RICHARD THOMPSON by Patrick Humphries


The Biography
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 This biography of the quintessential ``musicians' musician'' by Englishman Humphries (Small Change: A Life of Tom Waits, 1990, etc.) is too much the work of a music critic and too little the work of an accomplished biographer. Humphries's legwork is admirable, as he compiles interviews with virtually every family member, bandmate, and collaborator Thompson has acquired over the years; providing crucial material is folkie Loudon Wainwright III. However, the result works better as an oral history of Thompson's career than as the story of his life. Given extremely short shrift are the tragedies surrounding his first band, Fairport Convention; his five children (their births are most often mentioned in passing); and his problematic first marriage. Instead, the only primarily nonmusical aspect of Thompson's life covered--his 1970s conversion to Islam--is given play to the point of offense, with Humphries feeding the all-too-common Western view of the Muslim faith by comparing Thompson's moderate opinion of the Salman Rushdie affair with that of Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens). Erroneously fancying himself a historian, Humphries blames the Iranian hostage crisis on Ronald Reagan, who was not president when the crisis began, and then pontificates on Rushdie's fate: ``For over six years . . . Rushdie has had to live under the threat of death. . . . And that, to me, is another blasphemy.'' Indeed, for a biographer, Humphries lapses too often into the first person; the final fifth of the book consists of his personal impressions of his subject's most recent tours and releases. While this helps the reader to get a complete view of Thompson the musician, Thompson the man remains an enigma. Unable to keep his critical eye in soft focus, Humphries finally offers a work that could as easily be produced by stitching together a dozen record reviews and a Rolling Stone interview. (30 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 24th, 1997
ISBN: 0-02-864752-1
Page count: 400pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997