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BRIGHT MOMENTS

THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK

One of the great eccentrics of jazz finally gets a biography, albeit a sloppy one. Even in a music that has produced its share of offbeat personalities, Roland Kirk was truly one-of-a-kind. Blind almost from birth, Kirk mastered a seemingly endless array of instruments, playing not only conventional jazz staples like flute and tenor sax but also saxophone forerunners like the manzello and the stritch, the oboe, dozens of homemade concoctions of his own devising like the nose flute and the surulophone, and a raft of percussion. Even more spectacularly, he frequently played three horns at a time. But despite his sideshow reputation, Kirk was not merely a circus act; he was a serious, talented musician whose sidemen included the best bop and hard-bop players, a musician good enough to play with the demanding Charles Mingus. Musician/journalist Kruth retells Kirk’s story through the words of his friends, wife, and fellow musicians. In addition, he was granted access to Kirk’s tape-recorded reminiscences for an unfinished autobiography. Regrettably, Kruth eschews all but the most rudimentary chronology, preferring to organize the book as a series of riffs within a hit-or-miss thematic framework. He has spoken not only to nearly everyone who ever played with Kirk but to anyone who ever saw him, met him, or heard one of his records. The result is a rambling, disorganized, and ultimately dull excursion in which Kruth uses every word of every interview he ever conducted, whether it illuminates his subject or not. The raw material for a biography of a persistently underrated jazzman is here; it awaits an author. Reads like a 400-page magazine profile, with all the problems that description suggests.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-56649-105-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1999

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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