Snapshots of old Hollywood and visions of beatnik Europe are interleaved in a memoir that explores the relationship between father and son.
Cohan (On Mexican Time, 2000, etc.) introduces us to his childhood with a recollection of one of his family's earliest outings: standing in a parking lot overlooking Los Angeles, he holds his father’s hand as they search for Cohan’s mother, who turns out to be sprawled in a ditch, drunk. Yet it’s Dad who comes in for the lion’s share of censure in this examination of what it took for Cohan to grow up and away from a stifling home life. Father Cohan, a one-time big-shot radio producer, was never able to come to terms with his fall from showbiz heights and spent the rest of his life in a struggle to convince himself and others (particularly his son) that his star hadn't dimmed. Meanwhile, the author’s mother first drank and then became rigidly sober, never at ease in the household. In the face of it all, Cohan turned to music, getting more and more adept at drumming until finally, in a post-collegiate year in Europe, he crossed paths with the jazz greats, backing Bud Powell and Dexter Gordon. In between these glorious moments, however, Cohan's early manhood consisted of poverty, small-time drug-smuggling, a failed marriage, and bewilderment. These recollections are interspersed with scenes of his father’s bluster, failing health, and eventual death. While Cohan’s prose can be engaging, much of the text is murky, slow, or just plain confusing.
Sometimes vivid, sometimes flaccid: at its best when conveying the unsettled feel of the birth of the ’60s.