My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I coMy name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. 1962
Well integrated biography of the author of The Haunting Of Hill House, The Lottery, We Have Always Lived In The Castle.
Author Jackson is difficult to narrow down, as her work is by turns social satire, feminist takedown, creaky-stairs-ghost-story, or literate & deceptive surrealism. But her precursors are more Baudelaire and Poe than, say, Otranto, Udolpho or Jekyll & Hyde. She is certainly not a genre writer. Franklin's biographer sensibly aims to center the work not around the times, the lifestyles or politics, but around the writer, and everything in the account always gets back to that. Where the writing comes from, who the writer was.
We don't spend more time than necessary on the incidentals, unless they seem to point to the recurring themes in Jackson's peculiar, magical idea factory; although the regular bio stuff is all neatly laid out, the reader does get the impression that what matters is when pen comes to paper. Not the craziest idea, but sometimes rare in famous-author biographies, it seems.
We have some access to the impressionable young Shirley Jackson, who was intrigued by drama, by the iconic characters of the commedia del arte, by voices, motivations and obsessions as instigators. And who kept multiple, simultaneous diaries, which spoke in subtly-shaded but differing voices. Safe to say that is of interest, as regards an author who would later render internal monologues of characters splitting into multiple personalities... Jackson isn't a clinical curiosity, but she is very interested in how humans cope, how they may invent constructs and conversations that are entirely internal. What we see is a future author working out in rehearsal form what it is that fascinates her.
For her early novel 'Hangsaman', Jackson asserts in her private notes that a character in that book "is not a he, or a she, but the demon in the mind, and that demon finds guilt where it can, and uses them and runs mad with laughing when it triumphs; it is the demon which is fear..." Her narratives aren't allegorical so much as layered, with everyday banalities existing just beneath the overlay of mythic torments or contradictions. She works with internal dissonances between the two, often more felt than seen or heard. The 'ghostly' bit is less a séance-and-dark-shadows thing, and more the haunting of the personality, a hidden undertow.
The Franklin biography benefits by familiarity with at least a few of Jackson's works, and I'd recommend 'Castle' and 'Hangsaman' for a baptism-by-fire. If those strike any chords of interest, by all means proceed to the biography, at once an inspiring portrait of a woman artist in an era of misogyny, and better, a book that manages the very difficult matter of giving the interested reader a glimpse into the author's conception of each work.
Adam Sisman's large, official biography of 'coldwar laureate' John le Carré, is a fairly exhaustive acc
" Spying is waiting. " - The Russia House, 1989
Adam Sisman's large, official biography of 'coldwar laureate' John le Carré, is a fairly exhaustive account of the family background and business dealings of the famous writer. Occasionally it is able to glance beneath the surface, though it operates under the cover of Authorized Bio and feels like le Carré had veto privilege. Long before this volume it had been established that le Carré worked for the Secret Service in some capacity after the war; generally this bio goes no further than what is already known, and does not much to strip the secrecy away from the murky past.
Mr. le Carré is established as a mercurial, conflicted young man, both stirred and shaken by the exploits of his unreliable, criminal con-man father. That he was sent to private schools put him within range of the Secret Services, who actively recruited in those quarters. It appears that Oxford and Cambridge both supplied footsoldiers in the Intelligence wars, and were necessarily fertile grounds for plotting and Red hunting amongst the dreaming spires.
Nothing happens to le Carré in a vacuum, however, and his early years coincided with the Suez Crisis, the Profumo affair, the Berlin Wall and the Airlift, Kim Philby, Cuban Missile Crisis. Keeping track fairly vicariously, author Sisman is able to convey the effect or what may have influenced the beginner spymaster along the way; it is left to the reader to draw the inevitable lines from the events to the books like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.
By mid-life le Carré is married and a philanderer; the facts are firm but understandably neither author, Sisman or le Carré-- is very forthcoming on what drove the events. In a bio where the subject is participating, it would seem that infidelity is one of the red lines that gets drawn early in the proceedings. After his escape from academia, le Carré would always travel widely, appearing and disappearing where he pleased, often without notice; while it's tempting to ascribe some of this mysterioso to a longterm service engagement in MI6, it is just as explainable as youthful hedonism, stepping out on the wife and kids whilst maintaining an alternative aura to suit the new job.
