Review Aspen Unstrung-Sandy Munro
Any book about Aspen is, by my definition, worth reading. At least, the first pages. And when a book is written by a good friend, it’s even more interesting. I got ‘Aspen Unstrung’ when I was visiting Aspen, last September. It took me seven months to open it to the first page. I kept postponing, because I wanted to savor it, but I also couldn’t wait to dive in.
The title Aspen Unstrung says a lot, if not all. People who were fortunate enough to know Aspen a few decades back, have noticed the difference. Of course, any place will go through changes as we all must, in life. Still, when a very small mountain town is bombarded by thousands and thousands of people, there’s bound to be a development you cannot control.
As Sandy describes in his book, fortunately there were powers in Aspen who, at least, tried. They tried to accommodate all the tourists (named ‘turkeys’ by locals) flocking to town in winter. Also, they tried to put a ban on the building of houses too large for anybody to want to live in. Apparently the more money you have, the more rooms you need. And so, even though there were restrictions, more and more huge places appeared on the mountains around town.
Building your own
In the late ’60s en early ’70s Aspen, in the Roaring Fork Valley, was not that crowded, yet. Sandy and his lovely wife Mary Lynn wanted to settle and raise a family in these mountains. They saw what was going to happen sooner or later and decided, with the help of many, to build their own home. While they still could afford to. Now they had never even been close to undertake such an endeavor. But after years of working their ….. off, long summer weekends (in winter there’s not much to do but a lot of skiing). They acquired many blisters and even more knowledge than they will ever need again. But eventually they succeeded in building their dream home.
In those days a home meant home for everybody wanting to come visit. At least, for Sandy and Mary Lynn who are the most gracious and open-minded people I know. ‘MI CASA ES SU CASA’ seems to be their motto. Whenever I had the pleasure of visiting, there were always friends around. I have great memories of the hot tub, but I will honor the most important (if only) rule in Aspen: ‘What happens in Aspen stays in Aspen’. Though not all the time…
Just kidding. Sandy did a great job telling stories of the old town and its Aspenites, without disrespect or disregarding boundaries. The story is partly biographic. Sandy tells us about his job as a teacher at Aspen High School. Sandy is a few years older than me. Had I grown up in Aspen, I would’ve joined AHS and he surely would have been my math teacher. We would’ve probably ended up hating each other. Math was SO not my thing.
A big part of the book is dedicated to music. This is my favorite part. I’ve always loved (live) music, but before I met Sandy, I never ever heard of bluegrass. Being from the Netherlands there’s not a lot of bluegrass around. I fell in love with the tunes, and was awed by the speed with which those musicians played their (many) instruments. As Sandy often joked: ‘In bluegrass music you get more notes for the money’. Music was (still is) a huge part of Aspen’s community. I’m still flabbergasted by the level of talent in ‘our’ valley. A great musician himself, Sandy was around town a lot, playing with different bands.
After being a teacher for quite a few years, he decided he wanted to do something else with his life. He became the proud proprietor of Aspen’s only music store: The Great Divide. Oh, the many hours I spent in there. As in their home, Mary Lynn and Sandy knew how to attract people in the music store as well. There was always time for a joke and a ‘smoke’. Mary Lynn, a very talented artist, didn’t have much time to look after the music business. So Sandy was the main one to keep up the store, with help from his fellow musicians, dreaming of being around the best guitars in the world.
As with all towns, no matter where in the world, the best memories are always of the people we meet. In the 50 or so years Sandy lived in the Aspen area, he knows everybody. And everybody knows Sandy. Much liked by everyone, for his humor and great heart and soul, he is kind of the center of town. I’m sure he will laugh when he reads this. But seriously, whenever they had a gig or there was something fun going on in town, it felt (and certainly looked like) everybody orbited around Sandy. It makes me smile, even now. He has magnetic powers.
As I think back on the years I’ve known Sandy and the people he describes in his book, I can only feel gratitude. We’ve known some good times, had some great laughs and shared a tear or two. I was an avid ‘Flying Dog Bluegrass Band’ fan and never missed a gig. I couldn’t play an instrument, though Sandy tried to teach me. The guys always invited me along. On road trips, far and close by, I often felt like the extra member of the band. I treasure those memories more than they will ever know. It was a way for me to explore the ‘honky tonk’ lifestyle, the music festivals, the ‘real’ laid back American way of the West. So very, very, different from our hectic European ways.
Back to the book, Aspen Unstrung is a great read for everyone. Even if you’ve never been in a mountain town your whole life. You will recognize the camaraderie, the friendships and yes, sometimes the hardships, of making a home. My plan about writing an unbiased review seems to have gone up in smoke from the first word. There is no way I can keep my personal feelings out of this article. I am sorry, I tried. I highly recommend this book to everybody. You will love it, I guarantee! And if you want to read another splendid book, by the same author, try ‘Finding Uri’. This book is about finding his father, who died in WW2, when Sandy was 4 years old. Many years later, after his mom died, he found letters from his parents, written during that time. Talk about personal, an absolute ‘must read’.
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