Friday, October 25, 2013

FFB redux: Katha Pollitt: LEARNING TO DRIVE (2007); Erica Jong: SEDUCING THE DEMON (2006)

Excellent comments on this 2010 entry here.

So...two memoirs by two of our better known for her political essays, the other for her sexually liberationist novels. One a collection of essays, the other a unitary memoir that began as a writing manual. Both, despite a bit of furor over the Pollitt and the supposed "bestselling" status of the Jong, are already out of print, at least by the measure of primary Amazon availability...

The hassle over the Pollitt came mostly from such quarters as the dancer and repressed-anger sexual submissive Toni Bentley (whose most famous recent work is a fussily-written account of a no-strings/fetishistically all-anal-sex affair and how that helped her find her spiritual self) who was shocked, shocked that Pollitt would be such a man-hater as to “cyberstalk” (actually, just engine-search and read about) her ex-boyfriend. Bentley was accorded considerable space in the New York Times Book Review to expound on this thesis and the other obvious sins of Pollitt, who seems an oddly unembitteredly heterosexual target for such a backhanded slap at feminism. Pollitt’s book is actually a rather cheerful, for the most part, collection of essays about her life at various times, including accounts of good and bad affairs, her early life and her parents’ marriage, her literary career and particularly her early gig as an editor for a soft-core porn novel publisher in the 1970s, a decent source of pay for a young poet and rather eye-opening in several ways. Also, she learns, rather late in life, how to drive a car…happily, this is not employed in any distended way as a metaphor. Those who have read Pollitt’s essays in The Nation and elsewhere can expect a rather similar mix of down to Earth sensibility and incisive observation. It’s typical of our most overrated paper, and certainly of its ridiculous literary desk, that they so eccentrically hoped to sink it…and perhaps they helped.

Jong’s book is less sharply-written than Pollitt’s, as is perhaps not too surprising…poets, and particularly poets who have found greater success with prose, often are relatively lax in the “looser” form, one which less obviously demands (though it still demands, for artistic success, for the craft) concision or at least a sense of when concision can be temporarily forgotten. Jong’s still has a bit of the writer’s guide about it, while mostly being a series of anecdotes about her affairs and passage through the literary world, writing erotica rather than editing it but otherwise not treading too terribly different a path in many ways than Pollitt…just, perhaps, a somewhat more public life, and certainly one which saw an early infusion of cash and attention. I couldn’t shake the sense that Jong is a bit less happy than Pollitt, who seems to have found a rather comfortable place for herself emotionally by her narratives’ end, but both books provide a useful and entertaining opportunity to know a bit of the lives of two of our more engaging feminist literary lions.

(Pollitt’s most recent Nation column on the stands deals with the debate over Jonathan Franzen and Gary Shteyngart’s publicists arranging for their work to suck up all the Literary Hype Opportunities of late; she’s kind enough to refer to Franzen as a good writer, though the current Atlantic features B. R. Myers's review of Franzen’s Freedom that rather forcefully states something akin to my own perception of the man’s work as second-rate, at best, ersatz Philip Roth with a few hints of Robert Coover tossed in.) Jong's book was rather negatively reviewed in the NYT as well, as she notes in this reflection on her life after its publication...

For more of today’s selection of “Forgotten” books, please see Patti Abbott’s blog.

October 1st's "Forgotten" Books:
Paul Bishop: This Girl For Hire by G.G. Fickling
Bill Crider: The Gone Man by Brad Solomon
Scott Cupp: Dread Island by Joe R. Lansdale
Ed Gorman: The Dead Beat by Robert Bloch
Randy Johnson: Enchanted Night by Steven Millhauser
George Kelley: Four Color Fear edited by Gregg Sadowski
Todd Mason: The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
Richard Robinson: 12 Worlds of Alan E. Nourse by Alan E. Nourse

Friday, October 18, 2013

FFB redux: On newsstands 35 years ago, just before Hallowe'en...and some books about music:

