Who would have thought that the Zen-saintly author of The Snow Leopard might have been a spook?
If the FBI was a bunch of working stiffs, the CIA was a patrician fraternity—at least back in the early days, when its members were recruited from the dining halls of Princeton, Yale, and Harvard. So it was that when George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, and Harold Humes cooked up the Paris Review as a high-flown literary journal, they landed CIA funding in a number of guises, including direct payment for keeping an eye on what the expat community was up to in those early years of the American-Soviet rivalry. Fifteen years later, writes Guernica founding editor Whitney in the opening pages of this lid-blowing account, Humes would have regrets, for “any association with the super-secret spy agency—notorious for coups, assassinations, and undermining democracy in the name of fighting communism—tainted the reputations of those involved.” But that was 1967, when things began to go south, and not just in Vietnam. In 1951, it was another story; the agency was handing out fistfuls of money to youngish intellectuals in an odd episode of “publishing exuberance,” all with an eye to beating the Soviets at the culture game. Whitney enlists an unlikely cast of characters, including Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda (“in an acrobatic feat, the CIA’s campaign to discredit Neruda did not preclude it from using his work to gain the trust and readership of Latin Americans”), and James Baldwin, all caught up in this net. If the story of the CIA’s involvement in the publication of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago is already well-known, many other incidents in Whitney’s narrative will come as surprises, few of them entirely agreeable. But in the end, the plan seems to have backfired inasmuch as many of the principals, Matthiessen included, drifted leftward and became fierce critics of their sponsors and the government behind them.
Another odd episode steps out from the Cold War’s shadows. Riveting.
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)
This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)