Brown is, in my mind, a brilliant researcher whose careful writing and restrained fandom - for make no mistake, he is an ardent Morrissey fan - makes this book essential for everybody who are into Moz.
Where Morrissey's "Autobiography" delves far deeper into Morrissey's internal workings where The Smiths and his solo work is concerned (not to mention everything else that Moz writes of), Brown's second person view is required and at times questions Morrissey and his thoughts.
This book is from the start of The Smiths and ends with Morrissey's "Ringleader Of The Tormentors", and as such, it covers a lot of areas, and also manages to focus on a few subjects, e.g. the human sexuality, vegetarianism, Oscar Wilde and female artists from the 1950s.
Essential to fans, and highly recommendable to anybody who wants to read a very human account of a very accounted human; Morrissey remains the funniest star in music, ever.(less)
Humphrey Bogart grew up in a progressive family where his parents were successful. They did, however, not lavish him with much attention. Au contraire...moreHumphrey Bogart grew up in a progressive family where his parents were successful. They did, however, not lavish him with much attention. Au contraire, Bogart grew up an anti-authorative thespian who played theater before becoming the world-famous movie star and icon that he is known as today.
A libertine and man of his word - while it is argued that he was a serial adulterer - Bogart seems to have stayed true to his friends and work for as long as he lived. Half self destructive, half great at what he did, he believed in being a "man" and having a lot of fun.
The book turns him out as a no-nonsense kind of guy who always went for the truth, except in his most alcoholic moments. It shows his ups and downs, and how he always turned around some really bad situations in his life.
This book is straight-forward. There are no revelations in here, and the contents are put out chronologically in one simple way. There is no personal style to the writing, and towards the end I got the feeling that the author simply wanted to finish it off.
There are a lot of enthralling stories on how Bogie and Hollywood worked in the 1940-1960s, not to mention some comparisons between the man and modern-day actors.(less)
In one of the logs that I use to note and review books there are "tags". These tags are words and terms used to describe the book, e.g. "analysis", "p...moreIn one of the logs that I use to note and review books there are "tags". These tags are words and terms used to describe the book, e.g. "analysis", "philosophy" and "war". I've I have never attributed a book so many tags as I have used here, and I'm not exaggerating a single thing.
This book is about Michel de Montaigne, a sixteenth-century nobleman who wrote down his thoughts and ideas in ways that very few other people had done so far. This book provides a somewhat chronological walk through the life of Montaigne, while issuing 20 attempts to twist the question "How to live?" as seen through his ways and eyes, and while being fairly complex, it's extremely simple to read. And I think a huge portion of why it's so accessible and laudable, is because it's unique and understandable:
From page 293 in the book, where Bakewell describes how Marie de Gournay felt when she discovered Montaigne's "Essays":
Some time in her late teens, apparently by chance, she came across an edition of the Essays. The experience was so shattering that her mother thought she had gone mad: she was on the point of giving the girl hellebore, a traditional treatment for insanity - or so Gournay herself says, perhaps exaggerating for effect. Gournay felt she had found her other self in Montaigne, the one person with whom she had a true affinity, and the only one to understand her. It was the experience so many of his readers have had over the years:
How did he know all that about me? (Bernard Levin)
It seems he is my very self. (André Gide)
Here is a 'you' in which my 'I' is reflected; here is where all distance is abolished. (Stefan Zweig)
Time and time again, Montaigne struck me as quite marvellous, simply because of his reasoning; he maintained that everything should be experienced with fresh eyes no matter how many times it has been seen before. And also, he believed that everything should be questioned. Yes, everything, but with a purpose.
As Virginia Woolf was, according to Bakewell, prone to quote, this is a line from Montaigne's last essay:
Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself.
In his writing about everything, his examinations of everything, people who read his gigantic work - which I have yet not read - seem to love and critique it, simply because Montaigne continually examined his own flaws, errors and problems - and he stirs, and quickly traipsing from one subject to another in his writing, by following a trail of thought - not because he's trying to be difficult, but rather because he is human; I believe he was truly trying to discover what being human was about, and I think that's why people love his writing, not to forget his fantastic, amazing and provoking reason. All of this is superbly put into historical context by Bakewell; when Montaigne questions that he could have been killed for, it's clear to see that he meant what he said and did (also, while being flawed enough to go against himself at times; what the hell, he was human and knew it).
Another quote from this book:
But Montaigne offers more than an incitement to self-indulgence. The twenty-first century has everything to gain from a Montaignean sense of life, and, in its most troubled moments so far, it has been sorely in need of a Montaignean politics. It could use his sense of moderation, his love of sociability and courtesy, his suspension of judgement, and his subtle understanding of the psychological mechanisms involved in confrontation and conflict. It needs his conviction that no vision of heaven, no imagined Apocalypse, and no perfectionist fantasy can ever outweigh the tiniest of selves in the real world. It is unthinkable to Montaigne that one could ever 'gratify heaven and nature by committing massacre and homicide, a belief universally embraced in all religions.' To believe that life could demand any such thing is to forget what day-to-day existence actually is. It entails forgetting that, when you look at a puppy held over a bucket of water, or even at a cat in the mood for play, you are looking at a creature that looks back at you. No abstract principles are involved; there are only two individuals, face to face, hoping for the best from one another.
Perhaps some of the credit for Montaigne's last answer should therefore go to his cat - a specific sixteenth-century individual, who had a rather pleasant life on a country estate with a doting master and not too much competition for his attention. She was the one who, by wanting to play with Montaigne at an inconvenient moment, reminded him what it was to be alive. They looked at each other, and, just for a moment, he leaped across the gap in order to see himself through her eyes. Out of that moment - and countless others like it - came his whole philosophy.