After a couple of books, le Carré was no beginner spymaster in an underling capacity; in graduating on paper to Narrative Spymaster, he was now running the show, and on both sides of the geopolitical table. To his credit, Sisman does find room to equate tensions, deceptions and dualities in the extramarital realm with the content and mood of the written work, concerned as it is with double agents and misdirection.
Let's have an interesting example! Here we must introduce the Binghams. John Bingham was the young le Carré's manager for awhile in MI6. He was also an accomplished author of intrigue/ suspense novels, but less in the realm of 'spycraft', and more in the Hitchcockian 'wrong man' or innocent-enmeshed-in-evil school. It was understood amongst the secret services that anything done for print or media would always be forbidden unless buried beneath layers and layers of narrative analogy-- and Bingham's books preserved that agreement; le Carré's books did not, quite so much, edging close to the legality line, and to the limits of the Official Secrets Act, which both men had signed long before.
The interesting part emerges when the case is made that 1) John Bingham was a fair percentage of what comprised le Carré's fictional 'George Smiley' character, and that 2) Smiley's wife in the le Carré books, named Ann*, was unfaithful to him and subjected him to understated mockery in the service. It transpires that the real wife of John Bingham, named Madeleine, participated in, and is often dismissed, in the present bio, as unreliable or uncooperative. It also transpires that Mrs Bingham, Madeleine, found this Smiley=Bingham equation distasteful, and also to imply that Ann Smiley=Mrs Bingham. With the infidelity element included, she was not at all pleased, by any of it. The reader does get the sense that le Carré took lightly any sense of harming real-world people, and in fact may have found some amusement in the double game.
Overall, the biography here doesn't satisfactorily discuss the work, the literary world, of John le Carré and the inhabitants he invented. It is easy enough to run thru the regularly reported themes, the inversion of the glittering James Bond world of casinos and fantastic villains to the banal and frowsy world of le Carré. Which was austerity Britain, with its little men who spy on each other. But Sisman isn't able to make the bigger case, of what the tragedy of the little official liars meant to a once-great Empire, or the domestic tragedy, that of learning and teaching deception, what it may mean to humanity.
An example of which, quoted near the end of the book but not discussed: "To categorize le Carré as a spy novelist is to do him a disservice; he uses the world of cloak-and-dagger much as Conrad used the sea--to explore the dark places in human nature."** Exactly so.
Although there are a few good tricky bits here, the general scope of this bio comes to outlining le Carré repeating the cycle : idea and research, often with travel, obstacles to completion solved by rewrite and general endurance, dealmaking, publishing, then the reviews, profits, screenplay and movie. Which might interest publishing insiders, but quickly goes pretty dry for the average reader. As le Carré himself put it (in describing the translation to the screen): You sit there and watch this great cow you've designed-- reduced to a bouillon cube.
Sisman's bio is that, a series of connected bouillon cubes, all leading up to but never revealing the secretive and dissembling cow-of-origin. Or something. _________________________ * Mr le Carré for some reason used the name of his own wife, the mother of his children, "Ann" --for the snippy and unfaithful --fictional-- Mrs Smiley. And to recap, that would be during the period that he was gaining international renown while also cheating on her all over Europe. ** Washington Post review of le Carré's Mission Song, Phillip Caputo, 2oo6. ...more
This novel required no research. He nevertheless made a brief trip to Paris to pick up the scent of the neighborhood, wandering through the streets a
This novel required no research. He nevertheless made a brief trip to Paris to pick up the scent of the neighborhood, wandering through the streets at nightfall, climbing stairways, walking through hallways outside attic rooms. Simenon needed these snapshots to recover the neighborhood's atmosphere and its light, the dreamlike light that dazzled his hero...
Hard to dislike this as a biography of a very difficult man, a peculiar sort of writer, and no doubt a fairly prickly individual. For some reason that combination of elements doesn't sound like this was a simple project to construct. There are two aspects of this biography that are important throughout: Simenon's tendency to lie outright when it suited him, and the unique position of the Inspector Maigret novels, which GS regarded as bridges between serious writing, the work that paid the tab for the interesting excursions.
