I’m too lazy of a blogger to properly write a book review for books I read that you should read too, but at least I can point you in an interesting direction. Today’s drive-by review: Miles, The Autobiography by Miles Davis (with the assistance of Quincy Troupe)
Reading this is how I’d imagine sitting down and chatting with Miles Davis would be like, mostly because the text reads as if it is conversational. Many times a musician “plays his ass off”, or Miles Davis learns some “chords and shit”, or someone is referred to as “cleaner than a motherfucker”, etc. The version I read doesn’t say much about how the book was created, I’m guessing Mr. Davis and Mr. Troupe sat down at a kitchen table, perhaps with a calendar with dates of tours, marriages, deaths, studio sessions, album releases, and the like, and then talked about and around it.
Fascinating, compelling conversation-as-text, and I wanted to hear the “extended” version with even more details about growing up middle class in East St. Louis, about the jazz scene in Manhattan as World War 2 ended, about musicians and their drug habits, about Paris in the 1950s, about Prince, and Jimi Hendrix, and Charlie Parker, and Louis Armstrong, and so on.
Miles Davis mentions Louis Armstrong, talks about how influential a musician he was, but then has a reoccurring riff about black musicians who smile and “mug” for the audience. Even Dizzy Gillespie, one of Miles Davis’ long time friends and mentors, is criticized for being too genial with the audience. Miles Davis didn’t want liner notes on his albums, wanted the music to speak for itself. And since I’ve listening to it for years, and non-stop this last week, I agree!
For a “real” review, for instance: click over to one by Victor L. Shermer of All About Jazz
However, a significant part of his fame and success is also due to his well-cultivated image as the quintessentially rebellious, individualistic black musician, the artist against the Establishment, his insistence on being himself, the African American insisting on being free. This image is perpetuated by his autobiography, co-authored by Quincy Troupe, who in an Afterword, indicates that he spent countless hours with Davis, taking copious notes and taping extended conversations with him. Moreover, he devoted himself to capturing Davis’ language and intention. So, in two decades retrospect, and without being able to question the primary author, we can assume that this is Miles speaking, not the pure construction of his co-writer.
To cap such a career and life with an outstanding written record of it put one more notch on Davis’ list of accomplishments. Indeed, it is truly remarkable to read his autobiography a little more than two decades after it was written and find it still to be a vital and electrifying document and probably the best jazz biography of all time, if not one of the great memoirs of any historical or artistic personage. There are two reasons why this book deserves such praise. One is that it is supremely truthful, belonging among the veritable confessional masterpieces that only rarely appear in the literary landscape. Over and over again, Davis discloses his darkest moments and his failings as a human being (though he unrelentingly tells us how great a musician he is!), not so much seeking redemption as wanting to reveal his whole self. Davis’ anger and impertinence, his drug and alcohol addiction, his periods of insanity, his machismo abuse of women, his financial ambition, his narcissistic displays, and his resentment of all authority are repeatedly put on the chopping block, frankly and directly, in the manner of one looking at his life with clear eyes, neither remorsefully nor with braggadocio. We see the man in all his glory, misery, and failings. It is a real credit to Davis that, given an opportunity for a written legacy, he put himself out there so honestly and completely.
(click here to continue reading Miles: The Autobiography… Two Decades Later.)