This book is radiant, a marvellous excursion for a Montaigne neophyte like myself, and I recommend this to everybody.(less)
This is a really engaging book on David Foster Wallace. Sure, people might say that Wallace's life is what makes this book good, but it's not. There w...moreThis is a really engaging book on David Foster Wallace. Sure, people might say that Wallace's life is what makes this book good, but it's not. There would be too much of it to make sense of it all without a good deal of sifting, editing and moulding, which D. T. Max has done here.
It's a chronological book that undoubtedly puts Wallace up front, even though I get the feeling that's what Wallace would least of all have wanted, during his lifetime.
Having read "Infinite Jest" and "The Pale King" before I read this biography, I must say it was completely eye-opening at times, when it comes to his works.
Starting off with Wallace's childhood, we learn of his connection with language and play:
No one else listened to David as his mother did. She was smart and funny, easy to confide in, and included him in her love of words. Even in later years, and in the midst of his struggle with the legacy of his childhood, he would always speak with affection of the passion for words and grammar she had given him. If there was no word for a thing, Sally Wallace would invent it: “greebles” meant little bits of lint, especially those that feet brought into bed; “twanger” was the word for something whose name you didn’t know or couldn’t remember. She loved the word “fantods,” meaning a feeling of deep fear or repulsion, and talked of “the howling fantods,” this fear intensified. These words, like much of his childhood, would wind up in Wallace’s work. To outside eyes, Sally’s enthusiasm for correct usage might seem extreme. When someone made a grammatical mistake at the Wallace dinner table, she would cough into her napkin repeatedly until the speaker saw the error. She protested to supermarkets whenever she saw the sign “Ten items or less” posted above their express checkout lines.
Yeah, his mother was a language nazi, which he also turned into. Although Wallace seems to have been very gentle about that, except when admonishing his own work and correcting his students (and his editors and proof readers).
He was great at learning stuff that seemed finite, but in other cases he faced problems:
His teammates were more successful with girls than Wallace, and, frustrated, he would try to solve the complexity of attraction the way he solved the trajectory of a tennis shot: “How do you know when you can ask a girl out?” “How do you know when you can kiss her?” His teammates told him not to think so hard; he would just know.
While discovering life and earning top marks in school, he started writing.
One story he worked on, according to Costello, was called “The Clang Birds,” about a fictional bird that flies in ever decreasing circles until it disappears up its own ass.
His literary turn to honesty as a main driving force is clearly visible throughout his growing up, partly because he was an alcoholic, but also because lying seemed to permeate society:
A typical line from an ad featuring the pathologically inaccurate spokesman: “Hi, I’m Joe Isuzu and I used my new Isuzu pickup truck to carry a two-thousand-pound cheeseburger.” The prospect that horrified Wallace most was that Americans were so used to being lied to that any other relationship with media would feel false.
He answered letters from fellow authors - notably writing with Don Delillo and Jonathan Franzen - and was often apologising:
He made amends wherever he could, sometimes to excess. He wrote to his Arizona sponsor that “I struggle a great deal, and am 99.8% real,” then crossed that out and wrote in “98.8%,” noting in a parenthesis in the margin, “Got a bit carried away here.”
When writing about boredom in "The Pale King":
As he wrote in a notebook: Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. The problem came up when he tried to dramatize this idea. How do you write about dullness without being dull? The obvious solution, if you had Wallace’s predilections, was to overwhelm this seemingly inert subject with the full movement of your thought. Your characters might be low-level bureaucrats, but the rippling tactility of your writing would keep them from appearing static. But this strategy presented its own problem: Wallace could make the characters vibrant, but only at the risk of sacrificing what made their situation worth narrating—the stillness at the center of their lives. How could you preach mindful calmness if you couldn’t replicate it in prose? A failed entertainment that succeeded was just an entertainment. Yet Wallace had never really found a verbal strategy to replace his inborn one. In more ways than he cared to acknowledge he remained the author of The Broom of the System.
It didn't seem like Wallace would ever fall victim to hubris:
In time these early Internet users took up Wallace for their fan communities too, a transition that particularly discomfited him (though to be fair anything that reinforced the masonry of the statue did). When in March 2003 a member of Wallace-l told Wallace about their email list at a taping of a reading for The Next American Essay, a compilation of creative nonfiction edited by John D’Agata that Wallace had contributed to, his response was, “You know, for emotional reasons and sanity I have to pretend this doesn’t exist.”
And, in the very end:
They joked about the unthinkable. Green warned him that if he killed himself she’d be “the Yoko Ono of the literary world, the woman with all the hair who domesticated you and look what happened.” They made a pact that he would never make her guess how he was doing.
It's a lovely book, it really is. It's easy to draw parallels between the lives of DFW and Bill Hicks, both persons being gentle, humble, passionate, thinking and self critical.(less)
This book starts with the end of Amy Winehouse. Her father receives the call from one of their security boys, who says he needs to come home at once....moreThis book starts with the end of Amy Winehouse. Her father receives the call from one of their security boys, who says he needs to come home at once. He then knew, and so the book begins from Amy's beginning.
It's a quite chronological book published nearly a month before the one-year mark of Amy's death, and it is done to draw money to The Amy Winehouse Foundation, which her father founded after her death.
The first thing that I felt while reading the start of the book, was a weird feeling that it's saturated by honesty. I know, Amy's dad could have written anything in here and is the only one to know whether it's true or not, but then again, he brings out a few of his own faults in this entire story. In the end: who knows? It's definitely not the quite horrid book on Nancy Spungen, as written by her mother Deborah.