This issue reviewed here
As November 1978 approached, it was a time of changes in my new-found...well, year-old...passion for fiction magazines. I started branching out, picking up my first issues of The Atlantic (with the mendacious Claire Sterling cover essay, but two fine short stories within) and Omni (its first issues, as well) and starting to look around at other sorts of magazine beyond the all-fiction titles I had been doting on...and the comics and Mad and National Lampoon, all of which I no longer read (and NatLamp' s new comics offshoot, Heavy Metal, which also seemed less than enthralling)...and the intermittently interesting likes of Scientific American and National Geographic around the was not long after this I started reading Dissent, and moved onto other political magazines, and discovered music magazines, jazz-oriented DownBeat, like Rolling Stone a fortnightly in the late '70s (and RS even ran a little fiction); Esquire was also, briefly, semi-monthly, and, having lost all its '60s panache, was looking a bit like a business magazine with a short story per issue (Redbook was looking similarly more dowdy, albeit with more fiction)...meanwhile, all unknown to me, several of my staples were about to fold or undergo serious transition, as Ben Bova left Analog for Omni, Ted White walked away from Fantastic and Amazing and sat down at Heavy Metal for a while, Galaxy would soon fold as would Fantastic and UnEarth and Galileo and Asimov's SF Adventure (and Far was easy to be the Leading western fiction magazine when one had the only western fiction magazine publishing...) and thus some of the magic was going away...little had I realized that I had jumped onto the fiction magazine bandwagon during a 1970s boomlet...Tolkien and Star Wars had left fantastic-fiction publishers optimistic...and some, such as James Baen and his new Destinies, had some reason for optimism, at least for a while...and while not too many new titles were popping up in crime fiction magazines, at least the American trio of monthlies were able to keep that frequency...even though Cylvia Kleinman Margulies was soon to sell Mike Shayne, having lost her husband over the previous year+, and Hitchcock's had recently been sold to Davis Publications, which had been founded with the purchase of EQMM from the Mercury Press (which would continue to publish The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for decades, and two other mystery magazines for a while, along with several other shortlived titles) by B. G. Davis (leaving Ziff-Davis, which was then still publishing Fantastic and Amazing) two decades before...

And even the two most popular skin magazines, for issues dated November, had remarkably awkward covers, but impressive fiction within...William Kotzwinkle and his fantasy story, soon expanded slightly for publication as an illustrated novella, Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman, in Penthouse (which in its previous issue had carried "overflow" of sfnal materials from the newly-launched stablemate Omni) and William Hjortsberg's Falling Angel serialized in Playboy, some years before the film adaptation, Angel Heart, would appear...

This issue, the Whispers and the Ariel reviewed here.

James Sallis's name misspelled.

Above and below, periodical books/"bookazines"

Editor Ben Bova's last issue.

Editor J. J. Pierce's penultimate issue.

Last issue of this rather hardy romance fiction title...backed by the biggest romance publisher....

Not the first issue I'd see, but my first eclectic
all-fiction magazine, early in its revival (it had flourished
briefly in the mid 1960s)

The second issue.
Occasional fiction...more poetry in this special City Lights/post-Beat issue.

Playboy [v25 #11, November 1978] ($2.00, 314pp+, quarto)

  Penthouse Magazine [November 1978] ed. Robert Guccione

A bit of a cheat, since I can't find the November Redbook online--but they were more 
supportive of fiction than any other "gendered" magazine, and deserve recognition. 
I'm only sorry my mother didn't buy Redbook for me to be aware of that fact...

And Ms. had occasional fiction, though apparently
not in this issue...

A rather New-Agey answer to Omni, reprinting some fiction and art from sf magazines...I bought this 2nd issue off a supermarket newsstand, and never saw another. (Bottom right, a new illo for an old Cleve Cartmill story, "The Link"...)

Hoots and Hollers: Folk Music and Its Extensions at Midcentury (...and Up Till Now...)

"Folk music is like country music for people who aren't conservative?" --James Adomian, contemplating the current Billboard folk/acoustic music album chart, on Who Charted?, uploaded February 29, 2012