Assouline early on sets the reader on the right track by letting him know that Simenon cannot be trusted; anything that is to follow must be judged, graded, inspected for the curve that Simenon liked to introduce into his own story. A strange dissonance there, considering that in his fiction, GS was committed to removing the unnecessary, the ornamental, the filigree; but for his own story, the facts would often be reassembled and author Assouline lets us know. Typical: That is his story. But is it history? There were no other witnesses, but a careful study of Simenon's multiple versions of this incident, recounted in many interviews, turns up a few false notes... The Simenon reader is inclined not to care, but is grateful for the tip.
"I'll manufacture Fords for a while until enough money comes in. Then I'll make Rolls-Royces for pleasure." Georges Simenon
In a more difficult vein, you have to get thru the whole biography to realize that not only Simenon but Assouline too basically disregard the internationally famous novels GS wrote featuring Inspector Maigret. If by chance you came to this bio as a Maigret fan, you would be sorely disappointed by the content. The Maigret books were a means to an end, suggests Simenon outright; they paved the way for the hard novels, the romans dur that are his real and substantial achievement. I have to agree, but they were also the foundation of a framework for writing, an outlook that persisted into the novels.
"A suicide will cost me two hundred thousand readers; what I need is a murder."Jean Provoust, Simenon's editor at Paris-Soir
What we've got, in overview, is former altar-boy Simenon rising thru the ranks of Belgian tabloid journalism, (where he gets a good glimpse of police methodology in passing), his golden years in Paris in the bohemian demimonde as he cultivates his pulp & detective technique, the money years where travel and barging on the back rivers of northern France become his delight, the war and his quasi-collaboration with the Vichy authorities, and a surprising period of exile in the United States. On his return, Simenon is now an international phenom and moves from chateau to chateau in France then Switzerland, eventually writing 200 books (fact) and bedding what he approximates to have been 10,000 women (undocumented).
Recall, he's not exactly to be trusted with his own story. But there is a staggering amount of life that is covered here, and even if some of it has been rearranged by various tellers, it is fascinating. The eras and the namedropping are stellar; already married at 20 in Paris, he makes the famous American chanteuse Josephine Baker his mistress.
In the course of the bio, we glide through interactions with Roberto Rossellini and wife Ingrid Bergman, Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, Alexander Korda, Ian Fleming, Noel Coward, J.B.Priestly, Henry Miller, directors HG Cluzot, Jean Renoir, Marcel Pagnol, Jean Cocteau, Fellini, and, driven to meet Simenon due to a "combination of curiosity and a passion for detective novels", the reclusive T.S.Eliot. And this is a partial list; we're talking about someone cool enough to hang with Jean Gabin, and go to bed with Josephine Baker. Whilst plotting that next brutally noirish story.
"I promised myself an upbeat novel, or at least an optimistic one, but my characters would not allow it." Simenon, 1962
What should be discussed is Simenon's true material, which if not crime detection (as in the Maigret books, at any rate) is more closely seen in the 'hard' novels. It is something like: the intersection of Frailty and Brutality, meeting each other in unforeseen circumstances and melting for a minute, intermingling for a star-crossed, ill-fated blip in time. While steaming down the tracks comes the inevitable, the unavoidable, the grand consequence. Simenon is nearly greek-tragic in his sense of fate, and the way he's able to put it across comes down to the other thing that should be discussed.
"At bottom, I am not a writer." Simenon, 1965
Simenon's style is non-cryptic, direct, foreshortened and generally blunt. And yet he's able to use it to couch complex, contrary material, as above, in commonplace, banal descriptions. His atmospherics are precise, draftsmanlike, and without prosy bloat. Pierre Assouline offers a nice full chapter toward the end of the bio, discussing the style aspects in Simenon. If there is any formula, it is reduction, and direct reportage, delivered on-time without slant or skew. Simenon "was less sensitive to the music of words than to their weight". So in the end the policier grounds and frames the delicate balance of the hard novels, while the crime, in noirish tradition but contrary to the detective genre, remains observed, but unsolved....more
Strangely enough, I didn't love this. But I'm not sure I can say I've read every last bit of footnoted addendum, oblique reference, unattached factoid Strangely enough, I didn't love this. But I'm not sure I can say I've read every last bit of footnoted addendum, oblique reference, unattached factoid and free-floating nanobit, because of the way I read it -- and the way it was written.