Amy Winehouse seemed to have a very special, close bond with her father, who stayed close to her until the very end.
This book shows her as a human being, filled with laughter, brilliant song-writing and singing capacity and immense tragedy, notably through her tragic infatuation with Blake Fielder-Civil, the man she married and who turned her onto Class-A drugs.
It's actually worthy to notice that Amy Winehouse died from alcohol problems, and that she at that point hadn't done Class-A drugs in almost three years' time. Of course, her Class-A addictions might have been a in indirect reason to her death, in the end.
The book portrays her as a human being, i.e. in another way than the papers portrayed her, e.g. when she was little and misbehaving in school:
Over time Amy got worse in the classroom. Janis and I were called to the school for meetings about her behaviour on numerous occasions. I hope the head of year didn’t see me trying not to laugh as he told us, ‘Mr and Mrs Winehouse, Amy has already been sent to see me once today and, as always, I knew it was her before she got to my office …’ I knew if I looked at Janis I’d crack up. ‘How did I know?’ the head of year continued. ‘She was singing “Fly Me To The Moon” loudly enough for the whole school to hear.’ I knew I shouldn’t laugh, but it was so typically Amy. She told me later that she’d sung it to calm herself down whenever she knew she was in trouble. Just about the only thing she seemed to enjoy about school was performance. However, one year when Amy sang in a show she wasn’t very good. I don’t know what went wrong – perhaps it was the wrong key for her again – but I was disappointed. The following year things were different. ‘Dad, will you both come to see me at Ashmole?’ she asked. ‘I’m singing again.’ To be honest, my heart sank a bit, with the memory of the previous year’s performance, but of course we went. She sang the Alanis Morissette song ‘Ironic’, and she was as terrific as I knew she could be. What I wasn’t expecting was everyone else’s reaction: the whole room sat up. Wow, where did this come from?
Learning that Amy suffered from an immense stage-fright and often tried to solve that by drinking before going on-stage was enlightening. Apparently, that's what caused her first and last performance in Belgrade to be a complete disaster.
Before that, though, she would be prone to break off important business meetings such as one prior to the release of "Frank", her debut album. On the other hand, one of her friends wouldn't have it:
‘I’m putting you in that dumpster until you say you’re going to the meeting,’ he told her. Amy started to laugh because she thought Nick wouldn’t do it, but he picked her up, put her in the dumpster and closed the lid. ‘I’m not letting you out until you say you’re coming to the meeting.’ She was banging on the side of the dumpster and shouting her head off. But it was only after she’d agreed to go to the meeting that Nick let her out. She immediately screamed, ‘KIDNAP! RAPE!’ They were still arguing as they walked into the meeting. ‘Sorry we’re late,’ Nick said. Then Amy jumped in: ‘Yeah, that’s cos Nick just tried to rape me.’
And then, she met someone:
After Frank came out, Amy would begin a performance at a gig by walking onstage, clapping and chanting, ‘Class-A drugs are for mugs. Class-A drugs are for mugs …’ She’d get the whole audience to join in until they’d all be clapping and chanting as she launched into her first number. Although Amy was smoking cannabis, she had always been totally against class-A drugs. Blake Fielder-Civil changed that. Amy first met him early in 2005 at the Good Mixer pub in Camden. None of Amy’s friends that I’ve spoken to over the years can remember exactly what led to this meeting. But after that encounter she talked about him a lot. ‘When am I going to meet him, darling?’ I asked. Amy was evasive, which was probably, I learned later, because Blake was in a relationship. Amy knew about this, so initially you could say that Amy was ‘the other woman’. And although she knew that he was seeing someone else, it was only about a month after they’d met that she had his name tattooed over her left breast. It was clear that she loved him – that they loved each other – but it was also clear that Blake had his problems. It was a stormy relationship from the start. A few weeks after they’d met, Blake told Amy that he’d finished with the other girl, and Amy, who never did anything by halves, was now fully obsessed with him.
And in that relationship, on working with Mark Ronson on her second album, "Back To Black":
A lot of her songs were to do with Blake, which did not escape Mark’s attention. She told Mark that writing songs about him was cathartic and that ‘Back to Black’ summed up what had happened when their relationship had ended: Blake had gone back to his ex and Amy to black, or drinking and hard times. It was some of her most inspired writing because, for better or worse, she’d lived it. Mark and Amy inspired each other musically, each bringing out fresh ideas in the other. One day they decided to take a quick stroll around the neighbourhood because Amy wanted to buy Alex Clare a present. On the way back Amy began telling Mark about being with Blake, then not being with Blake and being with Alex instead. She told him about the time at my house after she’d been in hospital when everyone had been going on at her about her drinking. ‘You know they tried to make me go to rehab, and I told them, no, no, no.’ ‘That’s quite gimmicky,’ Mark replied. ‘It sounds hooky. You should go back to the studio and we should turn that into a song.’ Of course, Amy had written that line in one of her books ages ago. She’d told me before she was planning to write a song about what had happened that day, but that was the moment ‘Rehab’ came to life. Amy had also been working on a tune for the ‘hook’, but when she played it to Mark later that day it started out as a slow blues shuffle – it was like a twelve-bar blues progression. Mark suggested that she should think about doing a sixties girl-group sound, as she liked them so much. He also thought it would be fun to put in the Beatles-style E minor and A minor chords, which would give it a jangly feel. Amy was unaccustomed to this style – most of the songs she was writing were based around jazz chords – but it worked and that day she wrote ‘Rehab’ in just three hours. If you had sat Amy down with a pen and paper every day, she wouldn’t have written a song. But every now and then, something or someone turned the light on in her head and she wrote something brilliant. During that time it happened over and over again. The sessions in the studio became very intense and tiring, especially for Mark, who would sometimes work a double shift and then fall asleep. He would wake up with his head in Amy’s lap and she would be stroking his hair, as if he was a four-year-old. Mark was a few years older than Amy, but he told me he found her very motherly and kind.
