Off Topic Messages

Guralnick's Cooke Bio in Stores now

Sun Oct 16, 2005 11:29 pm

I went out to the book stores this weekend and noticed that Peter Guralnick's long awaited Cooke bio is available. Haven't had a chance to read it through yet but it seems enticing. Scanning through it there seems to be a more liberal use of photographs than in Guralnick's Elvis books. I found a brief but enlightening interview where Cooke's brother LC recalls meeting Elvis in Memphis. As usual, Elvis treated him with class and respect and knew who he was not just in relationship to Sam but in terms of his own R&B group the Magnificents.

I also looked up a few of my favorite pop Cooke songs like "Wonderful World" and did find Guralnick's pop bias that was noted in the Christgau review posted here a few weeks ago by Greg Nolan. It's really the only dent in this great writer's armor. I remember reading Guralnick's "Sweet Soul Music" not long after it came out in the late '80s and Guralnick commented how Cooke's partner J.W. Alexander and he the author felt that the Sims Twins' version of "Soothe Me", recorded on Cooke's SAR label, was easily superior to Cooke's own version on RCA. Years later I bought the SAR box, featuring excellent annotation by Guralnick, that had the Sims Twins' version on it and to my more pop oriented ears, the Cooke version was light years better as was Cooke's "That's Where It's At" maybe his greatest recording. Personally, I think Cooke's pop music is one of the most critically underrated bodies of work in all of rock and soul and very much appreciated previous Cooke biographer Daniel Wolff's attempt at flying the banner for it. Still with all you get with Guralnick, which includes as a brilliant a use of context as you are going to get, this is a more than forgivable flaw. The man sees the big picture and that's enough.

Finally, I was disturbed to see that the book did not receive a feature review in Entertainment Weekly like Guralnick's Elvis bios. Perhaps inhibiting the book's chances of making the best seller lists and being widely read. Worse the review was dismissive of the work mostly because it was dismissive of Cooke as a cultural icon/artist. The review said the work was bloated because Cooke was not an icon at the level of Elvis or Robert Johnson and that it felt like a five CD Boxed set from an artist devoted to an artist who only made one great album. A very philistine attitude if you ask me. Boy, if you made the mistake of coming of age artistically in the early '60s just forget about respect ever.

Tue Oct 18, 2005 10:26 pm

Good points, LTB. I thought Christgau made it okay to dock
Cooke a point or two (I personally like him but can only listen to him
so much compared to other soul artists) but share your feeling about
EW panning Cooke. How moronic. I doubt the reviewer even
like Johnson or that he is actually slightly over-rated in importance
to the blues world versus a Leroy Carr or Sonny Boy Williamson #1.

I 'll look for the article.

Wed Oct 19, 2005 3:28 pm

It's published in December in the UK - looks great though, nice pic on the cover!