Sheffield is the right writer for this book, but its hasty production is evident on nearly every page.

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ON BOWIE

A critic’s earnest elegy for the late rock star’s influence on music, fashion, sexuality, and personal transformation.

When David Bowie died on Jan. 10, 2016, Rolling Stone writer Sheffield (Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke, 2013, etc.) was well-equipped to put his career in context. A cassette of Bowie songs was in his boom box when he got the news, and unlike many critics who gave up on Bowie during the creatively depleted 1990s, the author not only kept up, but believed the singer was in the midst of a career revival. That enthusiasm sloshes and froths in this mash note, which was crashed to publication in a month. Sheffield is prone to cringeworthy overstatement (Bowie delivered his final opus, “Blackstar,” because “he knew his death would make the world lonely”), head-scratching digressions (“C-3PO’s Bowie-est moment is Return of the Jedi”), and an overused and overly cute habit of ending paragraphs with snippets of Bowie lyrics. This is all unfortunate, because when Sheffield tones down his jazz-hands–y prose, he’s a cleareyed thinker about Bowie’s place in the pop firmament. Blending personal recollections with a mad dash through his discography, Sheffield persuasively tracks the influence of one TV performance of “Starman,” explores how Bowie’s omnivorous appetite for drugs shaped his persona and music, and—Sheffield’s particular emphasis—muses on how Bowie’s rejection of sexual, musical, and sartorial fetters made him a one-man safe space for at least two generations of outcasts. “Bowie was all about eroticizing what you don’t know for sure,” writes the author, a sentiment that seems exactly right. Sheffield wants to demystify his hero, but only so much; after all, his Sphinx-like presence was part of his charm. But a better book would explore his often perplexing metamorphoses, not just clumsily honor his “Ovid-like sense of constant mutation.”

Sheffield is the right writer for this book, but its hasty production is evident on nearly every page.

Pub Date: June 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-256270-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2016

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

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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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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