whose social conscience and sense of justice were alive in him from the most tender age. The Magic Years contains true magic, and true inspiration, as do the years, the people, and the story he recalls.”


“Jon Taplin has lived an extraordinary life during an extraordinary time. I have watched him land on his feet again and again after completing death-defying midair acrobatics. I don’t know if the things in this book actually happened, but I know all of it is true.”


The Magic Years disproves Robin Williams’s famous line: Jon Taplin remembers the sixties (and seventies and beyond) and he was definitely there, as a maker and impresario—with Bob Dylan and the Beatles and the Stones and (especially) the Band and Martin Scorsese, among others, then inventing an online movie service years before Netflix existed and getting threatened and roughed up by Harvey Weinstein. It’s an enviably rich life that he chronicles with unfailing charm and menschy generosity.”

KURT ANDERSEN, author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire

“As a young man, Jon Taplin was present at Bob Dylan’s segue from folk to rock, for the entire career of the Band, and for the beginning of Martin Scorsese’s directorial oeuvre. He recreates these times with moral clarity but without a hint of cynicism and with a heartfelt appreciation for the unique cultural moments he witnessed. Fortunately, Taplin is also a formidable writer whose wit, attention to detail, and gift for turning a phrase makes The Magic Years a book worthy of its legendary subjects.”

 —DANNY GOLDBERG, author of Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain

“In 1969, when the Band’s Music from Big Pink was released, it felt like the incense and acid haze hanging over the music had been blown away by a cool mountain breeze. Jon Taplin was present for those days, and for everything that came afterwards. His memoir is as clear and strong as an Adirondack stream. Catch this cannonball.”

CHARLES P. PIERCE, author of Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

“It’s uncanny to find someone closely involved in so many iconic events, and with such understanding: Dylan going electric at Newport in 1965, San Francisco in summer 1967, Monterey, Woodstock, on the road with Dylan and the Band in the late ’60s, the making of Music from Big Pink and The Basement Tapes, realizing the cover of the Stones’ Exile on Main St., filming Mean StreetsThe Last Waltz, and Under Fire, and saving Walt Disney from corporate destruction. That’s why you have to read this vital book: despite losses, exhaustion, and compromise, the love and faith in it call us to make a new, glad day.” 

NIGEL SMITH, William and Annie S. Paton Foundation Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature, Princeton University


Photo by Maggie Smith

Jonathan Taplin is an author and director emeritus of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. Taplin’s book Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Have Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy, published by Little, Brown & Co., was nominated by the Financial Times as one of the Best Business Books of 2017. Taplin has produced music and film for Bob Dylan and the Band, George Harrison, Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Gus Van Sant and many others. He was the founder of Intertainer, the first streaming Video On Demand Platform in 1996. Mr. Taplin graduated from Princeton University. He was a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism from 2003 to 2016. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He currently sits on the boards of The Authors Guild, Americana Music Association, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Council on Technology and Innovation. His commentary has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, Medium, the Washington Monthly, and the Wall Street Journal.