Bloated and unfocused—for die-hard Clash fanatics only.

The 1979 punk classic gets a trainspotter’s treatment.

Having profiled the Clash in two editions of the group biography The Last Gang in Town, British music journalist Gray now turns his attention to the band’s most enduring album. London Calling was formulated at a critical juncture in the band’s career. The group was coming off an unfocused sophomore album and adrift without any formal management after a split with their Svengali, Bernie Rhodes. Drawing on sources that ranged through rockabilly, R&B, blues, funk, reggae and jazz, band members Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon thrashed up enough material for a two-LP set during protracted rehearsals at London’s Vanilla rehearsal space. After a relatively brisk setup surveying the album’s oft-arduous sessions with unpredictable producer Guy Stevens, Gray brings the narrative a grinding halt with 200 minutiae-filled pages devoted to the set’s individual tracks. No fact is deemed insignificant enough to be omitted, and no research is left unutilized, no matter how irrelevant or expendable. The book becomes mired in a series of digressions about such subjects as English rockabilly star Vince Taylor, American R&B rocker Bo Diddley and his eponymous beat, Jamaican “rude boy” songs, England’s Two-Tone ska-punk movement, the Spanish Civil War, Coca-Cola, actor Montgomery Clift, etc. While some of the material has a bearing on the record at hand, it is left unsifted. Worse, Gray ignores the relationship between the Clash’s original “Jimmy Jazz” and its inspiration “Staggerlee,” a provocative connection that goes unmentioned until a later passage about a quotation from the reggae cover “Wrong ’Em Boyo.” Like his track-by-track explication, a chapter devoted to the imagery and marketing of London Calling—with an emphasis on the package’s iconic photo of Simonon smashing his bass—and a painfully attenuated charting of the band’s later history bog down in a sump of unedited detail.

Bloated and unfocused—for die-hard Clash fanatics only.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59376-293-3

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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