Three books this time coming at and attempting to explicate and/or contextualize the varying flavors of the popular folk-music movement of the 1950s and '60s, and particularly some of the most popular performers (and lightning rods) of that field and time. The American Folk Scene: Dimensions of the Folksong Revival is, like The Age of Rock reviewed here briefly, a somewhat haphazard collection of magazine essays, from sources ranging from the folk-music "insider" Sing Out! to Time, that attempts to give a mildly panoramic view of the folk-music scene as it was not quite dissipating, but instead not just bifurcating but polyfurcating if one might be forgiven a neologism...the pop-folk of the Kingston Trio and Judy Collins and many of their peers not quite riding the top of the charts any longer but still retaining an audience, while a number of the younger musicians were moving into folk-rock or were drawn to the new opportunities in country music, while others yet were remaining more or less traditionalist purists...and not a few would hop from one field to another as mood or the commercial vagaries struck. G. Legman is as dour as always, with his "Folksongs, Fakelore, and Cash" and Nat Hentoff (his name misspelled in the citation of this book in the library database WorldCat [see full citation of the anthology's contents below] and dutifully parroted in the Amazon listing) typically sensible in "The Future of the Folk Renascence" and Richard Fariña briefly represented, writing about his sister-in-law Joan Baez and this Zimmerman kid. The essays are, of course, not all equally valuable, nor does one come away with a particularly complete understanding of the "scene" as it was even at time of assembly...but it's a start. (My copy is buried deep in storage, at the moment.)

The first time I ever heard Bob Dylan sing I knew he would be a success.
He sounded exactly like Woody Guthrie, an earlier folksinger, and I
figured that if he added a few more imitations–-maybe Bette Davis and James
Cagney–-he would have an even funnier routine. --Mike Royko, "Dylan the Great"

Meanwhile, Zims, who started calling himself Dylan rather early in the 1960s, had already started making a serious name for himself by the time CBS, due to John Hammond's endorsement, started recording him in 1962, and D. J. Pennebaker did no disservice to his own reputation by putting together a cinema verite documentary of Dylan's second tour of the UK, eventually released as Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back (and including, in one early performance sequence filmed around a civil rights protest encampment from several years earlier, footage taken by Ed Emshwiller for an unfinished project that Emshwiller gave to Pennebaker). Released in 1967, the film spawned an interesting 1968 book project, which combined transcripts of the lyrics and dialog from the film with stills (this being as close to a take-home version of the film as most fans could afford in those years), not a unique project but still not that common (the Ballantines, who were always ready to innovate, were then still in charge of the publishing house that bore their name), and it's a deft job...Pennebaker warns that it's no substitute for the film, but it does provide a nice supplement to some fleeting or murky copy of the book is from the New Video reprint of the Ballantine edition, released in 2006 as part of the "65 Tour Deluxe Edition" of the film on dvd, with a bonus disc of outtakes and related recordings and a little flipbook that allows handheld animation of the promotional film for "Subterranean Homesick Blues"...

Jack Paar: "I like folksingers. I hate hillbillies. What's the difference between hillbillies and folksingers?"

Tom Smothers: "Well...hillbillies sing higher." --Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

David Bianculli's book is still in print from a traditional (if megaconglomerate) publisher, as opposed to being a premium in a dvd set, and it shows the signs of being a megaconglomerate book...notably a lack of copy-editing, or of editorial guidance that might've sent Bianculli back to get a little deeper into the background of his subjects. The television reviewer seems to think the Weavers disappeared from the face of the Earth after their first break-up in 1952, for example, rather than having reformed in '54 and helped foster the folk revival the Kingston Trio and other commercial acts sprang from, for the most part...Bianculli even manages to mention Burl Ives and Harry Belafonte repeatedly without tumbling to the fact that Ives and other folksingers and their colleagues in bringing calypso to the US charts were also keeping a presence for pop-folk in the popular consciousness. Even about his subjects at hand, he manages to bobble--while attempting to demonstrate the Smotherses' influence on the next generation, he (rather obsequiously) overpraises Ken Burns and quotes Bill Maher's accurate memory of the song "Mediocre Fred"...without noting that that song was written by Pat Paulsen, a fact which would strengthen Bianculli's point in the passage in question. But DB clearly loves the SmoBros' work, and got some good interview material from them, their sister, and many of the others around them, and I'm not sure he overstates the importance of the Comedy Hour and its spinoffs and the fights with CBS they had. By no means a perfect book, but interesting both for the light it sheds on their early career, and their careers since the firing (and replacement by that other comedy and music series, only in this case much worse comedy and sometimes rather similar music, Hee-Haw...which CBS would high-handedly cancel in turn in its purge of "rural", older-skewing series in favor of the post-All in the Family wave of more "urban/suburban," "hipper" shows...the kind of thing the Smothers were providing when they were fired).

from WorldCat:

The American folk scene : dimensions of the folksong revival

Author: David A De Turk; A Poulin
Publisher: New York : Dell Pub. Co., 1967.
334 p. ; 18 cm.

