A mostly depressing assemblage.

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SHOW AND TELL

NEW YORKER PROFILES

A wearisome compilation of New Yorker profiles, written by a scion who ought to know better.

What strange curse has afflicted the New Yorker these past 30 years? What miasma wafts in its offices that transforms the work of John Lahr, son of Bert Lahr and surely an inheritor of at least a small degree of that great man’s wit, into soggy, leaden, partisan prose? Lahr seems drawn to the more unpleasant people in the arts, and the adorations in his profiles of them are inversely proportionate to their boorishness. This results in hagiographic treatments of David Mamet, Woody Allen, Roseanne, or the very talkative Arthur Miller. He quotes Miller on Willy Loman’s failure in Death of a Salesman. “It’s the most brutal way of looking at life that one can imagine, because it discards anyone who doesn’t measure up. It wants to destroy them. It’s been going on since Puritan times. That God rewards those who deserve it.” In his introduction, Lahr claims to begin work on his profiles with “about fifteen hundred pages of transcribed interviews, which form the backbone of the piece.” In the case of the Miller interview, that number is surely a gross undercount, but when it comes to one of Lahr’s few likable subjects, Bob Hope, you have to wonder if the two even exchanged postcards. Hope comes across as one of his few agreeable subjects. Perhaps that is why Lahr manages to rise a little bit from his heavy-handed style in order to deliver a trashing of a man whose only sins seem to be the hiring of joke writers (as most comedians do), self-deprecation, and an unabashed patriotism for his adopted country. (Hope was English-born.) Lahr is kinder in his profile of Irving Berlin, but he hastens to reassure us that the wholesale PC revisions of the book in the current Broadway revival of Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun “completely remove the script’s bad odor.”

A mostly depressing assemblage.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2000

ISBN: 1-58567-062-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

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)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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