Seems she did have an acute sense of humor at times:
I pointed out that the BRIT Awards were looming, and even though she wasn’t nominated for anything, they wanted her to perform and receive a special achievement award. I explained to her, though, that unless I knew she wasn’t taking drugs, I would make sure she didn’t perform. ‘I’m gonna do it, Dad,’ she insisted. ‘Look, I’ve even emailed Ronson about it.’ She showed me what she’d sent him.
SUBJECT: My God you’re ugly. TEXT: Are you coming to the BRITS, you savage, savage man. I would prefer Maud, but Madonna couldn’t even fast-track the quarantine laws. I did everything, trust me. I go bananas over you. Levi Levine p.s. Frank Sinatra is and always will be God. I laughed. ‘I suppose Maud’s his dog? And why’d you call yourself Levi Levine?’ But Amy had drifted off to sleep.
Then came the Class-A drugs that she had been ranting against before meeting Blake:
The day-to-day changes in Amy amazed me: the next evening Raye called me from the studio to say that she and Mark had had a really good day working. He also said that she had been able to take her prescribed Subutex, as she had been drug-free for twelve hours. When it came time for her next dose, though, she couldn’t have it as, once again, she had taken other drugs. As a result, she went into withdrawal and the whole process started yet again. That Sunday, I drove down to the Henley studio to find Amy in bed. She was filthy and suffering the effects of withdrawal. I managed to get her into the shower, realizing again how painfully thin she was. If Amy had died at that point, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. I put her back to bed and stayed with her until she fell asleep. Sitting in a chair next to her bed, I despaired. I was running out of ideas. If she took drugs she couldn’t take Subutex for twelve hours. If she didn’t take Subutex she went into withdrawal so she took more drugs. A horrible vicious circle.
...and everything spiralling out of control every time she and Blake would have problems, plus the drugs:
All this was still going on when I got there and I had to force her on to her bed to stop her harming herself even more. I held her in my arms until she finally calmed down, then got a nurse to patch her up and to stay with her. I wrote in my diary, ‘This has been one of the worst days of my life. I don’t know what to do next. Please God, give me the strength and wisdom to help Amy.’ Every day brought a new set of horrors. The following week Amy presented herself, on schedule, at Limehouse Police Station, accompanied by Raye and Brian Spiro, to talk to them about the crack-cocaine video. Of course, she was high on drugs and drink. Amy was charged and bailed to return there later that month. When I mentioned rehab, all Amy could say, in her drink- and drug-fuelled state, was, ‘I’m not going to any facility, I want to go to Holloway,’ meaning the women’s prison in north London. Although the Bond song had now been cancelled, a couple of days later Amy wanted to go back to Henley to work on other stuff, so I arranged for her to go while I stayed in London. Over the week, I checked in regularly with Dale Davis, her bassist and musical director. Some days they were getting work done, on others Amy was being yelled at on the phone by Blake so she’d get high to console herself.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about loving and helping an addict, which most people who haven’t been through it don’t understand, is this: every day the cycle continues is your new worst day. When looked at from the outside it seems endless, the same thing over and over again; but when you’re living it, it’s like being a hamster on a wheel. Every day there’s the chronic anxiety of waiting for news, the horrible rush when it turns out to be bad, the overwhelming sense of déjà vu – and the knowledge that, despite your best efforts, you’ll probably be here again. Even so-called good days are not without their drawbacks. You enjoy them as much as you can, but in the back of your mind there’s the lurking fear that tomorrow you could be back to square one again, or worse. For me, this was life with Amy. If I was stopped by someone in the street and they asked how Amy was doing, I knew they wouldn’t understand if I told them what was going on. I’d learned that it’s nearly impossible to explain how this could keep happening. I’d imagined that, as they offered sympathy, they’d be wondering, How can her family let this carry on? Or, Why didn’t they lock her up until she was clean? But unless an addict wants to quit, they’ll find a way to get drugs, and as soon as they leave the rehab facility they’ll pick up where they left off. Long before Amy was an addict, no one could tell her what to do. Once she became an addict, that stubbornness just got worse. There were times when she wanted to be clean, but the times when she didn’t outnumbered them.
Later, Amy rid herself of the drugs, but never the alcohol. She found love again in Reg, a man who seems to have treated her with love, care and a lot of affection, and they spoke of getting married.
In the end, I think it seems that Amy was on the way to recovery from alcohol addiction, but it killed her. She had stated that trying to quit alcohol was much harder than trying to quit drugs.
At the end:
I knew that Amy couldn’t have died from a drug overdose, as she had been drug-free since 2008. But although she had been so brave and had fought so hard in her recovery from alcoholism, I knew she must have lapsed once again. I thought that Amy hadn’t had a drink for three weeks. But she had actually started drinking at Dionne’s Roundhouse gig the previous Wednesday. I didn’t know that at the time. The following morning Janis, Jane, Richard Collins (Janis’s fiancé), Raye, Reg and I went to St Pancras mortuary to officially identify Amy. Alex couldn’t bring himself to go, which I fully understood. When we arrived there were loads of paps outside the court, but they were all very respectful. We were shown into a room and saw Amy behind a window. She looked very, very peaceful, as if she was just asleep, which in a way made it a lot harder. She looked lovely. There was a slight red blotchiness to her skin, which was why, at the time, I thought she might have had a seizure: she looked as she had done when she had had seizures in the past. Eventually the others left Janis and me to say goodbye to Amy by ourselves. We were with her for about fifteen minutes. We put our hands on the glass partition and spoke to her. We told her that Mummy and Daddy were with her and that we would always love her. I can’t express what it was like. It was the worst feeling in the world.
