Introducing a new feature here at Rag Mama Rag – the book review. For those of you who love to read about music, or just like to be able to give the impression you do, reviews about books about music, at your service. Prizes included, restrictions do not apply…
It was a lovely weekend here in Rubyville, with nine inches of snow and temperatures around 15 degrees at night. But what did I care – I was engrossed in Peter Guralnick’s biography of Sam Cooke, Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke.
Guralnick is one of my favorite authors, and Sam Cooke is an artist that I have always loved and wanted to know more about. However, through no fault of Mr. Guralnick, after reading this book, Sam Cooke is no more known to me than he was previously.
Don’t get me wrong – Mr. Guralnick’s book is thoroughly, exhaustively researched. He interviewed all of the people still living who were closest to Mr. Cooke. He traces Cooke’s story from his childhood in Chicago to his stint with the gospel quartet the Soul Stirrers in the 1950s and of course to his controversial decision to make the leap from gospel to pop, a decision from which there was no turning back at that time. The facts are well-researched, and there’s just enough gossipy stuff included to make it juicy.
The problem was, Mr. Cooke was – and remains – an enigma. He appeared to have revealed very little of himself to those around him aside from an overwhelming ambition to be a success both artistically and financially. Yet, the picture you get of Sam Cooke after reading this book is not of a megalomaniac, but of an artist who was simply so wrapped up in his art and ambitions that he was, in a sense, closed off from others.
That being said, the book is wonderful. In addition to Sam Cooke’s story, you get a feel for the often contradictory world of gospel quartet singing in the 1950s, the chitlin soul circuit of the late 1950s-early 1960s, and snapshot bios of other important artists of the day, including Bobby Womack, who became infamous when he married Cooke’s widow less than a year after Cooke’s tragic death, Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John, Guitar Watson, and others. As with his other books, Guralnick delves deep into the process of writing and recording Cooke’s music, which is always the most fascinating part of a musician’s biography, at least in my opinion.
So pick up a copy of Dream Boogie.