Pt. 1: Folk and the folk arrival. Folk and the folk arrival / Sandy Paton ; Why folk music? / Pete Seeger ; Who invented the folk? / Stan Steiner ; Why I Detest Folk Music / Robert Reisner ; The folk music interchange: negro and white, / John Cohen ; The singer of folksongs and his conscience / Sam Hinton ; The performance of folksongs on recordings / Robert S. Whitman and Sheldon S. Kagan ; "Hootenanny": the word, its content and continuum / Peter Tamony ; Folk music in the schools of a highly industrialized society / Charles Seeger ; The folksong revival: cult or culture? / B. A. Botkin --

pt. 2: Mine enemy, the folksinger (topical-protest songs). "Mine enemy, the folksinger" / Kenneth Keating ; The position of songs of protest in folk literature / John Greenway ; Songs of our time from the pages of broadside magazine / Gordon Friesen ; P-for-protest / Jon Pankake and Paul Nelson ; Topical songs and folksinging, 1965, A Symposium / Don West, Phil Ochs, Ewan MacColl, Chad Mitchell, John Cohen, Moses Asch, Josh Dunson ; The topical song revolution at midpoint / Irwin Silber ; Sing a song of freedom / Robert Sherman --

pt. 3: Woody and his children: four for our time. Woody Guthrie: the man, the land, the understanding / John Greenway ; The ballad of Pete Seeger / Peter Lyon ; Sibyl with guitar ('Time' magazine) ; Joan Baez, an interview ; Baez and Dylan: a generation singing out / Richard Farina ; Bob Dylan / John Pankake and Paul Nelson ; "Highway 61 revisited" / Irwin Silber and Paul Nelson ; I will show you fear in a handful of songs / David A. De Turk and A. Poulin, Jr. ; Pete's children: the American folksong revival, pro and con / Jon Pankake --

pt. 4: Folk, rock, cash, and the future. Folk rock: thunder without rain / Josh Dunson ; Folk music and the success syndrome / Irwin Silber ; Commercialism and the folksong revival / Ron Radosh ; Is cash killing folk music? / Josh Dunson and Moses Asch ; Folksongs, fakelore, and cash / G. Legman ; The future of the folk renascence / Nat Hentof]f].

The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music by Stambler & Landon; Blues Who's Who by Harris; The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists ed. Wallace & Manitoba

Three of the kinds of books that are becoming increasingly obsolete...even the CD-ROM versions of this kind of book are becoming orphaned technology, as web resources take their place and allow for more and easier revision, input and feedback, and ease of access...and, frankly, because this kind of book rarely sold well enough to make a fortune for anyone, even though the folkie/c&w reference saw three editions over fifteen years and the blues book two over a decade (the latter from different small publishers)...and even though Amy Wallace was seeking, a few years back, to make another career of Books of Lists, even as the first The Book of Lists had been a bestseller as well as family project for her, her father Irving Wallace and her brother David Wallechinsky in the early-mid 1970s. So, obsessives can still compile this kind of thing, and monetizing their obsession is only slightly more problematic than it has ever been....

The Irwin Stambler and Grellan Landon Encyclopedia, first published in 1969, is a pretty good example of this type of thing, balancing readability with genuine scholarship and a good grasp of how porous the boundaries of the subject are...there are entries for Muddy Waters and Tom Jones alongside those for the Sons of the Pioneers and the Joy (a musically-eclectic duo of women who had been the core of the Joy of Cooking in the late '60s/early '70s); if there aren't sufficient photographs of Emmylou Harris, could there really ever be? More serious complaints can be lodged about the proofing/fact-checking...for example, the listing for Roger McGuinn gives the title of the first Byrds album as The Byrds rather than as the proper Mr. Tambourine Man (they didn't release an eponymous album till after the band finally died, two years after their last album called Farther Along was released in 1971, and the original lineup reformed for a dispirited reunion recording session later in 1973), and about some of the citations that might be here but aren' might reasonably expect an act with two major-label releases such as the Modern Folk Quartet to get some recognition, even if they were more important as a live band with a regular gig in one of the major folk-oriented nightclubs, but no such luck (after all, this kind of relatively obscure band is what one often seeks out this kind of reference for).  But this book strikes a nice balance between the extremes represented by the other two.

