Despite its considerable length, this compulsively readable biography covers only Frank Sinatra's rise and fall and rise again, concluding as he's onDespite its considerable length, this compulsively readable biography covers only Frank Sinatra's rise and fall and rise again, concluding as he's on the cusp of his unparalleled ten-year run of cutting one masterful album after another, from In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning to Songs for Swinging Lovers! to No One Cares to September of My Years. It's the story, in other words, of how Sinatra became Sinatra after his early success as a teen idol was wiped out by changing tastes and the bad publicity that accompanied his affiliation with gangsters and his turbulent romance with Ava Gardner, who, to quote his frequent collaborator Nelson Riddle, "taught him to sing a torch song." There isn't much I can add to the praise of others who've spent, unlike me, more than five minutes on a review, so I'll pay homage by linking to a Sinatra recording that I had never heard before I was alerted to it by James Kaplan in what's certainly one of the best show-business books I've ever read.
"Room 32" is an 11,000-word piece I wrote for a forthcoming collection of essays, all of which have to do with Los Angeles, fame, filmmaking, or all t"Room 32" is an 11,000-word piece I wrote for a forthcoming collection of essays, all of which have to do with Los Angeles, fame, filmmaking, or all three. I've now completed roughly half of the essays for the collection, and this one is about my attempt to arrange a seance for Jim Morrison in Room 32 of the Alta Cienega Motel, his on-off residence from 1967 to 1970. I had guessed, as a neophyte in occult matters, that it would be easy to arrange a seance, but I was wrong, and to me the search for a psychic was one of the more interesting aspects of the story, though some will inevitably disagree. I had also guessed that the essay would prove far shorter than it turned out to be, and my publisher proposed that we release it as an e-book, but I still hope to include it in the collection, assuming there is one. It was written under very trying circumstances, personally and medically; I finally finished it after spending a long day in the emergency room, so, in consideration of all I went through, I'm going to award "Room 32" (the subtitle, "Conjuring Jim Morrison," was added for the e-book) five stars. ...more
The golden statuette of a tangoing couple on the jacket of Eve Babitz's second novel, Sex and Rage, anticipates Babitz's later real-life interest in dThe golden statuette of a tangoing couple on the jacket of Eve Babitz's second novel, Sex and Rage, anticipates Babitz's later real-life interest in dance and mirrors the metaphorical tango of Sex and Rage's main characters: a surfer-artist adventuress modeled after Babitz herself, and a sexually ambiguous courtier of sorts to wealthy gadabouts who briefly make Los Angeles their playground. Though besotted with each other on a level that at least one of them will never admit, the adventuress and courtier spend much of the first part of the novel passing through nearly every phase of romance, and its bitter aftermath, without ever consummating it. In part two of the novel, the adventuress is forced for business reasons to spend time in Manhattan, where the courtier and gadabouts have since settled, and finds herself confronted with her L.A. past in People magazine, among other surprising venues. (One of her ex-lovers, who may or may not have been coveted by the courtier, has become a movie star and People cover subject.)
The third-person perspective of Sex and Rage is unusual for Babitz, and the tight prose shimmers with vivid and painterly similes. The Manhattan section of the book feels protracted, just as the overall book occasionally feels like it can't decide whether it most wants to tell the life story of Jacaranda, the adventuress, or her microcosmic pas de deux with Max, the perplexing courtier. But Babitz knows exactly what she's doing, we finally realize, and Sex and Rage has never truly rambled. This is a much better book than L.A. Woman, Babitz's second and final novel, and because I liked L.A. Woman without loving it, I was in no special hurry to read Sex and Rage after buying a copy on Amazon two years ago for $15 or so. I moved it to the top of my tower of unread books while jonesing for more Babitz on finishing Eve's Hollywood, which goes for $300 on Amazon and elsewhere, as I mentioned in my recent review of it (goo.gl/1TS4up). The bargain-basement price of Sex and Rage has since risen to $50, and I would advise rare-book collectors to grab all of Babitz's out-of-print titles now, before the world discovers what it's been missing. ...more
Gorgeous book. Some of the photos are familiar, while other familiar photos have been weirdly discarded in favor of unremarkable rarities, but there'sGorgeous book. Some of the photos are familiar, while other familiar photos have been weirdly discarded in favor of unremarkable rarities, but there's more than enough stellar stuff to compensate, and it's all been put together with loving care. This is the sort of book that people have in mind when they speak with apprehension about the disappearance of print. Vive le livre!...more
