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

ROUTE 19 REVISITED

THE CLASH AND LONDON CALLING

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

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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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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