on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2021 21 Aug

Muse, Odalisque, Handmaiden by Rose Simpson

von: Brian Whistler Filed under: Blog | TB | 2 Comments



I just finished the Rose Simpson memoir, Muse Odalisque Handmaiden, which I absolutely loved. What a gifted writer.She strikes this reader as someone I can trust; Rose’s intention was to report as honestly as possible her personal experience in The Incredible String Band, yet she achieves far more than that in this marvelous book. It’s both a joyous and a bit of a heartbreaking read, a fascinating fly on the wall account of her time in ISB. I loved the little stories and the bits of gossip, as when she recounts meeting Joan Baez, who seemed to have little regard for Robin Williamson and Mike Heron’s  „airy fairy“ music, and was especially dismissive of the ladies of ISB. Her meetings with other super stars such as Joni Mitchell, David Crosby etc, go quite a bit better.

The whole story starts off almost as a fairy tale, with Rose the young mountaineer bumping into the mysterious elf-like beings living upstairs at the boarding house where she is staying. And falling in love with Mike, this innocent girl is eventually recruited into the adventure of a lifetime. Of course, being an unflinchingly honest narrator, besides the ecstatic joy of performing and living semi-communally with a group of lovely, gifted people, she faithfully recounts the playing out of their freewheeling sexual attitudes, reflective of the times, as well as the tensions of touring, the occasional spats and petty misunderstandings and the band’s later obsession with Scientology, which she makes abundantly clear she didn’t share.

One thing stood out for me among many: The book seems far kinder to Mike than Robin, who is repeatedly portrayed as arrogant, dismissive, egocentric and stubborn. We all know our heroes aren’t perfect, but this book reveals some of the complexities of character that weren’t seen on stage, where everyone was always trying to be „their best selves.“ This comes as no surprise of course. Who among us is playful, charming, deeply spiritual and “happy happy happy all the time”?

The book gave me a perspective and insight into the band’s personal dynamics, and I came away still loving them all, but with a better understanding of what it must have been like on the road for this band of idealists who had to learn to grapple with the realities of celebrity and changing fortunes.

Rose also devotes an entire chapter to the elusive Licorice. While all mysteries aren’t revealed, Rose manages to paint a vivid portrait of someone she lived in close quarters with, yet never really got to know or fully understand. Simpson manages to humanize this ethereal woman, her many facets seeming almost like contradictions of character, yet somehow all of these aspects of her personality coexisted beneath her placid exterior, emerging when the occasion demanded it.

Another thing that surprised me was how naive the boys were regarding finances. They were true artists and were proud of the fact that they cared little for material wealth and possessions. Yet at some point when they were touring and playing large halls, it appears they still weren’t really getting paid in the conventional sense. They had all of their needs taken care of, and were eventually able to live in somewhat better digs, and yeah, a limo started showing up to pick them up for gigs, but there was no regular paycheck, only just enough to cover their living expenses and whims. It also irked me that even after the ladies were finally officially listed as members of the band, they still never received a dime. I also wonder if Robin or Mike get any residuals from the sales of their albums, which have been remastered and rereleased a number of times over the years. And do they still control the rights to their songs? I know many artists from that era were ripped off by record companies and management. Nonetheless it was sort of shocking to read that were living in a kind of hippie squalor even after the first few albums were released. And from what I can tell, they never lived in upscale places. I know they weren’t geared towards the posh lifestyle, but still, one would like to think they were able to put away a nest egg during that period they were packing those halls. (Of course, they must have spent a fortune on Scientology, an organization known for taking its followers to the cleaners.)

In a way, this book goes beyond the simple story of young love, the arc of musical dreams exultingly realized, the inevitable disillusionment and the eventual breakup of a band. At its core, it’s a glimpse into the idealistic values we were all trying to live by, and the spirit of the time – a unique constellation of hope, idealism and fragile naïveté is well drawn in these pages. Moreover, it’s a sort of time capsule that captures the ineffable vibe of this unique moment in history, as well or perhaps better than any other account of the era I have read.

This entry was posted on Samstag, 21. August 2021 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Love it, and hard to confess, but i prefer the truth of its stories to the fiction of David Mitchell‘s Utopia Avenue – i wanted to love Mitchell‘s time travel to the great old days of rock so much, then why did it quite simply bored me till I stopped reading after 60 pages. But this one, by Rose Simpson, pure ace and much, much more than playing fly on the wall :)

  2. Brian Whistler:

    Definitely. It’s pretty gritty in places. I really enjoyed her book presentation on youtube as well. A very centered, grounded human being.

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