The Harris book is an odd is a fairly comprehensive and focused book about blues performers, but as the subtitle suggests it's given over more to those who sang than those who performed in other ways, and it has rather odd criteria for inclusion/exclusion: Jimi Hendrix, Mike Bloomfeild, Janis Joplin and John Mayall are in, for example, but the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Yardbirds, collectively and individually (even Clapton), are out. "Little" Richard Penniman is in (and the book tags everyone by their legal names, so Muddy Waters is in as Morganfield, for example) but Gil Scott-Heron is out. More importantly, each entry is devoted heavily to club dates and, to a lesser extent, television and radio appearances each artist made, to the virtual exclusion of other biographical and professional data, including discographies...truly information that might be hard to find elsewhere, but not only very dry as a casual read, but also hard to verify and at times, at least, rather less important than the information left out.

While the Wallace and Handsome Dick Manitoba (as he was billed during his days as lead singer for the Dictators) volume is breezy fun, and not terribly focused and by intention not a reference (though useful data can be extracted from it, aside from whom Debbie Harry was kind enough to list as people she wouldn't've minded coupling with in 2006, to which she appended the proviso that if one felt they were improperly left off the list, they could apply for inclusion by contacting her through Manitoba)(while she's 67 now, her ridiculous beauty hasn't faded that much, and everything else about her, from wit to talent to some renown as a genuinely kind person, might just lead anyone to seriously ponder that not-so-serious list and offer).  Unlike entirely too many books about punk rock, this one doesn't try to pretend punk vanished in 1983 or earlier when the kool kids stopped caring in Manhattan, as opposed to going into an even richer phase than the first decade or so of self-conscious existence, and the book is eclectic enough to go beyond the music to literary and other allied concerns (even if "cyberpunk" and "splatterpunk" are the only   -punk fictional modes explored, steampunk having not yet achieved faddishness nor literary cowpunk, any more than now, come to broad public attention by the 2007 publication of the book). A fun read, even if the more freakish facets of this intentionally freak-friendly music and culture (and the music treated with here ranges well past punk and past allied sorts of heavy metal and garage band music and mutual progenitors to the likes of Jethro Tull in certain instances) get more play than is remotely representative...part of the Official Book of Lists tradition, after all. Perhaps the punkest thing about this book is that it was published by Backbeat Books, a division of the hopelessly but cheerfully unpunk Hal Leonard Publishing concern (if you are reminded of marching band music, you are not incorrect).

All of these are now out of print but available for reasonable prices from the usual suspects, at least used.

Two "forgotten" books:

Alex McNeil: Total Television (Penguin; 4th Edition, 1996)
Len Lyons: 101 Best Jazz Albums (Morrow; 1980)

Alex McNeil's Total Television was one of the two major guides to US television programming offered by the large commercial publishers in the 1980s and '90s...the other is The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, put together by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh. The Brooks/Marsh is better for specific dates for regularly-scheduled programming, but rather foolishly completely ignores PBS and other public-broadcasting programming, even while trying to include as much commercial syndication programming as possible (and in later editions, cable shows). The McNeil, while often providing shorter entries and certainly less cast information per most series (it'a nearly a toss-up, however, on soap operas), not only includes the public broadcasting series but also does its best to cover other "dayparts" and the national programming made available in them. It's also better-written and slightly less bumptious. The name of the PBS dramatic anthology series Visions evaded my attempts at recalling it for years before I came across its entry here...and it's a real pity that while the competitor has continued to roll out, it's been more than a decade since McNeil's book has been updated.

Len Lyon's 101 was a book I was already arguing with as soon as I picked it up, as part of the my introductory quartet for the Quality Paperback Club (rip, I believe). Lyons, a jazz critic of some reknown but not quite as widely-hailed as, say, Nat Hentoff or Leonard Feather, did not shy awawy from expressing his opinions, as befits putting together a Best-Of guide, but also seemed to be arguing with himself to remarkable degree, including fusion albums despite not seeming to respect fusion all that much (particularly when he got to his Chuck Mangione selection), and seeming to resent the need to include anything at all by the Brubeck Quarter or, to a lesser extent, the Modern Jazz Quartet, when more space could be devoted to the Miles Davis catalog. (He doesn't rank the albums, but Kind of Blue is clearly given pride of place...along with the Gil Evans Orchestra album Porgy and Bess and Bitches Brew, among others.) Given that he also wishes to highlight the Jazz at Massey Hall concert album (often dubbed the "greatest jazz concert ever" with only a moderate amount of stretching, given the performance by the much-plagued quintet of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Charles Mingus and Bud Powell) and other milestones from people ranging from Scott Joplin to Return to Forever, with unsurprising major bowing to the Ellington Orchestra, it's a wonder he doesn't step on himself even more in his attempts to be both comprehensive and true to his own taste (and also to try, as best he could, to restrict himself to only those LPs, in this 1980 book, still in print, or back in print). The book introduced me to Toahiko Akiyoshi and Betty Carter, and that might be enough to allow me to forgive the lack of respct for Messrs. Brubeck and Lewis.