All in all: a very moving, sad, tragic, frustrating, beautiful and interesting book about a regular person with massive talent and lyrical intelligence. Highly recommendable.(less)
From Lee Strasberg's eulogy at Marilyn Monroe's funeral:
Marilyn Monroe was a legend.
In her own lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a
...moreFrom Lee Strasberg's eulogy at Marilyn Monroe's funeral:
Marilyn Monroe was a legend.
In her own lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a deprived background could attain. For the entire world she became a symbol of the eternal feminine.
But I have no words to describe the myth and the legend. I did not know this Marilyn Monroe. We gathered here today, knew only Marilyn - a warm human being, impulsive and shy, sensitive and in fear of rejection, yet ever avid for life and reaching out for fulfillment.
This collection of letters that Marilyn never sent, notes, diary-like entries, thoughts ranging from her first, failed marriage, up to a run-through of answers to interview questions just before her death, is a very intimate collection.
In the notes - mostly written by herself but also through typed transcriptions by her assistant - and the diary-entries, Marilyn goes through an array of emotions regarding a variety of subjects, persons, projects and other matters, ranging from her psychoanalysis, her seemingly constant self-questioning and self-doubt, to happiness, being married, succeeding with her own production company and of course, on reading.
This brings a very different image of the person, rather than the very two-dimensional, simple creature that some seem to prefer her to be.
Her honesty is key here, to me. Her writing reeks of honesty and is very interesting, especially when she writes of her fears, examining her past and considering her future, notably through the founding of her own production company (taking on MGM by doing so), which is professionally no small feat.
She seems to have been very self-critical. She doesn't dump down on anybody else in these notes.
As a poet, she is quite rough; not my cup of tea, and the lyrics don't seem to have been worked over much. Still, these are notes grabbed from a box in a garage. It's not like she attempted to get them published.
All in all, it's an accomplished bunch of pieces from a very talented, intelligent and seemingly pleasant and honest person's life. I wish she'd get more recognition for all of the things for which she's not most famous, but that's show business, I guess.(less)
This was a fascinating book, mostly because the author has described everything as it happened, which I deem to be a very hard thing to do considering...moreThis was a fascinating book, mostly because the author has described everything as it happened, which I deem to be a very hard thing to do considering a) the subject and b) how much research he has put into this.
First, Richard Ramirez is a serial killer seldom witnessed. He was intelligent, driven by simple, yet complex desires, a Satanist and had a very deranged childhood, seemingly propelled by his family troubles, including a somewhat failed father and older brothers who were all involved in crime and drugs.
Add the facts that Ramirez was grown up near a nuclear bomb-testing ground and had some head-trauma at an early age, but that's not as interesting as the following, from the book:
Carlo: [...] Your cousin Mike had just returned from the Vietnam and he was stressed because of the war, from being in three tours of duty, and got into an argument one day with his wife and shot her and killed her. Could you tell us how that made you feel, to see that—and later on when you went back with your dad—
Ramirez: Well, yes it was—
Carlo: How old were you? Ten or eleven?
Ramirez: Thereabouts. I'm not sure, ten or eleven. I can't say for sure, I was probably eleven. It was a sunny day, I had been with Mike that day hanging out and...uh...he got to his house about 3 p.m.—I was with him. The incident happened...uh...he was arrested, taken to jail, His...Mike’s mother called my father and my mother a week or two later asking them if they would go into the house and get some things for them. I remember me and my father and my mother going. We parked the truck. Me and my father went inside not knowing what we would find—(Tape shuts off.)
Ramirez: It was the strangest experience. I mean being there after Jessie had been killed. The...the aura of it was still kind of like hanging in the air. It was...kind of mystical. I could still smell her blood. Sunlight was streaming into the room and you could see particles of dust in the golden beams of sunlight.
Carlo: What kind of effect did this all have on you, you think?
Ramirez: Strange. I mean to see something like that—the line between life and death right there in front of me. Intense. When she went down I saw it all in slow motion.
Carlo: He shot her in front of you, Richard?
Ramirez: Yes, me and my two cousins, his two kids, boys three and six.
Carlo: How close?
Ramirez: A few feet away.
Carlo: Your cousin Mike also killed—raped and killed, women over in ’Nam, didn’t he?
Carlo: How do you know?
Ramirez: He told me all about it and I saw Polaroid photos he had.
Carlo: Please tell us about that, Richard.
Ramirez: He had a shoebox in his closet. It was filled with these Polaroid photographs of women and girls he took into the jungle and did.
Ramirez: Raped and killed them. Sisters, even a family two daughters and the mother. He tore off their clothes and had them naked tied to a tree. In another one there they were dead. He cut off their heads.
Carlo: Did he rape them too?
Ramirez: Yeah, of course, while they were tied to the tree, all three of them, in front of each other.
Carlo: He told you this?
Ramirez: Yeah, told me all about it... exactly what he did. We used to go for joy rides all around El Paso, smoke pot, listen to the radio and he’d tell me what he did with the women.