Ms Shenkar seems to have had ample access to Highsmith in the very late years of the legendary mystery author's life; she certainly had near total access to the effects & papers of the estate. Odd & personal details -- a pair of 501 jeans given to Shenkar by Highsmith still "hold the shape of her body" ....... are offered wherever possible. Any biographer must dig to find meaningful detail, but sometimes this feels a little bit too prying, too invasive, without necessary cause. Just how the transaction occured and what the terms may have been aren't really stipulated here, and it leaves the reader with an uneasy sense of the whole thing. The fact that Highsmith's fiction had a lot to do with disguises, snooping, counterfeits & poses ... doesn't reconcile any similar approach in a biography.
So, then, with the creepy quibbles out of the way, how's the bio work out ? Well, we go straight to more quibbles, unfortunately. Somewhere in the middle of this I decided that if Schenkar wasn't going to follow much of any kind of chronology--- stringing associations, acquantainces, semi-relevant details & back-stories, connections direct or vague together, in time-warping clusters --- that I was going to stop reading it chronologically. Using the appendices, index and the author's own associations in the text, I proceeded Google style throughout the rest of the book: like a long internet-search, you can spiral around and through the book on topics of interest, and yet never turn more than three or four pages consecutively. Fair is fair; she wrote it this way.
Beyond all the bumps and roadblocks that crop up, you do have to say that Shenkar 'gets' Highsmith -- the deeply disturbing fictional elements of disguise, impersonation, transgression and transformation -- the heart, the pulse, of Highsmith's work. That Highsmith may have been a bit off the rails by the end of her life doesn't help the book, though. And that Shenkar may well have been the mouse in a dotty old rich lady's game of Legendary Lion and Biographer Mouse isn't entertained.
But an early anecdote in the book gets right at the Problem Of Patricia :
... All through the 1970s, at her house in the hamlet of Moncourt (the house she loved the best and the one she kept the longest), Pat had a near neighbor, a Czechoslovakian émigré who occasionally did odd jobs for her. Monsieur Knet was exactly the kind of self-made man Pat liked to trade small talk with. He used to return home from his night job, in the early-morning hours, and note the lighted roof window in Pat's upstairs bedroom -- the only light visible at that hour in the hameau --and the sound of her venerable Olympic portable typewriter clickety-clacking across the courtyard...
And that is how Monsieur Knet remembered Patricia to me: a sharply syncopated sound in the night, a rectangle of eerie illumination, a woman sitting at her desk, writing, he said, "frightful things dripping with blood" ...
As mentioned, Shenkar really gets Highsmith, as this brief vision aptly illustrates; the body of work, from The Talented Mr Ripley to Strangers On A Train, is very much an eerie illumination in the dead hours of the night... Perhaps a shorter, more discreetly-framed analytical appreciation, some deft editorial oversight that reins in the factoid-epidemic -- might have saved this biography from being the gossip-ridden mess that it is. ...more
What's fascinating about this account is not so much the scandal with the Windsors, although that adds even more layers of patina. What keeps the readWhat's fascinating about this account is not so much the scandal with the Windsors, although that adds even more layers of patina. What keeps the reader enthralled here is anthropology, really. Viewing the relentless pursuits of the senselessly rich and priveleged classes is like going on a wildlife safari in the most exotic and forbidden game reserve around. Spotting Astors, DuPonts, Morgans, Mellons, Wanamakers, Cunards, and various crowned heads -- is the order of the day here, and watching them overstep or embarrass their heritage is the bloodsport.
