Monday, October 10, 2005


Sam's club

In yesterday's Newsday, I reviewed Peter Guralnick's Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. You can read my Brief Encounter with the author below. As for the review:
Peter Guralnick's last project was a two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, whose hip-swiveling passage through American life he recorded with supreme tact and the sort of investigatory zeal we expect from, say, Robert Caro. Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love won extravagant praise and popular acclaim. But what would the author do for an encore? How could Guralnick possibly find another figure of comparable interest?

Well, he found one. Sam Cooke--gospel wunderkind and the Thomas Edison of soul music--was born in Clarksdale, Miss., in 1931. He grew up in the Bronzeville section of Chicago with eight siblings and a fire-and-brimstone preacher for a father. But as Guralnick recounts in Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, he was always the household favorite, a charmer noted for "the infectiousness of his grin, or his unquenchable enthusiasm."
You can read the rest here. Interested parties should also check out Robert Christgau's more skeptical piece in The Nation. He points out some of same squishy spots as I did--including Guralnick's rather gentle take on uber-manager Allen Klein--and also faults the book for its lack of critical stringency about the music itself. Fair enough. But it's also clear that the Dean of Rock and Roll Critics doesn't think much of Cooke's voice to begin with. "It's about on a par with that of the young Dionne Warwick," he allows. With all due respect to Warwick, that judgment strikes me as completely nuts. Still, the Dean is always worth reading: smart, feisty, opinionated to the hilt.

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