This exceptionally well-written book is a virtually seamless meshing of a family history and an overview of London from 1964 through to the present day, concentrating to the exclusion of almost all else upon fame and celebrity.
The author's father was once told that he would become a footnote to history. Well, he and his wife, the author's mother, have more or less and just about managed that, by struggling for it for decades.
Jay Landesman, a Jewish boy from St Louis, married Fran, a (much wealthier) Jewish girl from New York City. The die was cast. They left the USA for London in 1964 (Jay being 48 or 49 at the time) and thenceforward made a splash in or at least orbiting the world of the pop star, the actor, the model etc. That meant buying (in those days not the massive investment it would be today) a house in Islington, indulging in cannabis and "open marriage" and generally embarrassing the hell out of the author as he grew up.
As is well-known, America does not do eccentric...it does "kooky" and the author's mother is certainly that. I recall seeing a TV interview with her sometime in recent years, an aged crazy-looking old Jewish-American woman screeching at the interviewer. The author recalls her screaming, after his brother and his would-be pop-star band finished a song, " I wrote that! ME! ME! ME!" etc. In fact she was an accomplished jazz songwriter: even Ella Fitzgerald recorded a couple of her songs.
The author also makes this book an exploration of the "celebrity culture" as it exists and has grown since the 1950's in the UK. As he says, Sabrina was a 1950's precursor to Elizabeth Hurley ("famous for being famous") but a rare example, whereas now, these people are everywhere. Until a few years ago i had never heard of and certainly never known details of people like Peter Andre, Jordan/Katie Price, Jade Goody, Kerry Katona (still not quite sure who she is or why she is "famous") and many many others. When I first lived in the USA in 1989, I realized that celebrities there were different from ones in the UK. The British ones did not have to DO anything before becoming famous. In that respect, the USA has, seemingly, caught up with the UK (think Paris Hilton et al). Ghastly.
I really enjoyed the book but this is no cultural history of the UK. You will find no mention here of Enoch Powell, the National Front, the Anti-Nazi League thuggery of the 1970's, the Falklands or anything else of a general nature. The book focusses very strongly on aspects of British life such as 1960's/1970's "Swinging London", punk rock, the later and totally ghastly Big Brother freak show etc. In that, it contains useful insights into the decline of culture (eg Tracey Emin and her "art") but does slightly try to defend what people like me think of, in general terms, as "the collapse of almost everything worthwhile"...and with the present ludicrous and nasty "government" in place, one can only, with trepidation and anger, say "watch this space".
A good read.