An uneven attempt to encapsulate a turbulent decade.



Charles Manson and his followers leave a trail of drugs, sex, and violence in this look at America’s 1960s counterculture.

The ’60s were a tumultuous era. From sexual liberation and rock ’n’ roll to the civil rights movement, the Apollo 11 landing, and the Vietnam War protests, a sense of unrest boiled up across the United States, including in California. Ristagno (Short Fuse, 2012) sets the stage for the Manson family’s birth with ample LSD and communal orgies. Wheeling from rock stars to starlets to the children of the nouveau riche, the work shows that many embraced the delirium of the times—and few were able to resist Manson’s charisma. Accompanied by the author’s garish color pencil-and-ink illustrations evoking a deformed, hallucinatory haze, figures like filmmaker Kenneth Anger and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, along with a train of Manson family members—including Bobby Beausoleil and Tex Watson—briefly take the spotlight. In addition, Ristagno offers digressions that involve antiquated science (“As recently as 1842, England’s ‘Lunacy Act’ maintained that the madness attributed to the full moon was distinct from that of the incurably insane”), conspiracy theories (the moon landing was fake), and astrology (the number 9 is “mathematically fascinating” because of its connection to “the strangest cut” on the Beatles’ “White Album,” “Revolution 9,” which some think is a reference to the ninth plague of Egypt). Rather than following any chronological order, the volume pieces together the Manson story through loosely connected anecdotes and footnotes in an attempt to pack in as many details as possible. While many of these tidbits are intriguing, the lack of narrative cohesion ultimately causes the book to lose focus. An air of vagueness surrounds many of the characters and their actions. In addition, some sentences are written with such an unremitting sensationalism that they become melodramatic and kitschy: “Those shapely legs, having ridden so many (both man and beast), strode now encased in nylon (the effect was enchanting) beneath her martyr-pale face.” But Ristagno depicts the Manson family’s various grisly murders, including the killings of Gary Hinman and Rosemary LaBianca, with an unflinching control of suspense. These strong portions remain the highlight here. Unfortunately, this sense of buildup falls short in the rest of the work. Manson lurks at every corner and yet it feels as if he is lost in the haze—an ultimately forgotten premise.

An uneven attempt to encapsulate a turbulent decade.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-692-83601-9

Page Count: 122

Publisher: Bombshell Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2018

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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 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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