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The Zone of Interest
The Zone of Interest
by Martin Amis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Risky, Enlightening, Brilliant, and Occasionally Hilarious, 28 Oct. 2014
This review is from: The Zone of Interest (Hardcover)
THE ZONE OF INTEREST, which both explores and documents Nazism and the Holocaust, principally operates on three levels. On its first level, Martin Amis, through the voices of his three narrators, examines personal qualities and rationales that manifested in otherwise ordinary men in the era of the Nazi death and labor camps. These voices belong to: Golo Thomsen, an upper-class and apparent supporter of Nazism and the German war effort who is working with IG Farben to establish state-of-the-art material-production facilities at Auschwitz; Paul Doll, a murderous and delusion buffoon who is commandant of Auschwitz; and Szmul, a Jewish laborer at Auschwitz who helps keep the Nazis extermination machinery in working order. IMHO, each of these characters is fully believable. And Amis uses them to explore such issues as compromised heroism, venomous institutional hatred and stupidity, and the price of survival.

On its second level, Amis has written an enlightening historical novel. To accomplish this, he moves back and forth in time and puts his readers into the scene when, say (1) Doll and his hooligan colleagues murder an ideological adversary in 1933; (2) Commandant Doll and his wife Hannah host a dinner party at Auschwitz in 1942; or (3) Golo visits Martin Bormann, his uncle, where he hears Bormann and his wife prate about the Jews.

What Amis does in these (and scores of other) scenes in ZONE is to take actual and time-appropriate Nazi propaganda, wishful thinking, and venom and puts them into the mouths of his characters. In this way, Amis shows how these evil people twisted truth so that they could cling to their spurious beliefs or perceive themselves as the real innocent victims. Several times, I said to myself: Nope, this is too much; this couldn’t be true. But then I went to the Internet and did some research and, yep, Martin was right every time. In his “Afterword”, Amis observes:

“… my only conscious liberty with the factual record was in bringing forward the defection to the USSR of Friedrich Paulus (the losing commander at Stalingrad) by about seventeen months. Otherwise, I adhere to that which happened, in all its horror, its desolation, and its bloody-minded opacity.”

On its third level, THE ZONE OF INTEREST is a Martin Amis novel. There is, for example, in many of Mart’s books, a male character that is sexually teased and tormented by a saucy yet unavailable female. In ZONE, that character is Doll, whose wife considers the Nazis to be crazed criminals and, in her effort to obstruct the war effort, decides to drive her husband mad.

Further, there is wonderful writing in every Amis novel. In ZONE, Martin keeps this under wraps initially, as he establishes his characters. But after the voices and dilemmas of Golo, Doll, and Szmul take hold, Amis gradually unleashes his verbal power. Here is Commandant Doll, after the tide of battle has turned, as he considers his work.

“If what we’re doing is good, why does it smell so lancingly bad? On the ramp at night, why do we feel the ungainsayable need to get so brutishly drunk? Why did we make the meadow churn and spit? The flies as big as blackberries, the vermin, the diseases… Why did the lunatics, and only the lunatics, seem to like it here? … Ach, why all der Dreck… Why do we turn the snow brown? Why do we do that? Make the snow look like the s**t of angels. Why do we do that?”

This is the thirteenth Martin Amis novel that I’ve read and, IMHO, this is his best. Highly recommended.


The Philosopher's Demise: (Learning French)
The Philosopher's Demise: (Learning French)
by Richard A. Watson
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Funny debunking of the French and their pedagogical methods, 17 Feb. 2013
At 55, Richard Watson, a distinguished Cartesian scholar and professor at Washington University, lived a linguistic paradox: he could read French like a native; but he could not actually speak the language. Then, Watson was invited to deliver a paper at a conference in Paris celebrating the 350th anniversary of Descartes's "Discours de la Methode". The director of the conference was sure "...that all participants would want to present their papers in French." Thus begins Watson's quest to acquire a passable French accent and learn conversational French.

In learning to speak French, Watson encounters several obstacles. First, he is hindered by a middle-aged "ear and tongue [that] were stiff as boards." Second, he, a scholar, remembers what he understands but finds "...it nearly impossible to pick up phrases and patterns by sound alone." Third, Watson is assigned an arrogant and inflexible teacher at the Alliance Francaise, where he, a professor, becomes a mere student in an intensive class meeting four hours a day and five days a week for four months.