Enter Jimmy Donahue, wildly rebellious, reflexively irreverent, unabashedly gay and absurdly rich in an era where moderation and dignified behavior was requisite to good standing in high Society. But change was afoot in the twenties and thirties. After a desultory turn at producing Broadway theater, a career which progressed quickly enough to seducing as many cast members as possible, here's Jimmy looking for a mentor :
"His nights, when not occupied with this less glamourous arm of theatre, were spent at El Morocco, New York's jazziest nightclub. It was there Jimmy came to know Libby Holman, the doomed torch-singer who was to remain close to him for much of his life. They had originally met in Palm Beach, and by 1934 she was a major Broadway star, oddly vaulted into the pantheon by the murder two years before of her husband Smith Reynolds, heir to the Reynolds tobacco fortune, who had been shot dead, probably by Libby hereself. Because of the power wielded by the Reynolds family who did not wish to see their dirty linen washed in public, Holman was able to evade being charged; but she walked through the rest of her life trailing a long, dark shadow, condemned by the press and public. It made her dazzlingly appealing in Jimmy's eyes. Jimmy and Libby had many things in common -- both famous, both rich, both trying to break into the theatre, because Libby Holman had thus far been acknowledged only for her singing. The audiences loved to hate Libby, speculating in the intervals as to just how she had managed to shoot her husband and get away with it; and her hit song 'You And The Night And The Music' had the distinction of being banned on the radio -- the lyrics, and the way Libby sang them, were considered risqué and immoral. Jimmy revelled in her almost satanic notoriety, and trailed around after her as she cut a swathe through New York nightlife, drinking at the Chapeau Rouge where the owner, Pepe d'Albrew, wore a wriggling mouse in his lapel ..."
As heir to the fortune of his father's Upper Westside rendering factories and his mother's cut of her family's business venture, the Woolworth's chain, Jimmy Donahue was in a position to call his own shots.
"He arranged a lavish party at 834 Fifth Avenue, in part because he enjoyed parties and in part because he wanted to draw attention to himself, but in this latter ambition he was unsuccessful. His cousin Barbara [Hutton:] stole the headlines the following morning for having worn a million-dollar diamond necklace. News of her recent twenty-second birthday party at the Ritz in Paris, with two thousand guests and assorted shopping sprees, brought the Woolworth family riches into focus at a time when the Depression was at it's worst. Blithely, Jimmy chose the occasion to adopt a Hitlerian mustache. During his late teens Jimmy spent much of his time with, or waiting for, Barbara Hutton. As her self-proclaimed court jester, and as someone with a lot of time on his hands, there were worse things to do. As Philip van Rensselaer told this writer, 'Jimmy wanted to be Barbara -- she was notorious, she was admired. She attracted headlines and attention. Above all she had become glamorous, and Jimmy wanted to be all those things.'"
Subject to many of the same well-financed hardships and scrutiny, the cousins were to set new achievment levels for the title Idle Rich. Often well-drugged and sipping cocktails to round it off, Barbara made a life's mission of serial marriage to old Europe mini-royals, often engaging the next candidate before deciding what to do with the current Count or Prince. Louche, vain and fiendishly-humored, Jimmy lived two lives, camping on high amidst the haute-société, and then frequently decamping at night for the company at the sailor's bars in whatever quaint port-of-call the yacht may have dropped anchor for the evening. After yet another Barbara wedding somewhere on the gameboard, Jimmy finds the accomodations unacceptable :
"When the honeymoon party arrived at Hardenberg Castle on the Danish island of Lolland, [Count:] Reventlow's ancestral home, Jimmy had become so used to this cosy propinquity that he became enraged at being relegated to a guest cottage. Alone at night, Jimmy started to burn the cottage's furniture -- tables, chairs, stools -- in the fireplace along with more conventional materials. To the attendant press corps, he imitated the count's stiff germanic mannerisms. This went down terribly well."
Jimmy's newfound talent for mimicry was not to be wasted on Denmark alone. The honeymoon was just gathering steam :
"By September the entourage had moved to Paris, then on to Rome and the royal suite of the Grand Hotel. Rome, by late 1935, was overrun by Mussolini's fascist mobs, dressed in their black shirts and terrorizing the populace. Cars were torched, stores looted, passers-by attacked, all in the name of the new order. Beneath the tourists' balcony, on 28 September, a seething mob gathered in the plaza by the Via Vittorio Emanuele to celebrate Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. Shouting slogans and waving placards, they seemed a ridiculous bunch to Jimmy who was, in the warmth of the early autumn evening, drunk. Stepping onto the balcony and raising his arm in a fascist salute, he adopted Il Duce's hectoring tones and swaggering posture to bellow, 'Viva Ethiopia! Long live Haile Selassie!' To improve upon the shining hour, he unbuttoned his trousers and urinated on the mob below. Were it not for the instant intervention of the city police..."
