Archives For Reviews

Reviews from Beatdom.

Review: The Green Ghost

In recent years, William S. Burroughs’ work and life has been examined from various vantage points. In my own 2013 book, I explored his relationship with the Church of Scientology and pored over his work for references to the religion. That same year, Jorge Garcia-Robles looked at Burroughs’ time in Mexico. In 2014, Matthew Levi Stevens looked at Burroughs in terms of magic and the occult, while a plethora of work appeared across the spectrum in celebration of the author’s hundredth birthday. One even focused on his work as a photographer. Then 2015 saw the release of Barry Miles’ superlative biography, which surpassed any of the earlier efforts, including Ted Morgan’s Literary Outlaw. Continue Reading…

Love, H: The Letters of Helene Dorn and Hettie Jones

Love, H: The Letters of Helene Dorn and Hettie Jones chronicles a forty year friendship through their correspondence, as well as Jones’ occasional fragments of narrative, from the early sixties until Dorn’s death in 2004. It isn’t just a collection of letters; it includes faxes and e-mails. It covers a wide range of subjects – though mostly focuses on the personal struggles of motherhood, work in the publishing industry, and staying financially afloat. Continue Reading…

Review: Ambiguous Borderlands

In his new book, Ambiguous Borderlands: Shadow Imagery in Cold War American Culture, Dr. Erik Mortenson looks at the “paradox” of mid-twentieth century life in the United States, where there were unprecedented levels of comfort for many citizens, and yet the impending threat of nuclear holocaust. While people became wealthier than ever before, there came also a crushing pressure to conform or fit in with mainstream society. Mortenson argues, Continue Reading…

Review: The Ugly Spirit, by Steven La Vey

Steven La Vey’s The Ugly Spirit begins with a quote from William S. Burroughs, who also coined the term that give the book its title, “the ugly spirit”: Continue Reading…

Book Review: M Train, by Patti Smith

I work a solitary Burroughs-type job where I don’t do anything much but look out a window. I can’t read or write there, so the only thing I do is think, think about people, and pray, pray for another job. I think about the Beats because I read a great deal of Beat literature. I’ve read so much that I feel I know each personally. Being it was All Saints Day and then All Souls Day, and I had nothing else to do, I prayed for Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. Continue Reading…

Film Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

A professional filmmaker warned me against the Coen Brothers. (Why? I can’t remember.) A professional musician and nice guy warned against this movie. “Joyless,” he said. “Dark.” Our friends, a beautiful couple, charitable and she a pianist with three classically-trained musical daughters (one a violinist in a bluegrass band) didn’t finish watching it–they didn’t like it at all. I liked it. I liked it a great deal, and it’s the first movie I’ve seen in a while that didn’t insult my intelligence. Continue Reading…

Review: Paul Bunyan, by Larry Beckett

Larry Beckett is generally best-known as a songwriter, yet probably better known to Beatdom readers as the author of Beat Poetry – the first book entirely devoted to the poetry of the Beat Generation. Yet he has devoted much of his life to writing poetry, and earlier this year he released an impressive book called Paul Bunyan through Smokestack Books in the UK.

Paul Bunyan is part of Beckett’s American Cycle series of “long poems” concerning junctures in American history. In an interview with Shindig! Magazine, he explained:

When I started reading American literature, I looked around for its great narrative epic poem, and didn’t find it. So American Cycle is a sequence of long poems out of the American past: US Rivers: Highway 1, Old California, Paul Bunyan, Chief Joseph, Wyatt Earp, PT Barnum, Amelia Earhart, Blue Ridge, US Rivers: Route 66. I’ve been working on it for 45 years; I’m now doing research for the last section, John Henry. Each section is written in a form appropriate to its subject. Its themes are love, local mythology, history, justice, memory, accomplishment, time.

