Hello, good evening, and welcome to BookLoons' summer reading extravaganza, the entertainment edition. Let's jump right in with Alec Guinness the Unknown: A Life (Sidgwick and Jackson, hardcover), by Garry O'Connor. If you're one of the people who think of Guinness as the old guy in Star Wars, then this delightful biography will provide a much-needed education. If you're a fan of Guinness's work -- his many stage roles, perhaps, or the comic genius he displayed in The Ladykillers or Kind Hearts and Coronets, or his justly famous portrayal of John Le Carre's masterspy George Smiley on television -- the book will still tell you all sorts of things you never knew. Guinness, who died in 2000, was a remarkable performer, and this biography is a remarkable performance.
Also remarkable, for the sheer volume of hits he's been associated with, is 92-year-old Broadway producer Cy Feuer. I Got the Show Right Here (Simon & Schuster, hardcover), co-written with Ken Gross, is his entertaining autobiography. Here you'll read about such shows as Guys & Dolls, Can-Can, Cabaret, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and a whole bunch of classics. Here you'll read about Bob Fosse, and Don Ameche, Mel Brooks, and Ray Bolger, Joel Grey and all sorts of big names. Here you'll experience all the excitement, drama, adventure and passion that is ... drum roll ... The Theater. Great fun.
Speaking of fun, if you're a fan of the television sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond you might want to check out Are you Hungry, Dear? (St. Martin's Press, hardcover), written by Doris Roberts with Danelle Morton. Roberts, who plays Marie on the series, has had a lengthy show-business career (remember Remington Steele? how about the 1950s dramatic anthologies like Studio One and Playhouse 90?), but this isn't one of those tedious show-biz autobiographies tossed onto the shelves to make its author a ton of money because she happens to be noteworthy right now. It's more personal than that, a wide-ranging book about love, divorce, motherhood, ageism ... and recipes. Not terribly deep, but enjoyable.
Sam Spiegel (Simon & Schuster, hardcover), Natsha Fraser-Cavassoni's biography of the legendary film producer, isn't terribly deep, either, but it sure covers a lot of ground. Spiegel was connected with some of Hollywood's biggest hits, like On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Suddenly, Last Summer, The African Queen, and -- well, you get the idea. He won twenty-five Academy Awards (twenty-five!), and lived a life big enough to be one of his own epics, and this biography presents him in all his rambunctious glory.
If you're in the mood for more rambunctiousness, pick up Ian Christie's Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal (HarperCollins, hardcover). Christie, who's been writing about metal for years, charts the evolution of the subculture from its beginnings three decades ago (recall a little band by the name of Black Sabbath?) right up to the present. While some aspects of the story might seem a little ludicrous -- Ozzy Osbourne pitching Pepsi on TV? -- there's no denying the influence metal has had on mainstream culture. Chock full of interviews with some of metal's biggest and most important names, the book is, for fans, a must-read.
Similarly, here's Frank Owen's Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture (St. Martin's Press, hardcover). Based on Owen's six-year odyssey through this society that revolves around -- what else? -- sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, the book profiles some of clubland's most notorious citizens, like Peter Gatien, the small-town boy who became the U.S.'s most powerful club owner, and Michael Caruso, the techno-music giant who doubled as a drug dealer. The story is grimy, gritty, dirty, and naughty ... and thoroughly fascinating.
For a slightly kinder, gentler piece of music history, we have Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power (Random House, hardcover), by Gerald Posner. It chronicles the history of Motown Records, the company founded by 1959 by a 29-year-old with neither funds nor experience. But it was the only record label in Detroit, and soon it became the most influential in the history of rock 'n' roll, with a client list that read like a music producer's dream team: Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and on and on. Posner leans toward the sensational in some of his books (Cased Closed, for instance, about the JFK assassination, and his book about Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele), and he's been known to take some criticism over the quality of his research from time to time, but Motown is well written and very enlightening.
Depending on who you listen to, Shawn Fanning is either killing the music business, or resurrecting it. Fanning is, of course, the guy who, at the ripe old age of seventeen, invented a computer program that allowed music fans to share their favourite tunes via the Internet. His company, Napster, delighted fans and annoyed the heck out of music companies. All the Rave (Crown Business, hardcover), by Joseph Menn, chronicles the rise and fall of Napster. It's a business book, but one that recognizes the importance of showing us the people behind the business. Is Fanning a revolutionary, bringing the music industry into the twenty-first century? Or is he some disrespectful young punk who doesn't think artists deserve to be paid for their work? You be the judge.
Finally, here's Jelly's Blues (Da Capo, hardcover), a biography of Jelly Roll Morton by Howard Reich and William Gaines. Morton, who died more than sixty years ago -- in 1941, to be precise -- was born Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe, in New Orleans. An accomplished pianist, he composed many of the early great jazz tunes. But his fame was short-lived, and by the late thirties he was either ridiculed or, more frequently, just plain forgotten. In this affectionate, respectful biography, Reich and Gaines put Morton back on top, restore him to his much-deserved position as jazz's master builder. He might have fallen on hard times, might have ended his life in obscurity and near-poverty, but the truth is, without Jelly Roll Morton, there might be no jazz. And that'd be a shame.
Till next time with more editions on summer reading ...
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