When the police were admitted, Barbara was in bed for some reason. Asked if she had seen where a man of Jimmy's description might have gone, she adamantly declared that she had seen no one of the sort. From under the bed came the drunken retort -- Jimmy, howling, "She's not telling the truth!"...
And on it goes. Mr Donahue and Ms Hutton were in their early twenties at this point, and had the world on a string. They had yet to make the acquaintance of the Duke of Windsor at this point, or his American Duchess, so quite a lot of complication yet to unravel. And so many, many parties. An engrossing, thoroughly trashy, satisfying read.
From the Uk based Rough Guide series, a compilation that strives to make some sense of the six decades or so that were the crucible of Soul Music, R&aFrom the Uk based Rough Guide series, a compilation that strives to make some sense of the six decades or so that were the crucible of Soul Music, R&B, and much of what now comprises any kind of Pop heard anywhere in the world.
A slight translation problem here is that when the author refers to Northern Soul, he's referring to a sensation in the north of England, a tumultuous reappraisal by British enthusiasts of the big dancefloor numbers and rave-ups coming in from the US in the 60s, so-- a kind of Uk retro scene, albeit featuring American soul music. But-- when he refers to Southern Soul, he's referring to the original US soul music from the south, as in the Stax/Volt or Muscle Shoals sounds. Whereas, Us Northern regional sounds are referred to as Chicago or Philly soul, for example. Bit confusing for the North American reader, and probably the Brit one too.
First the quibbles : there is a full entry, well deserved, for Louis Jordan, but not Slim Gaillard ? Little Willie-John, but not Little Richard ? Janet Jackson but not Mahalia Jackson ?
Hmm. Shalamar, Klymaxx, and Rose Royce each somehow qualify for a full, stand-alone entry. Where are the full entries for Willie Dixon ? Dinah Washington ? Muddy Waters ? The Shangri-Las ? The Ronnettes ? Slim Harpo ? Chubby Checkers ? Howling Wolf ?
Overall, quibbles aside, there are layers & layers of great info here, filtered thru a real connoisseur's sifter, that should start any Soulster on their way... Not just the artists, but (some of) the backstage movers as well .. Quincy Jones, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Phil Spector get full entries, as do the iconic sounds of every era -- Ike & Tina, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Prince, and an entry on Parliament / Funkadelic that is larger than those on Aretha & Stevie Wonder combined. (Obviously the writer/editor has his favorites, though it's good luck that he also has good taste.)
What you want out of your Rough Guide is to be able to find, immediately, what happened to star-crossed soul martyr Johnny Ace....(clowning backstage with loaded pistol)... Or the facts that Tommy Browder as August Darnell and Andy Hernandez as Coati Mundi founded what would come to be known as "Kid Creole And The Coconuts".... Or that Ruby & The Romantics charted first with "Our Day Will Come" in'63 but not with "Hey There Lonely Boy" which had to wait for a '69 remake to chart. These are the kind of facts that the Guide is filled with, and if you need help sorting out your Houstons & Warwicks, Womacks & Womacks, or any combination of Nevilles, this book can help.
One improvement would be a second Index, to follow the generic one, of Titles for tracks & albums, especially since many listeners may know the song rather than the name of the group or the artist.
Last, as a Philadelphia native, I'm also glad to report that the objective Uk-based Peter Shapiro sees fit to include the Soul City of Philadelphia way more often than New York, and about as often as Motor-City Detroit. And rightfully so. But he'd best not ever again include the late Soul Man Lou Rawls in the same sentence as the disparagement 'supper-club-soul'... even in passing. Just saying.
Overall a great book, great resource, and should suit beginner to advanced-intermediate Soul Men & Soul Women. Now, who did the first version of "Land Of A Thousand Dances"... ? "Mickey's Monkey" ? It's in there... ...more
Short and somewhat overlooked book on the Sixties and Beatles era, by the well-regarded record producer of all the Beatles records, George Martin. RatShort and somewhat overlooked book on the Sixties and Beatles era, by the well-regarded record producer of all the Beatles records, George Martin. Rather than focus directly on the fab-4 phenomenon, Martin takes the long view, building the story solidly on what happens on the way to sitting in the control booth one day saying, 'right then lads, more lively on the yeah-yeah-yeahs this time'... It is certainly reasonable to say that Martin was the fifth beatle, his contributions to the sound and content of that body of work incalculably influential. But the old-school British restraint runs deep here, so (although supported by most other accounts) he's not about to confirm that, or tell tales from behind that curtain, which draws some of the life out of this story. But we know, nonetheless. (the closest he comes to this is in stating that Lennon and McCartney were the guiding lights of the musical output, and that Harrison, Starr and Martin were the support team. Well said, humble, truthful, but still adds up to five, doesn't it....)
