A mixed bag of magazine pieces by a seemingly reluctant pop-culture scribe.
Even as he laments the difficulties of the job and hints at moving on to some other line of work, freelancer Samuels admits to knowing no other kind of life than being a magazine writer—“Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, but sooner or later, you may experience a few moments of perfection in the middle of the scrum.” This collection contains a few such moments of grace. One is when a grumpy old bandleader confesses to having whispered to TV host Paul Anka, “a real bastard” in his heydey, regarding the Ed Sullivan–era Beatles: “They’ll never make it.” Plagued by arthritis but not ashamed of his mistaken prognosis, the bandleader continues to play 40-odd years later. Another is a profile of hippie entrepreneur Michael Lang, the author of several editions of the Woodstock festival, “even-tempered in his K-Swiss sneakers and Banana Republic bush jacket.” Still another is an interview with a Motown session player whose contributions to the careers of the Rolling Stones, Smokey Robinson and other greats have, said player insists, not been properly appreciated. But Samuels’s collection also contains too many pieces that are one yellowing page too ephemeral or relentlessly shallow, in the way of so much magazine journalism. A passing argument over whether Nick Drake appears, much posthumously, in a Volvo or a Volkswagen ad might work in a sitcom; on the page, or at least in these pages, it doesn’t. It goes far beyond cliché to assert, clumsily, that “Lennon and McCartney were two different but equal types of man,” and it was old news even at the time that both John Hinckley Jr. and Mark David Chapman, would-be and actual assassin respectively, carried copies of The Catcher in the Rye.
So-so and without much oomph.