MEMPHIS BEAT

THE STORY OF AMERICA'S MUSICAL CRUCIBLE

Nager is a documentary filmmaker and former music editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the only daily paper in the Home of the Blues, a fair set of credentials for the author of a chronicle of the city’s musical history. Memphis was unusually well positioned to become a musical crossroads for America. A large port city on the Mississippi River, just north of the Delta country that gave birth to the blues, only 210 miles from Nashville and every bit as much a part of the hill-country heritage that created country and bluegrass, it’s also a gateway to the north and the big industrial cities that disseminated America’s music as a commercial product. As portrayed by Nager, Memphis was also a unique breeding ground for America’s various musical forms, a place where black and white met surreptitiously. There is, Nager shows, considerably more to Memphis than Elvis, although he doesn’t short-change the King. However, he is ostensibly more concerned with the key figures who came before and after, and who have received somewhat less attention. Given that, it seems odd that Nager spends so much ink on W.C. Handy, Jimmy Lunceford, and some figures with a relatively peripheral relation to the Bluff City, like Robert Johnson and Bessie Smith. All too often this book is a catalogue of musicians who passed through Memphis, or recorded in Memphis, or were born in Memphis. And too much of the musical history recounted in its pages has been told better elsewhere by Peter Guralnick, Francis Davis, and others. The book does come alive in its chapter on Stax/Volt records and the ’60s soul music craze, and Nager does give ample space to many musicians who might otherwise be forgotten. But this is at heart an unsurprising work with no fresh insights. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 24, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-15587-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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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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