Carlo: You know how many he raped and killed?
Ramirez: Over twenty for sure. He had photographs of diem. Young girls mostly; but all ages. They were the enemy; they were, you know, V.C., no one gave a fuck.
Carlo: What kind.. . what kind of effect did this have on you?
Ramirez: Heavy. I used to think about them, I mean all that.
Carlo: Sexually, Richard?
Ramirez: Fuck yeah, of course, sexually. It was all about sex.
Carlo: They were a turn on? The photographs?
Ramirez: Yes, very much so.
Carlo: Do you think seeing those pictures helped you walk the road you eventually traveled?
Ramirez: It’s hard to say. I’m not blaming my cousin for anything; I want that clear. This just happened.
Carlo: He also taught you about jungle warfare, guerilla fighting; how to kill people, correct?
Ramirez: Yes, he did. How to use a knife, where to shoot someone. How to be invisible at night... the whole enchilada.
Carlo: Invisible, how?
Ramirez: Wear all black, even shoes and socks, with a black hat with the brim pulled down to cover your face so the light can reflect off it. Avoiding the reflection of light, that's the key.
Ramirez: For me it was all very interesting...I was already stealing, I mean getting into people's houses at night and stealing things and all that helped.
Carlo: Did he teach you how to shoot?
Ramirez: No. My Dad did. But my cousin told me where to hit someone for the maximum effect.
Ramirez: The head, of course.
Carlo: Any particular spot?
Ramirez: Above the ear.
Carlo: And the knife, I mean what is the best place to use it?
Ramirez: Across the throat. It's called a stab/slash wound. That is you drive the point into the side of the neck then pull it across the throat. That cuts both the windpipe and the arteries, always lethal.
Carlo: I see. (Tape shuts off.)
The book is strong in the sense that it deals with a lot of details. While the court goings-on made me restless they were detailed enough to break out the innards of Ramirez's defense team's inadequacies, Ramirez's unwillingness to admit guilt and his slew of admirers in the court-room, surrounded by the victims' families and friends. All very strange.
The strangest of all is Ramirez, though; he killed seemingly indiscriminately to please Satan. As he did, he acted savagely. Afterwards, he behaved differently. In jail, he turned nice and courteous (mostly). Today he thrives on writing with people and selling drawings with satanic motifs on them, having married one of his suitors and biggest defenders.
The book made me cry and feel completely sick at times, as the first part describes his crimes and deeds in large. His family's involvement and bereft is described in great detail too, actually painting a picture of a very versatile man, a person and - thankfully - an individual, not a Monster.
All in all: brilliant research, but I still wonder what separates "criminalist" and "criminologist" in Carlo's world.(less)
This is a very unlikely but probably true story of Marcel Petiot, doctor, serial killer, mayor, thief, fraud, author and...by my guess, a psychopath.
...moreThis is a very unlikely but probably true story of Marcel Petiot, doctor, serial killer, mayor, thief, fraud, author and...by my guess, a psychopath.
I NEVER HEARD OF A DOCTOR-SURGEON-MAYOR-MURDERER IN FACT OR FICTION, MUCH LESS ONE WHO WAS ALSO A SPY, OR INTELLIGENCE INFORMER, WRITER, CARTOONIST, ANTIQUE EXPERT, MATHEMATICIAN, OR WHO CALMLY CLAIMED POSSIBLY A HUNDRED AND FIFTY VICTIMS … HE HAD LOST COUNT. —Dr. Albert Paul
This book follows him dashing through the annals of history, avoiding justice, getting caught and finally getting sentenced. Despite the high number of people he was convicted of killing - 26 - he probably killed more than that.
He claimed to have been a very high-ranked member of the French resistance and killed every single one of his victims as part of a very covert operation. Trouble was, his clinic-cum-torture-and-killing-chamber was not only filled with corpses upon his unveiling, but also with a lot of suitcases, clothes and jewellery belonging to his victims. Most of them are believed to have paid Petiot large sums of money to have them transported out of then nazi-occupied France. From the book:
Concealed in a cupboard in Petiot’s basement were some twenty-two toothbrushes, twenty-two bottles of perfume, twenty-two combs and pocket combs, sixteen cases of lipstick, fifteen boxes of face powder, and thirty-six tubes of makeup, mascara, and other beauty products. There were also ten scalpels, nine fingernail files, eight hand mirrors, eight ice bags, seven pairs of eyeglasses, six powder puffs, five cigarette holders, five gas masks, four pairs of tweezers, two umbrellas, a walking cane, a penknife, a pillowcase, a lighter, and a woman’s bathing suit.
What I deem to be psychopathic traits, were shown early in his youth but also during his military service; from the book:
After Petiot’s arrival, the unit began to enjoy an unaccustomed variety of dry sausages, cheeses, candy, wine, and other luxuries, no doubt obtained from daily and nightly foraging excursions. Petiot seemed to glow after each triumph. The soldier remembered one conversation about the morality of theft, Petiot arguing that it was completely natural. “How do you think that the great fortunes and colonies have been made? By theft, war, and conquest.” Then morality does not exist? No, Petiot answered, “it is the law of the jungle, always. Morality has been created for those who possess so that you do not retake the things gained from their own rapines.” Petiot would later claim that he learned a lot from war.
Before being captured for his crimes, but while being wanted by the authorities, Petiot not only claimed to be his brother while visiting the fresh crime-scene, but also posed as Captain Henri Valeri in order to discuss the case about the case...
