Wit and nostalgia mitigate, but don’t entirely compensate for, a weak story arc and lack of emotional engagement.



Endearing but ultimately disappointing inquiry into collegiate a cappella via three beloved groups.

With a fanatical fan base and famous alums including Barbara Streisand, Prince, John Legend, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, even Osama bin Laden, collegiate a cappella has been a cultural touchstone for much of the 20th century. GQ senior editor Rapkin, who was a member of Cornell University’s Cayuga’s Waiters, approaches the subject in the tradition of popular films like Spellbound and Wordplay (and the Christopher Guest movies that mock them). He focuses largely on three groups. The all-female Divisi from the University of Oregon is a relatively new band that has become a favorite on the competition circuit. The Tufts Beelzebubs are known as the gold standard for music arrangement and album recording. The University of Virginia’s Hullabahoos, also a newer group, has a rock star-reputation, gigs opening for the Lakers and plenty of girls lining up on campus to meet them. Some colorful characters emerge, particularly Divisi’s founder, who stayed on at Oregon long past her prime to shape her squad; a troubled young music director at Tufts who left the Bubs in a lurch when he had to go on medical leave; and a handsome Hullabahoo who attracted wealthy old benefactors with his youthful looks and charm. Perhaps even more amusing are the alums who can’t let go: One Tufts grad made a career out of producing a cappella albums, and another continued to lend his country home to the Bubs even after they accidentally burned down the house they were renting from him in Somerville, Mass. Still, the author fails to enable readers to connect with the amusing, astonishing and, most importantly, human aspects of this obsessive hobby. Though Rapkin highlights several competitions and notable gigs throughout the book, there is no conclusive event or end moment to wrap things up.

Wit and nostalgia mitigate, but don’t entirely compensate for, a weak story arc and lack of emotional engagement.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-592-40376-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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