In class, this teacher uses the French lycée style. Here: "You are to do exactly what you are told in prescribed lengths of time, and for everything there is a rule." And: "If you are told to do something by a teacher in France, you follow instructions exactly, or you are punished for it." This--a pedagogical issue--ultimately causes Watson great tribulation. He observes: "I was struck... by the fact that what we award students for--initiative, inventiveness, going beyond what is asked for, smart-a**ed showing off--is ruthlessly, even with great relish, punished in the French lycée system."

In THE PHILOSOPHER'S DEMISE, Watson proves to be a wonderful guide through French culture. Certainly, he enjoys Paris, despite its noise. But he also bristles at its imperious and aloof elites and spares us the usual obsequious observations about French food and French style. Further, he laughs at the complicated and imperfect solutions that the French sometimes devise for social problems. In New York, clean up after your dog or pay a fine. But in Paris, during Watson's stay, there was a fleet of motorcycles equipped with special tanks and suction devices hunting for doggy doo.

Ultimately, Watson learns to speak perfectly adequate conversational French, even on subjects in his highly specialized field. But the process is fraught and there are moments when the professor and his associates find joy in resistance. Here, for example, is the story of a distinguished English historian of science presenting at the Paris conference. He "...didn't do accents. Instead, he read French words as though they were English, with particular stress on all the endings that are silent in French. `That'll bloody well set them straight,' someone whispered in English behind me.

Recommended.


Flags in the Dust (Vintage International)
Flags in the Dust (Vintage International)
by William Faulkner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.83

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed every word, 12 Feb. 2013
FLAGS IN THE DUST is filled with Faulkner's great writing. As an example, I go to "View My Notes & Marks" on my Kindle, where my second note extols:

"...Stuart's military family sat in scented darkness beneath a new moon, talking of ladies and dead pleasures and thinking of home. Away in the darkness horses moved invisibly with restful sounds, and bivouac fires fell to glowing points like spent fireflies, and somewhere neither near nor far the General's body servant touched a guitar in lingering random chords. Thus they sat in the poignance of spring and youth's immemorial sadness, forgetting travail and glory, remembering instead other Virginian evenings with fiddles above myriad candles and..."

In the biography ONE MATCHLESS TIME, Jay Parini says Faulkner was reading Dickens and Balzac as he was writing FitD and it shows, since this novel also offers a panoramic view of a society--this one in Mississippi and extending from the top to the bottom of its castes and reaching from the Civil War and into the 1920s, when the book was written.

In this panorama, Faulkner principally tells the story of the wealthy Sartoris clan, where the men are prone to violent vainglorious death and their women rant about their men's stupidity. Here, Faulkner creates such remarkable characters as young Bayard, old Bayard, and Aunt Jenny. Furthermore, the Sartoris family is connected to an amazing collection of characters--the servant Simon and his family, the Civil War memorist Will Falls, the decent and hard-working Dr. Peabody, and the MacCallums, who are yeoman farmers.

As a contrast, Faulkner offers the Benbow clan. This family, which exists only in the present, centers on a strange dependence between Horace, a muddled and feckless fool for love, and his younger sister Narcissa, who finds young Bayard Sartoris both fascinating and repellent. In effect, the Benbows are a through-the-looking-glass version of the Sartoris family, since its single and timorous man cluelessly experiences the dominance of women.

Parini also says Bill first uncovered the fertile imaginative territory that became Yoknapatawpha County as he wrote FitD. For this reason alone, FitD is highly recommended, since it shows the young Bill's imagination moving into high gear and heralds the start of a string of masterpieces.

Excellent but one question: What happened to Byron Snopes?


Cypress Lake
Cypress Lake
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive debut novel, 1 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Cypress Lake (Kindle Edition)
In CYPRESS LAKE, debut author Joe Basara examines the situation of Owen Cloud, a 26-year old with a wandering mind who works as a hospital orderly, lives alone in a bug-infested cottage, and looks for his soul mate.

Basara establishes several narrative dimensions in CYPRESS LAKE. The dimension that manifests earliest stretches from, shall we say, the ridiculous to the sublime, with Owen's mind quickly referencing popular culture--my inexact count is 23 TV shows and 11 popular movies--as well as philosophers or philosophical systems (11) and poets, novelists, and essayists (30) as he moves through his life.