Fairport Convention: Fairport Convention (Polydor 1968)
The Zombies: Zombie Heaven (Big Beat; recorded 1964-69)

So, I was a young jazz fan, and classical and blues and folk fan, keeping my ears open while going through my folks' rather diverse set of records and what I could find at the libraries I frequented, only occasionally going so far as to buy a cheap record (first single: the Brownsville Station's intentionally goofy, proto-pop-punk "Smokin' in the Boys' Room"/"Barefootin'"; first album might just've been the Pickwick Beach Boys anthology, like most Pickwick's cheaply assembled and pressed on barely-stiffened garbage bags, Surfer Girl--other candidates included cutouts of the Count Basie Orchestra's Chairman of the Board and an Audio-Fidelity recording of a no-name orchestra's reading of Pictures at an Exhibition, the Ravel orchestration of course, with a couple of short pieces by Mussourgsky appended without citation [the mark of an attentive label!]).

But I was most passionate about the jazz...even when finally returning to rock by the end of the 1970s, after mostly just hearing what everyone heard in an ambient way, I was drawn both to rawness of the punkish edge and to what I saw as the best employment of jazz influences (along with the vocal harmonies and minor keys of folk-rock). The Byrds satisfied in nearly every way, not least in the jazzy improvisation of much of the Fifth Dimension album ("Eight Miles High," "I See You," and all); the Animals, driven initially by Alan Price's piano and organ work, could thrillingly dig in; and then there were these two slightly geekish bands from Britain, one dead before its time (and having it's biggest hit two years after dissolving), the other producing one of its best albums before losing half the band in the first set of tragedies to befall it, and continuing in some form even today...though it never recovered enough from the loss of Richard Thompson to his brilliant duo/solo career.

More than with any of their subsequent albums, jazz informs the playing on Fairport Convention, even when covering Dylan ("Jack of Diamonds") or evoking him and the San Francisco scene (the brilliant "Don't Worry Ma, It's Only Witchcraft"); covering two Joni Mitchell songs (before she released her own versions, apparently) did nothing to discourage that, as well as showcasing the vocals of the underrated Judy Dyble (Sandy Denny, the doomed vocalist of the next iteration of Fairport, is often rated much more kindly...but she has a rather different approach, Denny's voice more a Spanish guitar to Dyble's autoharp, one of the instruments Dyble plays here).

While the Zombies also did nearly everything you could ask of them, and had a odd name to boot. Private (or, in the UK, public) school kids who never made any pretense of any sort of deprivation, not that they rubbed it in either, the quintet grew up in public with impressive choral chops and another brilliant keyboardist in Rod Argent, and in the three years and change that they recorded only had three big international hits, one of them released against their better (and correct) judgment ("Tell Her No" is one of their weakest recordings). That they packed it in before they were barely in their twenties is reflected in certain qualities of many of their lyrics, some from the perspective of the wounded adolescent ("She's Not There"), others still youngish but given over to bonhomie ("Friends of Mine"). They might have overreached in trying to cover Aretha Franklin (though "Soulville" is game) or Little Richard ("Rip It Up" also fun to hear), but when in their wheelhouse, as with "Remember You" or "This Will Be Our Year" or their recording of "Summertime"...devastating. "Beechwood Park" and "Smokey Day" are two of the most beautiful rock songs yet recorded, "I'll Call You Mine" and "She's Coming Home" among the most exuberant. And they can be damned funny, as well, as when they repurposed "Just Out of Reach" for a commercial for the film Bunny Lake is Missing, entitled in this version "Come on Time" (for the film), among others. "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" deserve every sale they've made over the decades...a real pity that the band Argent, and such other later projects as the quasi-reunion tours, haven't ever able to touch the work they did in the mid-'60s.


