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An assured hand sifting through the cultural ashes.

Music critic/biographer Tosches (The Devil and Sonny Liston, not reviewed, etc.) pens a densely informative and striking exploration of race, authenticity, and musical lineage.

The peg for it all is the author’s 20-year obsession with Emmett Miller (1900–62), a white “trick voice” singer from Macon, Georgia, who became briefly prominent with the failing Al G. Field Minstrels troupe, then recorded a series of “yodeling blues” for Okeh Records before fading into obscurity on the Southern grind circuit. Miller’s surviving music epitomized the weird 1920s-era intersections between jazz, blues, and country, despite being marginalized by the qualities Tosches finds haunting, such as its allusions to 19th-century minstrel styles and inclusion of bawdy “spoken word” routines that also were part of African-American oral tradition. Tosches alternates between his painstaking documentation of Miller’s milieu and wry commentary upon his difficult search (Miller seemingly produced amnesia in everyone who met him) as well as the necessity of such quests in our time of cultural divisiveness. He traces a fascinating portrait of pre-Depression musical ferment, with artists like Miller, Jimmie Rodgers, Cab Calloway, and Al Jolson freely borrowing ideas from one another, and little-recalled individuals like Italian-American guitarist Eddie Lang forging important links despite the music industry’s racial segregation. Miller’s best recordings (which survived via bootleg) were made in 1927 with “the Georgia Crackers,” a powerhouse ensemble including Lang, the Dorsey brothers, and Gene Krupa. Alas, the amiable Miller was evidently a profligate alcoholic, and his commercial prospects “vanished into the abyss between two times, that of the vaudeville singer . . . and that of the crooner, in which he was lost.” Like James Ellroy, Tosches uses a staccato style to make provocative points, as when examining minstrelstry and its contemporary incarnation, gangsta rap. Yet his search for Emmett Miller, which ends at the singer’s Macon tombstone, also has great poignancy, and his explication of the musical veins that run from Miller and Lang to Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan is extremely striking.

An assured hand sifting through the cultural ashes.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2001

ISBN: 0-316-89507-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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