Saturday, August 10, 2002 :::
Books: I Read 'Em, You Weep
GIL EVANS: OUT OF THE COOL, HIS LIFE AND MUSIC by Stephanie Stein Crease. Suffers the typical failures of a music bio: the writer brings nothing to the material except the gathering of it, evinces no personality, no special take or insight into the subject matter, doesn’t even imbue any feeling for the reason why she cared enough about Gil Evans to research and write this book. I find any writings about popular musicians lives, if not utterly incompetent, make fun literary comfort food, suitable for reading over a bowl of frosted shredded wheat. This one served me well through many late-night snacks, and an airplane flight on Jet Blue from L.A. to D.C. Getting some feel for what life as a band arranger in the dying days of big band jazz was like is this book’s greatest merit. My own exploration into non-Miles Gil records leads me to believe that his rep is really riding on Miles’s shoulders. Of course, I could be completely wrong about this. I’m a humble man.
THE MAN VERSUS THE STATE by Herbert Spencer. Nineteenth century libertarian powerhouse, presages lots of the tone and arguments of any number of small circulation magazine articles and newspaper op-eds of the past 30 years. To make the sort of comment that will make serious intellectual historians scream, those familiar with Mises, Hayek, or even Hazlitt or Browne, won’t learn a great deal from his analysis, except for some fascinating specific details on a hypertrophying state in Britain in the late 19th century. However, his elegant old-timey prose can be a pleasure and yes, he was there first. And there are some hilariously truculent epigrams about how bleeding-heart big government types can’t really be that concerned with the weal of humanity since they frequently are perfectly happy to cheer state-sponsored wars that murder and maim humans in great numbers. Jeopardy fans note: Who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest?” You know it!
THE MANUFACTURE OF MADESS: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE INQUISITION AND THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT by Thomas Szasz. One of my hero's finest moments, rip-roaring historical analogies on shifting fashions in denigrating and dehumanizing large segments of humanity. Best part: debunking the popular '60s fashion (still the sort of thing you hear from daring folk at parties who think that they’ve discovered a shocking and little known fact, like me when I was seven waiting for any chance to drop the bombshell that it was Leif Ericson who really discovered America) that stated that the people condemned as witches during the bad ol’ witch-condeming days were “really” mentally ill. Szasz is one of the most challenging and brilliant thinkers around, and this is one of his best books, and not a bad place to start with him. This book came out at the height of Szasz’s momentary hipness in the late '60s, when he was often conflated with R.D. Laing, whose theoretical approach was quite different from Szasz. Szasz did not believe that insanity was really some sort of hypersanity, or an expected response to the repressive madness of modernity, or like bullshit. However, this book features the least of Szasz’s discussions of the obvious condemnable faults of those marked as mentally ill, as well as hip quotes from Foucault and William Burroughs, so it’s all understandable, I suppose. As he quotes Maeterlinck somewhere in there, it was respectable opinion that said one oughtn't burn too many heretics; it was going too far to suggest that burning any of them was a hideous crime. Szasz has built a marvelous intellectual career on going too far.
::: posted by Brian at 10:43 PM