Tuesday, June 19, 2007


If I were selecting biographical subjects, and the authors to write them, for that Penguin Lives series, here’s a long list of books I’d love to do:

JACK KEROUAC by Clark Coolidge (talk about “language”!)
THELONIOUS MONK by Bill Charlap (although Charlap’s playing is more like Bill Evans, his musical knowledge, as well as talent, would make him a really interesting interpreter of Monk’s genius)
MEMPHIS MINNIE by Wanda Phipps
LEE MILLER by Sharon Stone (two very smart beauties)
EVA HESSE by Corrine Fitzpatrick
FRANCIS PONGE by Tina Darragh
EZRA POUND by Ray DiPalma
MARTHA GELLHORN by Christiana Amanpour
FRANK SINATRA by Jonathon Schwartz
BOB DYLAN by David Blue (although David died decades ago, I’d still like to have seen this book—Blue was a friend of Dylan’s (and mine), another Jewish-American folksinger who changed his name (from David Cohen) only David was tall and handsome and blunt about his opinions and himself, and his songs less complicated or brilliant than Dylan’s, but he was an honest, hard-living, very talented man)
JOHN LENNON by Terence Winch
ARTIE SHAW by Aram Saroyan
CHUCK BERRY by Keith Richards (I know his movie about him—HAIL HAIL ROCK’N’ROLL—is in a way Richards’ version, but I’d love to see a book by Richards with the actual facts of Berry’s life in Richards’ words!)
BING CROSBY by Bob Callahan and Spain (one of those graphic books)
DIANE DIPRIMA by Eileen Myles (I think it’d be great, for both of them)
JEAN RHYS by Jane DeLynn
BILL EVANS by Bill Zavatsky (his poems about Evans give a taste of what he could do)
RUDY BURCKHARDT by Simon Pettet (again, poet Pettet has already almost done this, but I’d like to see not just Rudy’s words and images, but Simon’s interpreting Rudy’s life and art)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG by John Reed (the living John Reed, whose civil war novel—A STILL SMALL VOICE—was so meticulously researched and controlled, it would be interesting to see what that kind of discipline could do for the father of jazz AND popular music—not that Armstrong invented those categories, but he was the first to dominate and popularize them through his early recordings and the sheer force of his talent and personality)
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT by Rene Ricard (it’s almost been done, but I’d love to see Ricard interpret all the factual info on tape, to get the flavor of Rene’s unique speech patterns, and then have it transcribed into a book!)
SIDNEY BECHET by Branford Marsalis (Bechet being the co-daddy with Louis Armstrong of “jazz” but having emigrated to France he is usually left out of the equation, as Branford has often been in the shadow of his brother Wynton, though Branford is the more congenial and accessible personality (ala Armstrong rather than Bechet so in some ways it would be like interpreting his brother)
SAMUEL BECKETT by Roy Harvey (the man who turned me on to Beckett back when)
TED BERRIGAN by Alice Notley (why not?)
WILLIAM BLAKE by Burt Britton (who knows more about writers and their drawings?)
HUMPHREY BOGART by Vincent Katz (it would be hard to explain the connection in my mind, but it’s partly physical and partly New York kids with an artist for one parent, as well as a kind of deceptively laid-back protectiveness, etc.)
PIERRE BONNARD by John Ashbery
JIMMY CAGNEY by John Michael Bolger (an actor friend whose manner and physiognomy resembles Cagney’s so much he was mistaken for Cagney’s son at Cagney’s funeral)
JOHN COLTRANE by Richard Eskow (he could elucidate not only the musical realities but the spiritual quest as well)
ARAN COPLAND by Tim Dlugos (I doubt Tim, long gone, was a fan of Copland’s music, as I am, but something about that music and Tim’s poetry match, for me)
JOSEPH CORNELL by Geoff Young (their personalities may be almost opposite, but their aesthetic, for me, seems similarly original)
LEONARDO DA VINCI by Nick Piombino
MILES DAVIS by Tom Wilson
LARRY EIGNER by Lynn Manning (two poets who overcame their individual “handicaps”—Eigner lived his life in a wheelchair and Lynne has spent most of his adulthood blind—though their approach to language and subject matter seem totally different, their underlying themes have a lot in common, to me)
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD by Alec Baldwin (two smart, good-looking Irish-Americans, successful and famous at a young age, with careers that had their ups and downs, and wives who were the loves of their lives but became extremely problematic, etc.)
GOETHE by Susan Campbell (an artist whose reading is deeper than most writers, she would be an interesting interpreter of the great Goethe’s life and times)
PHILIP GUSTON by Don McLaughlin (two painters’ painters)
KATHERINE HEPBURN by Karen Allen (two strong, independent women, movie actresses that didn’t fit the mold and did it their way)
BILL CLINTON by Andrea Lee (a beautiful writer, in both senses, whose writing is as sexily charismatic to me as many women I know have found Clinton to be)
MICHELANGELO by Paul Vangelisti
WALT WHITMAN by Harris Schiff
HENRY MILLER by Lisa Duggan
CHARLIE PARKER by Robert Slater (Kansas City!)
LESTER YOUNG by Billie Holiday (wouldn’t that be something, she could just talk into a tape recorder to be transcribed later, but with the facts on paper before her to interpret through her experience and relationship with “Prez”)
MURIEL RUKEYSER by Elizabeth Barb
VERONICA LAKE by Scarlett Johnason (both started Hollywood careers as teenagers but Johanson seems not just comfortable with her fame and success, she seems to be doing what she wants, making choices that suit her, as opposed to poor Veronica, who hated Hollywood and felt totally manipulated by every aspect of it)
DAVID SMITH by Dale Herd (two manly guys who go about their respective creating—Smith was my favorite “artist” (sculptor) when I was a young man and still is, Dale was mine and Ginsberg’s “favorite prose writer”—with workmanlike discipline)
MARILYN MONROE by Max Blagg (Max, a bit of an icon on the New York poetry scene in his time, has always had a unique take on “American” culture and icons)
JAMES SCHUYLER by Kevin McCollister
CHARLES MINGUS by Bob Berner (Mingus wrote his own autobio—BENEATH THE UNDERDOG—that is one of the most original books I’ve read, but I’d love to see poet Berner’s take on the justifiably angry genius of Mingus)
Okay, I’m getting carried away, so I’ll end with:
FRANK O’HARA by me (I made the list so I can put myself on it twice! And I was actually approached about writing O’Hara’s bio back in the day but thought it too daunting at the time)


