Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Return of the Vague Blur, and others

Here's what I've been reading lately:
* Anthony Peake: THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED THE FUTURE: A LIFE OF PHILIP K. DICK (2013) -- I had trouble with this book from the point where Peake moved the site of JFK's assassination from Dallas to Houston. If Peake can't get the well-known facts right, how's he gonna do justice to science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick's life?
So: Science-fiction writer K.W. Jeter gets his name spelled wrong more than once. Timescape Books becomes Timewell Books (the book-line's editor was David G. Hartwell). Dick moves from one California town to another -- and ends up living on a street with the same name. Possible, but unlikely. Maybe only in a PKD novel. There were other minor errors. The proofreading could have been better. Still, Peake got his book published in hardcover, which is more than I can say.
Peake depicts PKD as a talented but potentially dangerous paranoid with multiple personalities and delusions of grandeur -- a guy who had several emotional breakdowns and went through a succession of marriages and relationships -- a guy whose handle on Reality was so shaky he couldn't walk out of his own yard without passing out from stress. Absolutely the last person you'd ever want to live with -- but the definition of a brilliantly creative writer!
The synopses of PKD's novels make them sound better and more involving than they really are. PKD had an amazing ability to depict the gritty realities of everyday life for most people. But have you ever tried to READ his books? Some of them are kind of dull. But I'll admit that PKD's THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH and A MAZE OF DEATH are both mind-altering experiences.
There are probably better PKD biographies out there.
* Jann S. Wenner and Corey Seymour: GONZO: THE LIFE OF HUNTER S. THOMPSON (2007) -- Add this to E. Jean Carroll's HUNTER (reviewed below) and you have a helluva oral biography. Like Carroll's book, GONZO gathers a ton of HST's closest friends to tell the story of the crazed gonzo journalist's life. Unlike Carroll's book, this includes the famous final scene -- when Hunter suicided out by gun when his health started failing him. It's a moving portrait, even if Jann Wenner is quoted too often, and even if Wenner makes it sound like his relationship with Hunter was all smooth and all-forgiving. Read HST's letters.
* Peter Biskind: DOWN AND DIRTY MOVIES (2004) -- There is some appalling behavior recounted here -- but not as appalling as that in Biskind's earlier, excellent EASY RIDERS RAGING BULLS, which was about '70s filmmakers. This book's about '90s filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, etc., the rise of independent films, and the rise of Miramax Pictures. Most of the screaming here is done by Harvey Weinstein, co-head of Miramax -- and the people who have to work for him. Worth a look if you like 90's films (PULP FICTION, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, GOOD WILL HUNTING, CLERKS, any number of smaller films), but maybe not as compelling as EASY RIDERS.
* Clinton Heylin: THE ACT YOU'VE KNOWN FOR ALL THESE YEARS (2007) -- A fairly detailed look at the events surrounding The Beatles' recording of SGT. PEPPER in 1967, and what some of the other musical acts around them were doing at the same time -- Stones, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Who, Hendrix, The Move, etc. As Heylin admits, this is all pretty well-covered stuff, but his writing is smooth and his book is enjoyable enough, even if you might not learn much that's new.
* George Martin: ALL YOU NEED IS EARS (1979) -- This modest autobio recounts George's long career as a producer with EMI and independently, and his long relationship with The Beatles. Martin is modest in his measure of how important he was to their success, and though his stories are amusing and fairly well detailed, they're not very revealing and you won't learn much new. His writing's so low-key I didn't feel compelled to read the two-thirds of the book that DOESN'T include The Fabs. The most arrogant statement is made by whoever designed the cover -- who claims that Martin "created" The Beatles.
* Jim Bouton: I'M GLAD YOU DIDN'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY (1971) -- This shorter, lighter follow-up to Bouton's classic tell-all baseball memoir BALL FOUR (reviewed below) is basically just a lotta laffs. Most of the book is about reactions to BALL FOUR -- who loved it, who hated it, how much, quotes from critics, quotes from Major League ballplayers, etc. There's a whole chapter on Bouton's hilarious meeting with then-MLB-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Then Bouton tries sportscasting, goes on book tours, tries for a comeback as a pitcher, etc. It'll kill a couple hours.
* Peter Bebergal: SEASON OF THE WITCH: HOW THE OCCULT SAVED ROCK AND ROLL (2014) -- I don't think Bebergal ever explains how the occult "saved" rock and roll, other than by being thematic material rock acts could draw upon. But some of Bebergal's explanations of the occult go on for pages. All the usual suspects are here -- Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, etc., but not much that's new, and if there was a conclusion or summation, I missed it.