In the two full pages starting at the bottom of page 82, for example, Owen's thoughts stream credibly from Martin Buber to "Beach Blanket Bingo" to Emerson's Over Soul to Plato to "Howdy Doody". Judging from close experience, I'd say that this is how the non-obsessive but neurotic mind works. BTW, one of Basara's references for Owen as he faces this mental jumpiness and disorganization is: "I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering where it will go..."

Basara's second narrative dimension moves forward in time, as Owen seeks his mate and soul mate. In this case, Owen progresses gradually with women, moving from idealization to superficial contact to mature assessment and then to meaningful interaction, when Owen finds a female with a generous heart. In this dimension, Basara shows the maturing Owen journeying from a love like Dante's for Beatrice to an ability to behold the "Glory of Being." For Basara, this quest is spiritual, not unlike the experience of the protagonist in Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" as he travels to his celestial city.

Finally, Basara's narrative moves between many instances of death to frequent consideration of the "Over Soul." Here, these deaths occur in the hospital where Owen works, as well as within his family. Meanwhile, Owen's explanation for the Over Soul is: "Did you know that we are a stream whose source is hidden?...These are Emerson's words, not mine. We flow out of this source, and eventually return again." The Over Soul, BTW, is also Basara's name for a literary conceit, whereby authors create their characters at multiple levels.

In his narrative, Basara communicates what I took to be an insightful overview of his authorial intentions. This includes:

o "...though my life may be no divine comedy, I don't want it being a tragedy either. So why not sprinkle in a few corny jokes?" (127)

o "It amazed him how one more thing kept following one more thing." (182)

o "I liked what you wrote about leaving some of our natural surroundings blank, like an artist's canvas, instead of filling everything in..." (205)

o "But, like Mark Twain, in his writing, he was inclined to tell the truth, mainly, though he also liked to stretch it some, because didn't the key to reality lie in the mysterious melding of within and without?" (258)

Owen Cloud is a nice man whose head is stuffed with BIG thoughts. Nonetheless, he is an average guy and Basara is usually content to keep description and interaction at Owen's true level. This is a shame because Basara, when he lets loose, can really write and add an aesthetic dimension to Owen's experiences. Here, for example, is what Owen remembers of Nikki at the office picnic. "...but during the two weeks that had passed since then he'd lived with the translucent vision of her swimming underwater, her body a mesh of mermaid scales--a chain-mail of mirrors, with each mirror being a bell, ringing out her glory." Maybe in Basara's next novel...

Anyway, this is definitely a five-star read and a five-star-plus for those who love puns, hilarious names, and word play. My favorite pun came early, when Basara tells of a hawker at a county fair who tosses a handful of green peas into a blender and... "when he turned the blender on they'd have whirled peas and everyone wants that, right?"


Sweet Tooth
Sweet Tooth
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.14

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wins with a knockout in the final round, 23 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Sweet Tooth (Hardcover)
Ian McEwan's novels (I've read 11) are usually completely involving. They feature narrative brilliance, perfectly rendered descriptions of mood and place, and sharp-edged interactions between well-drawn characters. Even so, their endings sometimes seem a trifle forced and a notch below the level of McEwan's great writing, which deftly carries an often strange story.

Well, in SWEET TOOTH, McEwan turns this formula upside down. In this novel, the first person narrator is 23-year old Serena Frome, a recent and undistinguished Cambridge graduate who is desperate for a relationship and whose observations can be melodramatic or sentimental. At the same time, Serena's voice doesn't quite ring true. Why this is so, I can't precisely say. But she has a pre women's-lib mindset, which seems both too passive and too fraught. There seems to be, in other words, a want of McEwan's usual precision, insight, and believability for much of SWEET TOOTH. In contrast to his other novels, this seems to show the great Ian settling for an easier and looser narrative.

But what about the novel's conclusion? Well, I don't want to give anything away. But let it be said that any doubts this reader had about SWEET TOOTH are blown away by the clever ending, where McEwan identifies and explains the misgivings this reader had about the book. In the end, McEwan made my humble opinions both fully right and fully wrong. Makes a reader feel both sharp and humble...