AlamedaTom said...

Lal, I'm totally flattered but I don't think I could come close to Miles himself in his great autobiography, "Miles," copyrighted in 1989.

~ Tom

The Kid said...

Me, or the other Lisa Duggan; she teaches queer studies in the American studies program and the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at NYU!

Anonymous said...

Lal--Most flattered that you'd want me to do the book on Charles Mingus. I hope I'd be up to it. And, YES, you should do Frank O'Hara. Sign me up right now for ten copies of the hardcover. Bob B.

RJ Eskow said...

Man, I'm completely honored. Let's face it - musically, it would be like a civil engineer trying to explain Neils Bohr on quantum physics.

But I'd sure as hell love to give it a shot.

Lally said...

Yeah Tom, I know the MILES "autobio" well, and the poet who wrote it with him, Quincy Troupe. My list was a wish list, the idea of you using the facts of Miles' life to interpret his progression as a musician and contribution to the music just sounds like an ideal match to me. As it does for the other commentators. And along rj, I too have always used the world of elite science, like quantum physics, to explain the most innovative and accomplished jazz creators, explaining to those who would listen that if the racial situation in the USA had been different, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk et. al. might well have been our own Neils Bohrs.

John Reed said...

Hey, Michael, thanks so much. I hope I could live up to Armstrong.