In the mid fifties the Producer was less involved with constructing sound montages than with the everyday business aspects of his label & studio, connecting artists with repertoire to suit, and making sure the charts for the string section integrated with the vocalist's lines. It would be a long way from there to the experimental musique concrete, eight-hands-on-one-piano & circus-calliope of 'Sergeant Pepper', but Martin affably & creatively went along for the ride, and ended up shaping a lot of it to make musical sense. And to fit into the grooves of the Lp records the world would line up to purchase.
At the Emi-Parlophone studios, suits and labcoats were the order of the day for the producers and engineers. This was the era of non-automated vacuum-tube mixingboards, enormous tape transports, and huge lathes for mastering-- which required a full staff of knowledgeable technicians, to prep a recording session hours ahead of time. Martin's book does a nice job in the middle chapters with describing musical sound, sound itself in fact, and how it came to be translated to an analog 'record' of the original event by these means. As the actual Lp record was the end product in the Beatle era, a clear explanation of how they work & how they were cut fits in here as well. Most of these are now lost arts, or at least specialty pursuits that never really gain any public notice, so it's a valuable little tour, conducted by the master of ceremonies circa 1965 or so. For anyone with a slightly technical ear, invaluable to read.
Also interesting is Martin's take on the transition of Recording from simply a documentary, where a faithful record would mirror the events unfolding in the studio--- to a completely abstract art. A medium where sonic events and background washes could be built up like paint on a canvas, where sound effects & music recorded all over the world at different times could morph into the middle of an instrumental solo, in a sonic environment created in the imagination, rather than in soundproof booths.
The lapses in this account are the track-to-track details, the instrumentation and improvisation involved, and for that there is a better book, written by Martin's Engineer Geoff Emerick. Beyond that, Martin sort of glosses the golden age-- he goes rather quickly from the fast, rock-and-roll early era right into the psychedelic era and then promptly wraps that with a tip of the hat to the awards, golden records and the rest. As much as the coverage of the early years is fascinating, the post-beatle era is contrarily tedious. For the remainder of the book he goes on about his distinctly non-golden era, and the account suffers in his effort to cover the periods in like fashion. No one cares in the least any more whether Martin recorded the group 'America' or had a hand in the filmscore for the Beegees version of Sgt. Pepper, and Martin of all people might have seen that in advance.
You can't fault a book for what it's not, though, and having the man who added string quartets to Yesterday, the man who ran all the recording sessions for the Beatle era music-- set down some thoughtful commentary, even briefly, is well worth the read. What comes across between the lines of the narrative here, as in the recordings themselves, is the qualities of reserve and taste that George Martin brought into what might otherwise have been a brief, one-hit-wonder scenario.
Geoff Emerick's book is called "Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles" and is the preferable account for the non-completist.
Thought more of the collection itself than of the obligatory essays in the front section. But what a time, what images, what a direct affront--- to thThought more of the collection itself than of the obligatory essays in the front section. But what a time, what images, what a direct affront--- to the established Ecole des Beaux Arts.
Dadaists, Post-Impressionists, Cubists, Futurists, Fauves, Primitifs, Vorticists, even Surrealists all came to the bar during these years; and something just exploded.
Duchamp, Mondrian, de Chirico, Picasso, Cocteau, Arp, Matisse, Man Ray, Apollinaire, booze, dope, broads. Not to mention le Douanier, Henri Rousseau, in the autumn of his years. They were making it all up on the fly. The squares didn't get it. THIS was the Avant Garde.
Modigliani lived fast and died young, leaving an astounding catalog, drawings, sculpture and paintings. Influences as divergent as Khmer figures and African masks found their Western ambassador in Paris. Montparnasse in the war years must have hummed with seething cool.