This is the eighth biography of Jack Kerouac I've read, and I didn't think I would feel the need and certainly not the desire to ever read another, buThis is the eighth biography of Jack Kerouac I've read, and I didn't think I would feel the need and certainly not the desire to ever read another, but I listened to a podcast interview with Joyce Johnson and it sounded as though her book might offer a fresh perspective, and I thought, Oh, what the hell, and bought a copy, which sat on my shelf for a couple of years before I finally read it, and I would say it's my favorite of the eight, since it fleshes out stories that were reduced to an intriguing line or paragraph in other biographies (where they were mentioned at all), such as Kerouac's love triangles with his close friends Lucien Carr and Hal Chase and their respective girlfriends Sarah Yokely and Ginger Bailey, the complexities of Lucien Carr's relationship with Allen Ginsberg and how that may or may not have figured in the murder of David Kammerer (the subject of Kill Your Darlings, a recent movie), and the aftermath of Kerouac's romance with Bea Franco, the "Mexican girl" of On the Road. Other reviews here on Goodreads accuse Johnson of writing the book for money, as if there were a fortune to be mined from literary biography, just as she's taken to task for her views of various figures in Kerouac's life, but I read everything with an expectation of bias to one degree or another, and even the most scrupulous nonfiction is bound to err on a fact here or there. As others have also mentioned here, this is probably not an ideal introductory Kerouac biography, since it ends a few months before he turned thirty and it's dense in detail, but its detail is, again, for me, the reader of seven previous biographies, finally its greatest strength. ...more
Another book read as research for a forthcoming piece about Morrison, and undoubtedly one of the best things ever written about him, Lester Bangs-esquAnother book read as research for a forthcoming piece about Morrison, and undoubtedly one of the best things ever written about him, Lester Bangs-esque, with a touch of Norman Mailer. ...more
This fabled book, the first by its equally fabled writer, can't be bought anywhere, online anyway, for less than $300, and my copy was a gift from a gThis fabled book, the first by its equally fabled writer, can't be bought anywhere, online anyway, for less than $300, and my copy was a gift from a generous friend who knew how much I craved one. On the jacket but not, interestingly, on the title page, Eve's Hollywood announces itself as "a novel," but in fact it's a collection of pieces about Los Angeles and the life lived there since birth by Eve Babitz, the goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky (who's mentioned in the book), lover of Jim Morrison (who isn't mentioned in the book or, as far as I can tell, fictionalized in it either), and friend of Joan Didion (who may be fictionalized in the book but, regardless, arranged for a piece by Eve Babitz to be published and so launched her writing career). The pieces are arranged in chronological order, more or less, beginning with Babitz's 1940s childhood and concluding in the early 1970s, when Eve's Hollywood appeared around the time Babitz turned thirty; but occasionally there's a piece that doesn't fit any particular timeline, like "Grammar," in which Babitz likens writing perfect sentences to drawing perfect human faces, though "real faces, even beautiful ones," such as the face of Sophia Loren, "are sometimes not 1/8 the size of the human body," as the rules of face-drawing dictate. Furthermore:
In the 10th grade I took a test and got the highest grade in the city in grammar. I had learned the kind of cozy mathematical sense of well-being you can derive from a parsed sentence. I liked the way a sentence looked all Royal Familyed up with blood lines and right angles, all those reasons. But it seemed to me after looking at it that a point that parses is a point that people'd rather go to the circus to avoid seeing than hang around and appreciate. Though I can't stop saying "were" with "if" instead of "was," I've tried to let a little more of the confusion that comes with looking at Sophia Loren rather than 1/8 size of the head.
That deliberate syntactical confusion could be vexing in the first half of the book, or maybe I found it difficult for other reasons to distinguish this childhood or adolescent friend or boyfriend from another, and I put the book down for a long time and finally picked it up again to read "New York Confidential," a piece that begins with an atypical subtitle: "No fictional characters." It's largely assumed that Babitz's writing is all "thinly disguised" memoir, when she played with the rules of fiction and nonfiction just as she played with the rules of grammar. In any case, once I started reading "New York Confidential," I never stumbled again, and Eve's Hollywood became one of those rare books I hated to finish. It's a crime that her work is uniformly out of print. Why isn't she better known? Vanity Fair may have nailed the reason in a profile of Babitz published in 2014:
Eve is easy to dismiss because she doesn’t wear her seriousness on her sleeve. Her concerns are the seating arrangements at dinner parties, love affairs on the skids. She offers up information commonly known as gossip[, but] her casualness has depth, an aesthetic resonance. She achieved that American ideal: art that stays loose, maintains its cool, is purely enjoyable enough to be mistaken for simple entertainment. It’s a tradition that includes Duke Ellington, Fred Astaire, Preston Sturges, Ed Ruscha, and...Marilyn Monroe.