I've just started watching/listening to's offer of the tv adaptation of Zadie Smith's White Teeth, but so far, so good...(more about youthful passion than a youthful passion of mine, of course). And I like the utterly unforgotten, brand new Community, NBC's sitcom with a fine cast and some solid promise.

At the tribute site for Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996), and at the Library of Congress's site, you'll find the excerpts from a series of slightly interview-driven reminiscences by the saxophonist/composer/arranger and wide-ranging genius, excerpted in a sort of work in progress autobiography...where the work may have ceased for now, with only some rather good short segments dealing with various aspects of Mulligan's life and career (accompanied on the Mulligan site with musical selections) having yet been posted. Nonetheless, reading the document that transcribes the posted excerpts is valuable, even if more is required...the full multimedia experience the site is reaching for is about halfway home, and full of rich examples of his work, and the interviews and other materials that work inspired over his career.

I hadn't realized that Mulligan was making his first serious (and successful) bid for a pro career as a music arranger (and even more budding composer) in Philadelphia, in 1943 aged 16, managing to impress WCAU/CBS Orchestra director Johnny Worthington first with his chutzpah and then with the promise he saw in Mulligan's charts. Writing for Eliot Lawrence's, Gene Krupa's and Claude Thornhill's orchestras followed over the next few years, as did his first adventures as a pro horn player, more often playing smaller saxes than the baritone horn that was his primary lifelong instrument; he tells of his overwhelming sense of joy and terror when, Mulligan age 18, Charlie Parker genially coerces Mulligan to sit in on tenor with Don Byas and himself for a jam session; Mulligan avers he later had Absolutely no memory of what they played, simply the sense of how starstruck he was. A few years later, after Mulligan has essentially moved into the apartment of fellow arranger/composer Gil Evans, and they and a constant stream of like-minded folks such as John Lewis (later to cofound the Modern Jazz Quartet) and George Russell (also still working with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra) are constantly talking, playing, and working out new musical ideas in the small space. The group also included a young Miles Davis seeing in this pool of talent a means of making a name for himself beyond just another of Charlie Parker's young projects, who then went on to seek out a Capitol recording contract and some club dates for this amorphous group, then turn to them and ask for commitments...thus the singles that would eventually be gathered up, a decade later in 1957, as The Birth of the Cool, with Davis hogging "leader" credit as well as particularly infuriating Lewis with his divo-esque soloing at the expense of the compositions and arrangements in the live performances of the nonet...imagine, Davis as self-important and inconsiderate.
Mulligan and Judy Holliday

The excerpts touch on much of the important work and life-changes of Mulligan afterward, though the missing bits are often crucial, too. There's a nice couple of pages about Mulligan's first pianoless quartet, with Chet Baker not yet having found his professional singing voice to supplement his trumpet, Chico Hamilton on accidentally lean percussion set, and Carson Smith's bass melding with Mulligan's bari sax to create the harmonic core, but the eventual quartet with Art Farmer, Mulligan's most consistent partner on trumpet and flugelhorn (and on the CBS album pictured above, one of Mulligan's biggest sellers), is not covered. Franca Rota Mulligan, his widow, wife of his last two decades, and one of the primary begetters of the site, is unsurprisingly mentioned at some length, but, for example, Mulligan's long affiance and widowed marriage to Judy Holliday, who died young of cancer, isn't mentioned at all (though their collaboration on musicalizing an Anita Loos novel and their work together on other songs and recordings is mentioned). But, well, goodness...Mulligan's career, ranging from a recording with his neighbor and friend Thelonious Monk when Riverside Records couldn't get around John Coltrane's contract with Atlantic to record the full, shortlived Monk/Coltrane quartet (Mulligan wished he'd had more time to rehearse and generally play with Monk before recording)(and the Monk/Coltrane quartet would eventually record in a studio, but much of that work was not available for decades after), to Mulligan playing in various classical contexts as featured soloist or simply as another woodwind; from the years with the Brubeck/Mulligan Quartet to the various jazz orchestras Mulligan put together for various purposes, and on through his educational work and foundation legacy (also not discussed much in the transcripts, but documented elsewhere on the site)...Mulligan's career was, shall we understate, pretty impressive. Even if his film-acting career was less than stellar (while generous, Mulligan didn't suffer fools gladly...nor did he like burbling fans much, as I found out when Mulligan and I literally backed into each other at a buffet, and we both turned around to apologize, and I was suddenly standing next to a man whose work I'd heard my whole life. He very quickly excused himself.).
For more of today's, mostly more traditional books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Mulligan and his eventual widow, the Countess Franca Rota Mulligan.