SWEET TOOTH is not a perfect book. Sometimes, I grew bored with Serena's sensibility, which is romantically manic. As a result, I took more than 10 days--forever--to finish a not-hard 300-page book. Moreover, the novel contains lots of arch criticism of literary clichés and the literary establishment. This is all well-and-good but for the fact that the reader has to push through several mediocre short-stories, written by the character and apprentice writer Tom Haley, so that McEwan can make his literary points.

Nonetheless, this is a gratifying read with a terrific ending. And I round up to five stars to show my appreciation for the excellent Ian's wonderful oeuvre.


The Sense of an Ending
The Sense of an Ending
Price: £5.22

3.0 out of 5 stars Card-shop wisdom and desperate concluding twists mar an elegant narrative, 16 Jan. 2013
In THE SENSE OF AN ENDING, narrator Tony Webster is attempting to reestablish, after forty years, a connection to Veronica Ford, a college flame. In class-conscious England, the Fords, in Tony's university days, had and conveyed a status edge over the Websters. Furthermore, the difficult Veronica, after the breakup with Tony, dated Adrian, a brilliant friend of Tony's who meets a tragic death.

In attempting to reconnect to Veronica, the detached and benign Tony--thanks to the trite plot device of an old letter he wrote to Adrian--is surprised to learn that his reaction to the dating of Adrian and Vanessa was venomous. Then, he begins to wonder: Why is there such a disparity between his revealed and remembered emotions? And what light do his revealed emotions shine on our sense of the past and the death of Adrian?

Julian Barnes is an elegant and thoughtful writer who has addressed issues raised by death and memory in other books, such as Flaubert's Parrot, Nothing To Be Frightened Of, and A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters. These are superior works and are worth reading. But TSoaE is marred by the limitations of Tony, who is not insightful or original enough to carry a narrative on his pensive shoulders. Indeed, a sampling of Tony's sincere yet undeniable banalities includes:

o We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things...

o "Did you leave because of me?" "No," she said. "I left because of us."

o Who was it said that the longer we live, the less we understand?

Barnes took a big risk in TSoaE. Namely, he decided to make his narrator a very average and mainstream man. IMO, this was a mistake because the narrative and inquiry emanating from this average guy only occasionally becomes above-average insightful. Barnes himself must have sensed this because his novel, in its concluding pages, becomes a whodunit, with the focus shifting from such issues as memory and remorse to the true causes of Adrian's death. This means that Tony, as a character, lacked the reach to carry a philosophical novel to its end. And if Barnes wanted to write such a book, Adrian, not Tony, should have narrated.

Barnes is an interesting writer. But is TSoaE worthy of the Man Booker Prize? IMHO, nope. But as a means for recognizing a lifetime of literary achievement? Most definitely.


The Unconsoled
The Unconsoled
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A world-class pianist copes with impossible expectations, 13 Jan. 2013
This review is from: The Unconsoled (Paperback)
There are some dead-on reviews of THE UNCONSOLED on Amazon.com. These point out that Ishiguro has "written a book with the tone and [strange] action of a dream" that nonetheless moves Ryder, its protagonist, toward a momentous event that elicits "anxious and neurotic" feelings. At the same time, all the characters and their varied concerns form a tapestry where there are "irrational shifts in time, logic, and perspectives" and where all its players and events are "a part or an aspect of the dreamer." While this reader did not wish THE UNCONSOLED to be any longer, I did find this to be a peculiar and involving page-turner that is often quite funny. It's also a tour d force by Ishiguro who showed in this, his third, novel, that his subject was bigger than apprenticeship gone awry.

Ultimately, the characters and events in this dreamlike narrative do lead to a psychological profile for Ryder that pulls all the weirdness together. Among the most important characters are Boris, a 12 year-old boy with a heightened sense of responsibility; Stephan, a talented-twenty something pianist who decides to test his ability in the wide world; and Brodsky, an elderly and once famous conductor whose achievement is unrecognized in his community. For each of these characters, Ishiguro creates moments of odd emotional rejection and unappeasable expectations. The meaning of these experiences, as well as similar moments in the lives of other "unconsoled" characters, then clarifies when Ishiguro finally delves into Ryder's relationship with his own parents. This concludes in a eureka-moment and helped this reader "get" the narrative, as well as pity Ryder for the strange emotional warmth he finds at the novel's end.

THE UNCONSOLED is not for everybody. But it's a major book and is highly recommended.


