Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Mick Jagger by Christopher Andersen

When I picked up my copy of Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Mick Jagger, I'd forgotten that I had read a previous work by the author. Christopher Andersen has made quite a living with biographies of political figures and select celebrities. This, in fact, is not his first book about Jagger, and since I have not read Jagger Unauthorized I cannot reveal whether or not Mick is a dressed-up revision of the former. I'm willing to bet not - though as I read the Goodreads summary of the previous book it pretty much details everything I have read in Mick. The only difference is that Mick continues Jagger's story through the new century.

It's amazing, too, that we're still talking about Mick and the Stones fifty years following their debut. Jagger remains relevant in song and pop culture - he recently hosted a season finale of Saturday Night Live, his name is practically synonymous with confident swagger, and the band plans to tour in 2013. I still have my stub from the Steel Wheels tour in 1989 - I'd thought that would be my last chance to see them live. Good thing I didn't bet money on that belief.

Back to the book. I finished this over a weekend. Where Mick is short on words (it's a good 200+ pages shorter than Keith Richards's Life, which I will read one day), it definitely makes up for the many instances of glossing over his young life by piling on the gossip. I would imagine, even if you don't follow the Stones religiously, you're aware of Jagger's reputation with the ladies. Here, you get names - lots of names. In fact, one could probably summarize this book as comprising:
  • The history of Mick Jagger's sex life.
  • The history of Mick Jagger's narcissism.
If you have followed Jagger's personal life and career, I doubt you'll find anything here to surprise you. As a moderate fan (one concert and ownership of a greatest hits compilation) nothing in this book shocked me. I'd heard the stories of bisexual romps and Jerry Hall's never-ending pursuit of a ring and a date, and while it appears Andersen attempted to arouse curiosity through a blind item about a tryst with two Shindig! regulars a trip to Wikipedia solved that mystery. This led me to question how well this book had been researched - among events presented as fact included the legendary Mars Bar incident of '67, which and others have refuted.

Readers are called upon here to merely accept many things happened - Mick slept with this woman, punched that photographer, then slept with that woman. Andersen's simple style actually left me bored as I read, which baffled me. Jagger hardly seems the boring type. Of course, I did find it a challenge to sympathize with him through chapters detailing his lack of parenting skills, and loyalty toward friends who didn't want Jagger messing around with their women. 

Philip Norman, whose bio of John Lennon I have read, publishes his Jagger bio in October. It will be interesting to read this take in comparison to Andersen's to see if there is more to this man.

Rating: D

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Amy, My Daughter by Mitch Winehouse

One might have shaken his head on hearing of Amy Winehouse's death last year. I will admit I was not familiar with her music when she was alive, and much of what I knew about her came from the tabloid press. For a time - to me, anyway - she seemed more famous for her antics and addictions than her talents. When somebody posted an "RIP Amy Winehouse" thread in a message board, however, my first reaction had not been one of expectation. I had genuinely thought it was a joke, because I thought she might just miss entry in the dreaded 27 Club. I don't know why I felt that way - I suppose I read enough entertainment news and see stories about people who abuse their bodies and systems yet continue to tick. Earlier today somebody on my Facebook timeline posted a picture of Keith Richards bearing the caption I've outlived Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Elvis. Betcha didn't see that coming.


These days, when a person of note dies you're likely to find Amazon swell with self-publish cut and paste jobs that cobble together Wikipedia pages and blog articles to create a "biography" of the dearly departed. A few people thought enough of Amy to try to make a fast buck off her name, but when I picked up a copy of Amy, My Daughter (AMZ) I noticed author Mitch Winehouse has pledged the money he makes from this book to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, established in 2011 to assist various charitable interests in the UK, in particular involving people suffering addiction. As one might expect of a memoir by a close relative, Daughter is part love letter, part therapeutic exercise. It is a short book, one you could probably read in a few days, and rather blunt in its execution. Winehouse does not wax poetic, but rather lays down what happened when, who was there, and how he felt at the time.

Some reviews I've seen of this book accuse Winehouse of presenting a one-sided story; really, would you expect different from a grieving father who claimed to invest his time and energy trying to help his daughter overcome drug addiction? Through much of the book he recalls cycles of abuse and regret, with "I'm going to stop" becoming a tired mantra of Amy's up until the end. There's also no love lost for her ex-husband, on whom he appears to have settled the blame for Amy's decline, or the ex's parents, dismissed as leeches who saw Amy more as a wallet than a member of the family.

As this story is not told from an unbiased point of view, it is difficult to get the full story, and Daughter reads like a diary in that you don't get the impression other people close to Amy contributed. It would be interesting to one day read Amy's story from different vantage points to get a fuller picture and determine one thing I didn't wholly glean from this book: how Amy started on this self-destructive path. One day early in her career she's smoking cannabis...what prompts her to start? Peer pressure, curiosity, a desire to fit in? Only one person can answer that, and unfortunately we'll never hear from her.

If you followed Amy's career more closely than I did, you may enjoy Daughter for what Winehouse likely intended it to be: a tribute. Even as he recalls moments of tension and embarrassment, there is an underlying tone of pride and love. Amy should be remembered for her music rather than the negative press, and in time hopefully history will allow for that.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.