[...] with the procureur de la république, who later said he had been impressed by Valeri’s thoroughness, energy, and command of the facts of the case. “It’s unbelievable,” Valeri’s secretary, Cécile Dylma, said to Inspectors Lucien Pinault and Émile Casanova, about learning the identity of her boss. “He’s a man so sweet, so calm. Captain Valeri has never shown a single act of anger towards us.” At the same time, she acknowledged that he declined most invitations and generally kept quiet about his private life. “To think that I have been alone with him in his office for a month,” Dylma said, “it makes me shudder.”
The way King has documented the trial of Petiot is well done, considering the undertaking; Petiot marshaled the whole thing as a ringmaster would his circus, but constantly staying manic and defiant throughout the entire process. He even made fans out of some in the audience and signed copies of his books during recess.
In the end, Petiot met his doom, but loads of questions still remain riddled throughout this case, regarding a man who at the time of his capture remained on a pension for a mentally disabled person. He was still working as a doctor at the time.
This is a quite astonishing tale, and King tells it well, without demonising Petiot too much; he seems to realise that just telling the facts is enough to amaze anybody who reads this book, and I've read quite a few books on serial killers.(less)
Robert Mapplethorpe was an anomaly. A sometimes mediocre photographer with a keen eye for disrupting scenes through being a punk, sometimes shaking th...moreRobert Mapplethorpe was an anomaly. A sometimes mediocre photographer with a keen eye for disrupting scenes through being a punk, sometimes shaking things up in ways that nobody else had done before him.
He seems also to have been a parasite, a racist, a nice guy, brutal and a relentless self-serving publicity-machine.
So, what draws people to Mapplethorpe? Is it because of his images of people, especially the sexually toned ones? His near-marriage with Patti Smith while living with her for seven years? Anything else? Probably the sex-related pictures, and the American trials for obscenity charges that followed after Mapplethorpe's death due to AIDS in 1989.
Mapplethorpe was a shining example of "niceness" until he left the military academy where his parents had sent him to become "a man".
"Robert was a little too intense and conservative for me. He was almost the stereotypic 'good boy.' " -Nancy Nemeth, ROTC Military Ball Queen, 1964
Mapplethorpe dropped out, moved, dabbled with drugs and blew into the art world with Patti Smith, with whom he lived for seven years.
Discovering his homosexuality, which he hid from his parents for his entire life, was key. Then, interlocked with religion, pain, sex and discovering photography, everything changed. He found Sam Wagstaff, his sugar daddy and main curator, who made his career lift.
The following quote from this book seems to expose a lot about Mapplethorpe:
At the beginning of the semester Mapplethorpe had moved from the apartment on Willoughby Avenue to a ground-floor studio on DeKalb Avenue, which he shared with a pet monkey named Scratch. Of all the stories connected to the photographer, the monkey saga remains one of the strangest. He had purchased the animal from a Brooklyn pet store, where the owner had given him a discount because the monkey was already an adult. The owner failed to tell Mapplethorpe that Scratch wasn't housebroken, and while Mapplethorpe made a few feeble attempts at training Scratch, he pronounced the monkey "uncontrollable" and gave it the run of the apartment. The studio was soon covered in urine and feces, and when friends first came to visit they were rendered speechless by the squalor and by Scratch's habit of entertaining Mapplethorpe by masturbating in front of him.
Scratch's brief and bizarre history encapsulated many of the major themes of Mapplethorpe's adult life - his preoccupation with images of death and violence; his fascination with the devil; his desire to transform the ugly, or freakish, into works of beauty. It also pointed to a darker side of his nature, which would later emerge in his sexual relationships with other men - a need to break all the rules and transgress taboos.
He seemed almost like an utter misfit version of Truman Capote: a social butterfly who used his subjects to his own benefit, not for anything else; his models often spoke of feeling used in a bad way.
Due to a highly promiscuous lifestyle without the use of condoms - and also due to Mapplethorpe's liking of coprophagy - he was often ill, and finally was hit with AIDS, which he denied having until the bitter end.
"Robert was really running away," Myers explained. "He was so angry I kept waiting for him to explode."
And explode he did, by rampaging through the gay bars to pick up black men. Mapplethorpe had confided to several friends that he blamed a black man for infecting him with the AIDS virus, but given his boast of having had sex with an estimated thousand men, he couldn't possibly know for sure. Still, he approached his task like an avenging angel, picking up one black man after another with offers of cocaine, then baiting them with the word "nigger." One man screamed at him to stop, but when Mapplethorpe still kept repeating the word, the man grabbed his clothes and ran out the door. "You're evil," the man shouted, in parting. "Evil!"
Mapplethorpe's racism intensified with the progression of his disease, and Kelly Edey, who had presumably heard everything, was so startled by Mapplethorpe's venomous comments that he noted one incident in his diary. Mapplethorpe was standing outside Keller's on the evening of August 2 when he suddenly began to shout, "This is the sleaziest corner in New York. How can it be that I'm standing here in the midst of all this human garbage? They're so stupid, every last one of them is so unbelievably stupid." And yet he kept returning to Keller's, hoping his demigod might rise from the debris. "A lot of people yelled at him for continuing to go to the bars," Mark Isaacson explained. "But he looked at it, like, well, that's their problem - if they're not protecting themselves, why should I worry about it? When Robert first got sick, I said to him, 'You've got to stop your old lifestyle,' and he said to me, 'If I have to change my lifestyle, I don't want to live.'"
This book is the result of a massive amount of work, collected, analysed and edited over five years. The author has first and foremost interviewed Robert Mapplethorpe, and then Patti Smith, on a lot of details. This book sprawls, uncovers a lot of details - if you believe them to be true - and unveils a lot more than Smith's own book about her life with Mapplethorpe, "Just Kids".