(I'm not sure of the personnel here, but...that's Mulligan, all right, in a later recording of this composition.)

...and some (more) autobiography, in response to a meme in early 2009, before either of my parents began blatantly suffering the ills which plague them now:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

16 things

1. I can sing in four ranges, all of which are missing notes. I'm probably best at minor-key songs (bluegrass, gospel, etc.). As an instrumentalist, I'm the worst musician in my immediate family.

2. I've been paid for haiku by a magazine, or at least its editor/publisher. Albeit only once.

3. I was one of the infants given tetracycline in its early formula, in the mid-1960s, which has permanently (at least, so far) stained my adult teeth beige. They don't look rotten (nor are they), but I really should consider caps.

4. My brother, who couldn't convince his girlfriend to accompany him, once treated me to a Laurie Anderson concert in her stead. She was performing with the same patter as she did on Letterman's show the night or so before, and it wasn't that inspired the first time. My brother and I were sitting in the front row, and we might well've been the only people in the audience not to have stood to give her an ovation. She stared at us.

5. Because some college classmates of mine couldn't convince their girlfriends to come along, I was able to attend not only the first Thelonious Monk Memorial Concert, but also the reception afterward. Thus I met David Amram, Urszula Dudziak, Wynton Marsalis, and T.S. Monk III. And Gerry Mulligan; we literally bumped into each other, both turned around to apologize, and I then burbled, which famously was not the thing to do with Mulligan.

6. I took the Metro train into that concert in DC, but couldn't get my Plymouth Sport Suburban to work properly (as soon as I hit the highway, it would only go in reverse) after making my way back to the Vienna station, thus missing what amounted to a late third date with one eventual ex, another woman, accelerated her expressions of interest very soon after, and that seems like a pretty damned pivotal night in my life as a result.

7. As far as I know, this was the only period in my life when more than one woman was interested in me at the same time. (There was even another.) (Remarkable.)

8. I sparked a very informal anti-Vietnam War demonstration among fellow neighborhood kids at age six. We were riding around our Boston suburb in the back of an old firetruck (rather like a giant pickup truck), and I started everyone flashing peace signs and shouting for an end to the war. Seemed like a good idea.

9. My earliest memories of friends are of a girl, like myself aged 4, and her slightly younger brother, probably of Tlingit or Athabascan ancestry, who lived around the corner in Fairbanks, AK. I thought their mother remarkably beautiful. She was certainly very nice to me. Also of a boy of about 12, who was developmentally disabled and lived down the street...he had an enormous collection of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. He later was imprisoned for murder, a decade or so later, my parents heard from friends who still lived there.

10. While attending the University of Hawaii, I was elected to the lowest possible elected office in the state, the Student Senate. I was 19th for 19 positions for the College of Arts and Sciences, out of a field of 24 candidates...three of my friends and I ran, in 1983, as the Green Slate.

11. At 18, I believe I was the youngest editor so far of HAWAII REVIEW. I held that position for one month.

12. I was a National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist, who might well've achieved highest "selection index" (score) for the year in Hawaii, in 1981. At the assembly where the students were recognized for such things, my name wasn't called, to the bemusement of the other folks I'd done slightly better than; this was not the first nor last time that I'd been shown such a petty slight by that school or other assemblies of pompous folk.

13. I've always been good at such tests, and as a partial consequence have never put much faith in IQ tests as measures of intelligence, as oppose to of IQ-test-taking ability. A similar test taken at about the same time could be broken down as Things You Can Do In Your Head, at which I went off the top of the results scale, and Things Requiring You Deal With the Outside World, in which I fell into the Bright Average classification. Mildly telling, I thought.

14. I tend to work too much, in low-reward, high-responsibility positions.

15. As a Type 2 diabetic (both sides of the family, though happily not my parents nor brother so far), I shouldn't drink. Not too tough, but I have a vicious sweet tooth. Alzheimer's on both sides, too, which terrifies me, if less so than it did in my 20s.

16. My ex, mentioned above, noted that I seemed to be able to talk to anyone, though I tend to interview people w/o realizing it, and that I was the only person she knew who actually didn't seem to care what clothes he wore. I think she was ambivalent about the, I suppose, am I.

--For more of today's books, please see George Kelley's blog, while Patti Abbott is on assignment.