Undercover: Everybody’s in Showbiz (08/26/76)

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Reflections of a Rock Star by Ian Hunter (Flash Books paperback). A journal of Mott the Hoople’s ’72 American tour, artlessly written and very entertaining. No hints as to how Hunter came up with some of the most memorable rock of the decade, but as an account of a band on the heady verge of success that never quite arrived, the book is as forthright and colorful as “All the Way from Memphis” or “Ballad of Mott the Hoople” though why Hunter never wrote a song about sneaking into Elvis’s mansion (an incident detailed here), I don’t know. Or was “All the Way from Memphis” it? Grossly illustrated with countless photos and hysterical clippings from the traditionally hysterical British pop press.


Kings of the Bs: Working Within the Hollywood System edited by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn (Dutton paperback). More than 500 pages of criticism, interviews and film history, focusing on favored directors (such as Edgar G. Ulmer and Russ Meyer), films noir (The Phenix City Story, Thunder Road) and genres (Richard Staehling’s “The Truth about Teen Movies,” which first appeared in these pages), plus brief filmographies of 325 American directors and photos of 75. Notable contributions include Manny Farber’s “Blame the Audience” and his piece on Val “The Curse of the Cat People” Lawton, Roger Ebert’s “Joe Solomon: The Last of the Schlockmeisters,” Peter Bogdanovich’s interview with Ulmer, and Todd McCarthy’s resurrection of Robert Altman’s virtually unknown The Delinquents, made in Kansas City in 1955. A good book to see before taking in any film merde or film noir classic, and an even better book to go back to after doing so.


Some Honorable Men: Political Conventions 1960-1972 by Norman Mailer (Little, Brown). When I get weary of current literary fashion—such as the inevitable highly advertised novel written exclusively in the present tense, as if anything more complicated might unhinge the writer—I turn to Norman Mailer. This collection of previously published articles and books will tell you almost as much about this year’s conventions as previous ones. No matter that Mailer has not had many new ideas about American politics in a long time; his old ideas still have weight to them, and the language still sings as if it were new. The best stuff here remains “Miami and the Siege of Chicago”(1968); Mailer’s description and analysis of what was happening to the Democratic party is staggering in its drama. Mailer, always his own presidential candidate, takes nothing lightly, which isn’t to say he’s short on humor; he tries to see himself in each great or diminished public figure, to divine (for use in one of his own future imaginary campaigns, one imagines) their motives, resentments and peculiar insanities. No one is better at this than Mailer.


Why Not the Best? by Jimmy Carter (Bantam). An interesting self-puff job–especially for Carter’s account of vote frauds in an early race for state senator (which could have come straight out of the biography of Thirties Georgia governor Gene Talmadge, reviewed here recently), and for his discussion of the role of race in his upbringing. Disturbingly, Carter presents himself throughout as an innocent; if he sins at all it is only by omission. The story about his deciding to run for president after meeting Nixon, Agnew, McGovern, Jackson, Humphrey, Muskie, Wallace, Reagan and Rockefeller, however, is just as nice as could be.


A Social History of Rock Music: From the Greasers to Glitter Rock by Lloyd Grossman (McKay). While there is not a single new idea in this pallid little volume, Grossman does have some claim to originality—as the first rock critic to discuss such artists as Eddie Cochrane, Creedence Clearwater and Manfred Mann.


Champagne and Baloney: The Rise and Fall of Finley’s A’s by Tom Clark (Harper & Row). If you want a play-by-play account of one of the most mysterious teams in baseball history, this book will give it to you. If you want characterization, excitement, emotion, descriptive flair—in other words, everything that makes a sports book readable—it won’t.


A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews (Atheneum). Just on the basis of the dust jacket, I was almost afraid to read this: Crews looks so tough he makes Charles Bronson seem like a gigolo. And in this tale of bad good old boys and girls in Georgia, which Joseph Heller and Norman Mailer want you to read, he joins the current craze for castration scenes, offers an oral-anal-oral sex act I have not before seen included in a novel, and makes the shocking discovery that snakes are phallic symbols. Not as much fun as it sounds, though.


The Man Who Went Up in Smoke: A Martin Beck Police Mystery by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (Vintage paperback). Well written, intelligent, pointless, and very dull.


The World in a Frame: What We See in Films by Leo Braudy (Anchor Press/Doubleday). Braudy gets almost 300 pages of inaction out of an idea that’s good for a brief article: the dichotomy between “closed” films (as with Lang or Hitchcock, where the meaning of the frame has been completed by the filmmaker) and “open” films (as with Renoir, where the viewer completes the image, or adds to its meaning, by bringing to it associations, thoughts, or the viewer’s sense of the real world). But the true failure of the book is in the writing—because criticism that communicates knowledge, but not energy, enthusiasm, love, anger, playfulness, high stakes, pleasure, and pain, is not criticism but exegesis.


Rolling Stone, August 26, 1976


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