Great Jones Street
Great Jones Street
by Don DeLillo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A burned-out rock star faces hilarious, edgy, and true-ish dilemmas, 12 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Great Jones Street (Paperback)
Bucky Wunderlick is the lead singer and song writer of a successful hard rock band. On tour, the burned-out Bucky realizes the band has reached the scary limit of its loud and raw sound and he suddenly drops out. Bucky then becomes the subject of bizarre rumors and bogus sightings while he lives on Great Jones Street, which, before the boom in New York City real estate, was grim and seedy. This Bucky, who is wasted and drifting, has "no intentions." But then Opel, his girlfriend, appears and forces him to address these questions: What do you do when something ends? How will you evolve?

As a musician, Bucky finally decides he "needed a route back". But will his route back resemble that of his band mate Azarian, who evolves and affirms his own musicality in soul music? Or will Bucky's route back follow the vision of Globke, his agent, who has brilliant ideas about promoting Bucky's celebrity and is indifferent to his music. Or will Bucky follow the path of the musician Watney, who realized his own mediocrity and evolved through business? Or, will Bucky find a musical equivalent of Fenig, his upstairs neighbor, who is a writer seeking success through the exploitation of market niches?

In offering these alternatives to Bucky, DeLillo also begins in a very dark space. In particular, all these options for Bucky's personal evolution are opposed by the sinister Happy Valley Farm Commune. This sees Bucky's musical withdrawal as a principled stand for independence and privacy. Happy Valley, by the way, apparently has two factions, one of them nihilistic and violent as it enforces its beliefs.

As Bucky is exposed to these musical possibilities, he also becomes a passive participant in a dangerous drug deal. In this case, Opel, Azarian, and Watney each seek to acquire a "package" that Bucky keeps in his living room and that contains the ultimate recreational drug. The drug, which is the property of the Happy Valley Farm Commune, is also a matter of interest to the drug legend Dr. Pepper, who makes several wildly entertaining appearances in GJS. My favorite occurs in Chapter 18, where Dr. Pepper explains that he wants the package since he, like everyone else in GREAT JONES STREET, is trying to evolve. In this case, Dr. Pepper wants to make the package his platform for a final creative and professional breakthrough.

GJS is my eleventh DeLillo novel. IMO, GJS is a superb effort that showcases the great Don's glittering and terse prose, hilarious and insightful associations, and his unmistakable and inimitable voice. But unlike many of DeLillo's later novels, GJS has a protagonist who, while on the fringe, has not fully dropped out. This is quite different from Falling Man, Point Omega, and The Body Artist, where much of the tension exists in a protagonist's familiar marginality and creepy normalcy. Don, BTW, solves the issue of the ultimately eloquent Bucky's marginality in a surprising and perfect last chapter.

This is an excellent and highly entertaining novel and is highly recommended.


Fred's Golden Years: 2
Fred's Golden Years: 2
by Joe Basara
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.37

5.0 out of 5 stars Comedy in a trailer park, 12 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Fred's Golden Years: 2 (Paperback)
Amazon.com ranks the sale of some books according to the telescoping categories of: literature & fiction, genre fiction, and satire. (In this system, Vonnegut has the top two sellers.) But Amazon.com, for whatever reasons, fails to further and fine-tune this progression. As a result, a reader cannot follow its sales rankings through these narrowing categories and into the granular classification of pure silliness. Nor, does it allow readers to pursue this three-part chain into such literary niches as slacker humor, unusual neighbors, or healthy illusion. This is unfortunate, since Amazon.com, by tweaking its system, would bring more readers to the estimable FRED'S GOLDEN YEARS, an amusing and diverting novel that is the Kindle equivalent of a Judd Apatow movie.

In FGY, the 62 year-old Fred Gold moves to a trailer park in Cypress Lake, Florida, where the streets have potholes and need repair. Fred considers himself a "man of action", "a take-charge guy... not some bump on a log", and "a gallant knight in shining armor, a slayer of dragons and a rescuer of fair damsels in distress." This Fred, who believes he is a leader and hot guy, decides he must rally his new neighbors; together, he is certain, they can fix their streets. The ups-and downs of Fred's mission and the sweetly harmless illusions of Fred and his odd neighbors are the subjects of this funny novel.

