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ABQChris (Albuquerque, NM)

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Can't Buy Me Love: The "Beatles", Britain, and America
Can't Buy Me Love: The "Beatles", Britain, and America
by Jonathan Gould
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding -- overlook the bits of musical criticism, 15 Oct 2007
Fellow super-picky Beatles listeners and book aficionados, we have a winner. This six-hundred-page surprise is exceptionally insightful and well written. It even startles you with brilliant bits of humor when you're least expecting them. In spite of getting a few lyrics wrong (at least, according to my ears), he's written a book about the Beatles and their impact for the benefit of - are you sitting down? - intelligent adults who appreciate the watertight application of a wide vocabulary.

Regrettably, as with too many books that center on the work of musical artists, it's tarnished by negative criticism of many songs - even entire album-sides, written off with incongruent flippancy. Nobody would suggest that every piece of music the group recorded is fantastic, but this berating adds nothing, merely detracting from the astute bulk of the book. Why does everyone who writes a Beatles volume feel that he must intermittently assume the musically cynical, aloof and utterly useless role of "music critic"? It's not as if it changes people's tastes, or the way the music sounds coming out of the speakers.

The irrelevant disapproval periodically pulls the book down from its otherwise enlightening and highly erudite bearing into the realm of subjectivity; and the charm of the early recordings is, for some reason, almost entirely lost on the author. The author's historical and sociological context-painting of the Beatles' music is remarkable, so the criticism's unnecessary.

Anyway, the immaterial tracts of negative opinion aside, the book is superb, and this is coming from an extremely picky reader/writer (no kidding, right?) whose favorite Beatles books include their own Anthology, Recording the Beatles, the Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, An Oral History and the incredibly good Many Years From Now (the best non-technical books tend to consist mainly of interview sections, rather than merely the author's removed take - for obvious reasons). Gould's book is added to my list of absolute favorites.

If the occasional inaccuracy doesn't annoy the reader too much, this book pleasantly separates itself from the ever-growing stack of "I wasn't there" accounts with a writing style that gloriously refuses to dumb itself down, insight worth its weight in syllables (for once), and a rare capacity for making dyed-in-the-skull music sound fresh. It's unquestionably worth reading - more than once, in fact, given the sheer amount of gossip-free historical and musical perception - to anyone who likes the Beatles' music and is interested in the environmental circumstances under which such revolutionary work buds, blossoms and thrives.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 12, 2008 11:44 PM BST

Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams
Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams
by M. J. Simpson
Edition: Paperback

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Based on a negative agenda and utterly lacking in insight, 31 Jan 2007
Simpson says at the beginning of this book and towards the end that he doesn't think Douglas Adams was a liar. But the vast bulk of the book doesn't support this qualification. Perhaps Adams refused to grant Simpson an interview at some point. Perhaps Simpson just didn't like him, or felt envious that he was an accomplished writer. But why bother writing a biography in that case? I suppose having a petty score to settle would be one reason.

(Since posting my original review, I've learned that Simpson was disgruntled about not having any of his little sci-fi conventions attended by Douglas. This is a good reason for a nasty book? I think not.)

Trying to provide a balanced account and not taking everything one's subject has said as gospel is one thing. But going to great lengths, using wholly faulty logic, quotes from people barely on the fringes of the subject's life, and constant correlation without causation to make quotes look like contradictions in spite of the fact that they can actually happily coexist (and even often support each other, even though Simpson does all he can to explain why they might be at odds), is quite another. And believing the hazy memories of someone tangential rather than words from the horse's mouth doesn't reveal much sympathy for the subject.

Basically, Simpson makes Adams look like, depending on the page, a complete liar or a bumbling idiot (neither of which he was) -- throughout the entire book. It reeks of some kind of childish revenge, which would explain why Simpson waited until after Adams' death to write it; and tedious trivia and statistics are spewed to this end without any insight into the man or his life whatsoever, as other reviewers have pointed out.

Simpson also makes snide remarks about Douglas at every possible opportunity, such as "It wasn't an interview. It was a Douglas Adams monologue, and not a terribly interesting one." Someone reading the biography of an author would in fact be extremely interested in hearing an account of how one of that author's novels got published. Why the haughtiness? Simpson's thesis near the end is the heinous and unqualified opinion that Adams didn't write good books unless an editor or coauthor helped him.

Simpson even invents some new and intriguing words, such as "themself."

Don't waste your money on this. Don't Panic and Wish You Were Here are much, much, much, much, much better.

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