The be-boppingest biography!
Not many biographies need instructions for the reader, but Trager (The American Book of the Dead, not reviewed) has mixed together so many voices in this eclectic survey of jazzman Lord Buckley’s life and career that he must begin with an “Author’s Note on Concept and Format.” Here the reader learns to distinguish among fonts and their purposes: 9-point Helvetica indicates “traditional biographical overview and integrating commentary”; 9-point Times Europa roman highlights passages of oral history, whereas 9-point Times Europa italic introduces that speaker; and 9-point Courier Bold acts as the scrapbook font, mimicking the style and spirit of newsprint. These excessive instructions may appear daunting at first, but the fumbling of fonts miraculously breathes a very jazzy sophistication and syncopation into this compendious array of celebratory voices all in awe and homage to the Lord. Retelling the stories of luminaries from Jesus to the Marquis de Sade in a mix of scat, rap, and the King’s English, Buckley left an indelible impression on America’s musical landscape and influenced such artists as Charlie Parker, Elvis Presley, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and Jerry Garcia. Paying due attention to the necessary details of biography, Trager traces the trajectory of Lord Buckley’s rise to prominence (and his fall into obscurity after his death in 1960) with a careful eye, but the real joy of this account can be found in the many voices recreating the electricity of Buckley’s life and times. The volume concludes with three appendices: a discography and filmography of Buckley’s work, a bibliography and list of sources, and a cast-of-characters index. A CD-compilation of Buckley’s most sensational recordings (not available for review) is also included.