HIGH TIMES, HARD TIMES by Anita with George Eells O'Day

HIGH TIMES, HARD TIMES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Song stylist"" O'Day is almost as well known for her drug problems as her jazz; and this spunky, candid, yet somewhat uninvolving memoir covers both in detail--starting out with her grisly 1966 overdose, then flashing back to Tell All from the beginning. Raised in Depression-era Chicago by an undemonstrative, bitter mother (Dad walked out), 14-year-old Anita escaped to the world of the ""Walkathons"" (endurance contests with entertainment), where, despite limited voice--no uvula--she began singing, introduced by such aspiring comic emcees as Red Skelton (""Acclaim and money were his gods""). And by age 19, inspired by such as Billie Holliday and Martha Raye (""when she sings the back of my neck begins to creep""), Anita had been discovered by a Down Beat editor--who made her part of the premiere show at the Off-Beat Club: she was the overnight toast of Chicago jazz. Unfortunately, she was also lonely and felt unloved. So she drank, put on a ""hip, swinging-chick personality,"" and married weird drummer Don: a compulsive bather with a ubiquitous mother and a ""Mystic Brotherhood"" vow against all sex. And while Anita's career bloomed through the Forties--singing with non-dope-fiend Gene Krupa (""all he did was smoke a few joints and drink a lot of Scotch"") and far-out yet formal Start Kenton (""working with him was like wearing a tight girdle""), making records (at $7.50 a side!)--her private life was mostly wretched: rocky marriage to golf pro Carl, 18 abortions, a six-week breakdown in 1946. But her heroin addiction didn't come till the Fifties--after jazz started its decline, after being busted for pot and framed for heroin possession, and after meeting another weird drummer: Bible-reading John, who was totally clean-living except for his hypodermic habit. Together, in a nonsexual folie à deux, they spent the next decade living from connection to connection, filling in with cough syrup or boiled-down paregoric; and it took that '66 OD for Anita, amid an erratic comeback, to go straight. The drugs stuff is more dreary than searing, and Anita's recovery isn't as inspiring as it should be. But the music side is fine, Anita's men are intriguingly crazy, and overall this is a cut above the usual down-and-dirty, jazz-and-drugs confession.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1981
ISBN: 0879101180
Publisher: Putnam