Morrisroe has interviewed Mapplethorpe's family, friends, lovers, dealers (both in art and drugs), socialites, colleagues and fans.
At the very end of his life, Mapplethorpe mustered enough energy to see a Warhol exhibition, having outlived his former idol by a couple of years:
[...] he stayed for two hours while Tom Peterman wheeled him past Warhol's celebrity icons - the Ten Lizes, the Gold Marilyn, the Silver Marlon, the Red Elvis, the Sixteen Jackies. Peterman found the whole event distasteful, for clearly Mapplethorpe was yesterday's story, and by fame's mercurial standards he had outlived his moment. But to Peterman's surprise, Mapplethorpe didn't seem to notice.
The last show he went to was his own, where he sold loads of his photographs. Surrounded by people he didn't know he called shots from a chair while hooked up to medical equipment, "floating on air", and then, collapsing and vomiting. That might be the final word on Mapplethorpe's persona in every single way, Patti Smith exempt.
All in all, the start of this book was a bit slow for me, a bit of dragging its heels, but then it got off to its real start, just as Mapplethorpe started to find himself during his latter teen years. It's a grand tale of a maladjusted man who wanted to live forever. Pissing nearly everybody off with everything he did must amount to something, right?(less)
In the process of Mick Rock's start to become a rock photographer we get to see his visual documentation as he follows David Bowie around, annotated b...moreIn the process of Mick Rock's start to become a rock photographer we get to see his visual documentation as he follows David Bowie around, annotated by Bowie himself.
This is almost a photographic record of Bowie's kick-off into stardom as he is about to release "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars". The book follows his climb from local star into America and ends just as he's taking the next step, slightly during and after "Pin-ups", the fated cover album.
During the entire book one cannot slip the feeling of Bowie being an icon in so many ways, staying humble through his own words, debunking myths (once as "tosh") and glorifying the people who helped him to garb, make-up and generally help him in a variety of ways, not least Mick Ronson and Mick Rock. The Micks.
All in all, a very, very well-edited tome of one of the biggest - if not The biggest - pop-star these modern days have seen.(less)
My favourite biography of all time is probably Boy George's "Take It Like A Man". The second might be "Mohammad Ali", by Thomas Hauser. But, this is a...moreMy favourite biography of all time is probably Boy George's "Take It Like A Man". The second might be "Mohammad Ali", by Thomas Hauser. But, this is a contender to beat them both. Never before have I read a biography that is both extremely well-researched and subtly written, where I think it usually is a matter of either/or.
The intellectual cultural climate in 1920s Russia was a very explosive time, when several small groups of young, agitated Russians questioned, destroyed and leaped from the old climate in a political atmosphere where even God was refused and denied. The Russian futurists craved something else than the everyday porridge that stated that Rembrandt's paintings, Mozart's music and The Bible in writing were the epitome of art, and in the process wanted to reinvent themselves completely by questioning these standards and themselves. Among all of the Russian poets, Mayakovsky's texts seemingly stand solitary and often absolutely brilliant, not only floating far beyond his country-people, but all previous poets across the globe.
Jangfeldt goes far by being fluent in Russian. As such, he has himself translated (with aid) Mayakovsky 's poetry into Swedish, and has since decades personally interviewed people who knew Mayakovsky and has written several works on him. He's accessed previously censored state files on Mayakovsky and drawn his own conclusions on many events throughout Mayakovsky's life, painstakingly delivering a very subtle, simply put, yet desirably complex picture of a man plagued and blessed through extreme throes in all aspects of his life.
Mayakovsky's abilities to reinvent language and stake his own claim through all types of media - poetry, plays, copy, slogans, and letters - are featured here. The same is said for his somewhat nonsensical political statements, but you can't have it all, can you?
From his life as a young boy in the middle of Russian nowhere, to an aspiring career as an artist to developing an interest in poetry, his humble beginnings gently explode as he reaches adolescence and then grows into a manboy, forever trapped as a seventeen-year-old, according to Viktor Sjklovsky. Thing is, I think Mayakovsky never allowed himself to grow stale, which is a mantra he often repeated in different forms, not least in his eccentric relationship with Lili and Osip Brik.
Mayakovsky loved a few things in life, and went beyond every barrier to live those things in every aspect, at times threatening to destroy the people around him in the process. Still, he prevailed in a way, even though his ending is the saddest part of his tale.
This book is worth purchasing in any available language, and will be re-read repeatedly by myself throughout life. It's not heavy, it's not light, but is very well-written, long and so fantastically delivered that it feels short, despite its near-600-pages. Nothing stopped it, and there is no filler; most of what's in this book - which did happen, I sometimes had to remind myself during my reading - is so jagged and at the same time polished, it felt like having a really brilliant, laid-back yet intellectual conversation with somebody who's had a long journey, teaching me a few things in the process.
1. LD Beghtol is extremely pretentious, which isn't always a bad thing 2. This book could have used a strong e...moreThis book makes me thing of three things:
1. LD Beghtol is extremely pretentious, which isn't always a bad thing 2. This book could have used a strong editor 3. It contained a lot of nerdy Mag Fields facts
Now I know that Stephin Merritt instructed the rest of the band that "It's A Crime" was recorded with the phrase "Swedish reggae" constantly in mind, and that there's a staggering number of statistics web-sites available solely built because some listeners of "69 Love Songs" were...a little too interested.
End result: cool for music trivia trainspotters like myself, but extremely demanding considering Beghtol's pretentious style of writing and collating stats.(less)