HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL

THE SPECTACULAR RISE AND VIOLENT FALL OF DEATH ROW RECORDS

A sloppy but repellently gripping history of the once eminent, now moribund Death Row record label. Hip-hop journalist Ro (Gangsta: Merchandising the Rhymes of Violence, 1996) charts CEO Marion —Suge— Knight’s progress from an impoverished childhood in L.A.’s Compton ghetto through his tenure as hooligan-in-chief of gangster-ridden Death Row and his ultimate imprisonment on charges of violating probation after an assault conviction. Having started Death Row with money provided by an incarcerated L.A. drug kingpin, Knight, according to Ro, used threats and intimidation to extract Dr. Dre, of the bestselling gangsta-rap group N.W.A, from his contract with Ruthless Records in 1991. Dre, rap’s most influential producer, enlisted the unknown Snoop Doggy Dogg to rap on his The Chronic, which became one of the biggest-selling rap albums ever. While Snoop’s solo album continued Death Row’s winning streak, the enormous Knight and his entourage of Bloods routinely handled perceived business problems with physical attacks, at least one of which, Ro reports, resulted in death: —Death Row employees went about their filing and faxing as blood-curdling shrieks filled the office. They saw the doorknob jerking, knowing that people were desperately trying to escape a beating.— Ro lets various Crips, Bloods, and other observers testify to the pattern of violent retaliation that usually kept Knight’s victims from seeking legal redress. Knight did his best to foment the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feud that, according to Ro, is possibly to blame for the murders of stars Tupac Shakur (who was shot while riding in Knight’s car) and the Notorious B.I.G. Artists with platinum records routinely went unpaid, and by 1997, when Knight received his nine-year prison sentence, lawsuits and government investigations aimed at Death Row had virtually halted the label’s activities. Unfortunately, Ro’s writing is infuriatingly haphazard: In some places crucial information is scrambled or omitted, but elsewhere he feels the need to identify —pop singer Madonna Ciccone.— Still, a surrealistic tale of high-stakes thuggery.

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-49134-4

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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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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