Continue Reading…

At the End of the Road: Jack Kerouac in Mexico

In 2013 I was asked to review a book called The Stray Bullet, about William S. Burroughs’ years in Mexico. I described it as “unreadable,” which made it rather surprising when, a year and a half later, the publishers asked me to review another book by the same author and translator – Jorge Garcia-Robles and Daniel C. Schechter – called At the End of the Road: Jack Kerouac in Mexico. Garcia-Robles styles himself as the “leading authority on the Beats in Mexico” and as with the first book, this concerns a major Beat figure in the author’s homeland.

Naturally, I found myself dreading this book, as reading the Burroughs one had been little more than a chore. When I opened the front cover and saw that they’d credited a photo to one “Allan Ginsberg” (sic), I was sure that I was about to slog through another entirely incomprehensible text. Continue Reading…

Count by Any Other Name

“Basie’s stuff means something.” i Jack Kerouac, Horace Mann Record

Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie as told to Albert Murray (first edition 1985) is something like the Count’s music: it’s not only about the notes he plays, it’s also about the notes he leaves out. This is more a “tell some” rather than a “tell all,” and so be it. Basie plays it straight and simple, like his music, and the subject of the book is that: the music, jazz, and all those great jazz players. Count enjoyed a sixty-year career as pianist, band leader, composer, and arranger.
It’s a delight “listening” to William Basie tell his story. It couldn’t have been easy in those early years, but Count sheds a gracious light on events with gentleness, style, and humor, and some very funny stories that go back to the glory days of Kansas City and the early New York years with the likes of Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, and everybody in the jazz world. A good read for jazz enthusiasts who want to glean some insight in a world long gone.
Apparently, young William, newly arrived in New York City, was so green he (and Elmer Williams, sax player) got these remarks from Sonny Greer, Duke Ellington’s drummer from Long Branch, New Jersey, “Hey, where you two farmers think you going? . . . . Hey, what you two country boys doing up here in the big city?” ii Small town Red Bank being the farm, and, for the record, Long Branch being a few shore towns away.
Was Count called Count because the jazz world had a Duke, King, Earl, Baron? iii Or as Bennie Moten suggests was it more, “Aw, that guy ain’t no ‘count.” and “Where is that no ‘count rascal?”
“no ‘count, as the old expression goes.” iv
Count makes strides, develops, and has his own ideas, “I had been around long enough and gotten into enough to call myself a New York musician . . . I was not from Red Bank anymore. I was from New York.” v Count makes clear that Red Bank is in the past and he hightailed it out of there, fast.
He relates an amusing account about an Apollo Theatre backstage incident. “I’m standing there in the wings, this mean old bastard working back there starts signifying me . . . I’m standing there shaking already, and this son of a gun is . . . talking so loud so I can’t help hearing him.” The work man grumbles away, “Now here’s the great Count Basie back here. The great Count Basie! Well, I want to hear this. The great Count Basie. Now we’ll find out what he’s going to do in New York!” vi The man goes on and on, won’t give Basie a break, and it gets worse.
But Count finds himself and forges his identity, “Talking about jumping at the Woodside . . . it came to me that I really wasn’t William Basie or Bill Basie the piano player from Red Bank anymore. From now on and for better or worse I was Count Basie, the bandleader out of Kansas City, back in New York.” vii Small town boy does well, takes on the world as Count, and does so with a lot of good times and great jazz.
i Kerouac, Jack. Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings. (New York: Penguin) 2000. pp. 21-22.
ii Basie, William. Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie. (New York: Da Capo Press) 1995. p.51.
iii Ibid., pp. 146-147.
iv Ibid., pp. 146-147.
v Ibid., p. 84.
vi Ibid., p. 190.
vii Ibid., p. 196.

From Albion to Shangri-La

From Albion to Shangri-La consists of collected excerpts from Peter Doherty’s journals, circa 2008 to 2013, with an added selection from his tour diaries, all rounded off with a previously unpublished interview with editor, Nina Antonia – the rock journalist’s rock journalist, no stranger to the darker excesses of some of rock’s more elegantly wasted sons – whose sharp eye and clear ear have been called upon to assist in this literary distillation, as explained in her Introduction. Continue Reading…