In his own mind, Fred is a no-nonsense former marine and drill sergeant. But he is also helpless to the appeal of a manipulative nymphet and has a bad back. Sometimes, this becomes "...locked into a bent-over position, so much so that he was only able to view the world from between his legs... In this anatomical position... stepping backwards meant his upper body was moving forwards..."

Among Fred's many neighbors are Spic Spinana, who miss-associates advertising and products ("It dee-lightful, it dee-lovely, it Dodge," the Mexican sang while dusting away. "No," Willy objected. "Desoto." "But senor, I thought Desoto was the soap which contained one-quarter cleaning cream." "No, Dove had...")

Fred's neighbors also include Mr. Wald, who excels at the upper-crust sport of balding. "Before the action begins, each contestant's head is thoroughly brushed by the judges, removing any lose hair. During the next several hours audience member may place bets on the contestants... A second brushing at the end of the event determines which contestant has lost the most hair, and is thus declared winner. It is a magnificent sport, and requires patience, intensity of observation..."

FRED'S GOLDEN YEARS is Joe Basara's third novel. In his first, Cypress Lake, Basara follows the emotional development of young Owen Cloud, who matures and eventually finds a woman he can love. In his second, Sale Day at C Mart (Cypress Lake), Basara casts a wry but insightful look at big box merchandising. Like its predecessors, FGY is set in Cypress Lake. And it nods to Owen, who makes a cameo appearance. But this time, Basara wants to display his humor, which is usually silly or slapstick and often LOL funny. Judged on this basis, FGY is a five star read and highly recommended.


Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
by Terry Teachout
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gotta respect this hard-working genius, 1 Dec. 2012
My starting point for POPS was Hot Fives and Sevens, which sustained me recently during my workouts at the gym. (I'm the skinny mature guy on the recumbent bike.) My reaction to these CDs was: Lots of this is really good. But what exactly am I listening for? Well, POPS turned out to be an outstanding guide for my listening experience, since it contains remarks from many of Armstrong's contemporaries, as well as terrific analysis from Terry Teachout, explaining why his music is exceptional. For example:

o Jazz historian Gunther Schuller: "...a dazzling lesson in how to mix primary thematic material with purely ornamental passages without ever losing the sense of the overall melody."

o Pianist Teddy Wilson: "It was a privilege to hear that man play every night. He was such a master at melodic improvisation, and he never hit a note that didn't have a great deal of meaning. Every note was pure music."

o Teachout: "...dispense almost completely with Arlen's melody, substituting instead a series of rhythmically free phrases that lead upward to a high B-Flat. Four times he falls off from that shining note--and then comes the fifth fall, at the bottom of which he changes course and swoops gracefully upward to a full-throated high D whose vibrancy..."

Armstrong had a very long career, which is the primary subject of POPS. In following this subject, Teachout shows the phenomenally talented young Armstrong emerging from a New Orleans style of jazz, where teamwork dominated, and developing a form of jazz (now called classic) where the solo is king. Thereafter, Armstrong's career had its ups and downs, with Armstrong gradually becoming a top-tier celebrity in mainstream American culture while he continued to perform his music, often with mediocre sidemen.

Anyone out there ever find themselves in that unhappy situation? That is, you have to maintain standards while your colleagues can't or don't care? Well, Armstrong had the answer. "I work with two bands, the one on the stage and the one in my head. If they sound good on stage, O.K., I'll play with them. If not, I just turn up the volume of the band in my head."

In following Armstrong's career, Teachout also provides many interesting insights about turning points in jazz history. Here, for example, is Armstrong's opinion of bebop. Bop "...doesn't' come from the heart the way real music should... You won't find many of them cats who can blow a straight lead. They never learned right. It's all just flash." And "...you get all them weird chords, which don't mean nothing, and first people get curious about it just because it's new, but soon they tired of it because it's really no good and you got no melody to remember..."

Meanwhile, here's Gil Evans on Miles Davis, who represents another turning point: "Miles changed the tone of the trumpet for the first time after Louis. Everybody up to him had come through Louis Armstrong." Adds Teachout: "Davis's style was a pared-down, more overtly lyrical version of bop whose simplicity and directness appealed to listeners ill at ease with Charlie Parker's electric frenzy, ...and his fragile, shiveringly poignant abstractions... spoke to the young people of the fifties the way that Armstrong's "Star Dust"... had spoken to their parents."

Jazz cognoscente might find POPS basic. But for the rest of us... recommended.


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