With the ur-text of Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years, "Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse" conveys the wildly improvisatory but profound sea-change that would become the Modern. ...more
Surprisingly not-so-trashy depiction of the life of Gia Carangi, model superstar whose cinderella lifestory crashes horribly in a few quick years.
WhatSurprisingly not-so-trashy depiction of the life of Gia Carangi, model superstar whose cinderella lifestory crashes horribly in a few quick years.
What helps the book is the clear dogged effort expended in getting the fundamentals right, offering glimpses of the New York Eighties, the world of haute-couture modelling agencies, clubs, cocaine and the rest.
This starts in my hometown of Philadelphia, which is well drawn and scaled by mr Fried :
On Saturdays, Karen and Gia would go downtown, walking over to Frankford Avenue in the morning to catch the elevated train. The Frankford El was the most convenient way to Center City from the Northeast. Its route was also a trip up and down the socioeconomic scale. Each stop closer to the city was in a poorer neighborhood, and from the point where a rider was afforded the most spectacular view— with the expansive Ben Franklin Bridge on one side and the skyline on the other— the train dove underground into the middle of one of the city’s most bombed-out sections. It then headed up Market Street East, a once-posh commercial district that was now all discount record stores, head shops and porno theaters, still awaiting a promised “urban mall” development that was supposed to save the area. The girls got off at Thirteenth Street, the stop that shared an underground walkway with the John Wanamaker’s store, the traditional refuge of the refined Philadelphia lady...
At which point the girls, perhaps wearing their padded red-satin space-suits, platform heels, and Bowie haircuts died pink, would light up their millionth marlboro that morning. Not unheard of in the glitter years, but precocious for young teenagers.
Philadelphia took to glam-rock like New York took to punk, for some reason. Maybe something to do with the soul foundations of the 'Philly Soul' sound, with which it somehow co-existed there for a few years. Young Gia Carangi first found the beginnings of her 'outside-herself' model-persona in the swirl of Sansom Village, South Street and the ambi-sexual glamrock underworld.
This bio is the story of that transformation, and ultimately the wrong side of the rainbow that she would eventually find. Yes, lots of famous-photographer, supermodel, jet-set, and studio 54 business, but also shooting-galleries, dealers, con-artists, tricks and betrayals, all hastening the ultra-tragic end.
The reason I found this engaging is that back in Philadelphia, Gia Carangi seems to have attended my own Roman Catholic gradeschool, about four years behind my classmates and I, if I've got it right. When I googlemapped the address of her house, I found that she lived right across the street from our school. Thus her earliest wardrobe fittings would have been for a demure white blouse under a navy jumper-dress, with a saint's name embroidered over the heart. This is a Dorothy and the Wizard Of Oz story, except one that ends really badly. Made all the more fascinating if you happen to have lived next door to that little farm in Kansas.
Slightly rickety account of the remarkable 20th century life of Joseph Needham, Cambridge Master and author of the mega-sized multi-volume Science &amSlightly rickety account of the remarkable 20th century life of Joseph Needham, Cambridge Master and author of the mega-sized multi-volume Science & Civilisation In China. In a wildly stormy life that veered from being a founding father of UNESCO to meetings with Mao & Zhou EnLai before there was a Peoples Republic, Mr Needham saw quite a lot. Needham was in a pivotal position during the many phases of the origin of Modern China as a British Foreign Office scientific representative, arriving in the convulsions of 1943.
What becomes Needham's life work is his finding that many of the discoveries and inventions routinely accredited to the West were in fact in everyday use in China years, decades, and sometimes centuries before their appearance in the West. Moveable type for the printed page, for example, was not truly a Guttenburg innovation, and this is just one on a long list of Chinese firsts.
While this narrative has an unquestionably brilliant subject to chronicle, there is something missing in the resulting account, which too often devolves into paragraphs of lists and similarly bland reportage.
This was too recent and too spectacular a life-lived to have so few firsthand sources, so removed an effort, as with this biography. A College Master at Cambridge who strode across academia's greens in his Chinese Scholar's gown, who had both a proper British wife and (just down the street) a Chinese mistress... would seem to merit a slightly less 'matter-of-fact' treatment than given here. In fairness, though, it must have been a balancing act to keep it non-sensational.
So, an astonishing life, in an overall workmanlike but uninspired narrative. Still very much worth a read. ...more