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Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus Paperback – September 3, 1991


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition Thus edition (September 3, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679737618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679737612
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A wild, lyrical, and anguished autobiography, in which Charles Mingus pays short shrift to the facts but plunges to the very bottom of his psyche, coming up for air only when it pleases him. He takes the reader through his childhood in Watts, his musical education by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker, and his prodigious appetites--intellectual, culinary, and sexual. The book is a jumble, but a glorious one, by a certified American genius.

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Customer Reviews

A must read for anyone interested in music.
bf17951@binghamton.edu
It seems as if he knows that the reader is probably familiar with his music, and is trying to make us understand WHY his music is as it is, and it's a smart move.
Nimrod
His observations and they way he expresses himself are amazing both via his music and his writing.
MBoogie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nimrod on March 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
I didn't really know what to expect when I opened this book. It was the first time that I've opened a musician's autobiography, and I thought it might have an examination of how he developed his style, how did he decide to play the instrument, etc. This book was a good surprise. Mingus is hardly focusing the music, though it is always there, and choosing to tell us about everything that's around it. It seems as if he knows that the reader is probably familiar with his music, and is trying to make us understand WHY his music is as it is, and it's a smart move. The autobiography sort of completes the music, adding a missing half to it, making me understand Mingus the man, and through it understand better Mingus the artist.
The book is written wonderfully, Mingus' writing is brilliant, and the story sweeps you with him and you thank God for it being such a small book or you might've missing a month from reading it rather than a day. Some things are not totally clear, and some things are not explained, but yet, it is a great book, deals with love, crime, blacks and whites, jazz, madness, and the conclusion, which is expressed in the title, that love, for friends, women or for music is the only thing that's really important, and if you dig it, you could find happiness.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Calabrese on March 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
A word of warning to those thinking of purchasing this book - It is not what you may think. This is not a linear autobiographical work - it is more along the lines of an exagerrated story of the pimp lifestyle and the struggles of a light skinned African American in early to mid-20th century America.

Pay attention to the 'disclaimer' in the beginning of the book:

"Some names in this book have been changed and some of the characters and incidents are fictitious."

Therefore, you must not read this book under the assumption that it is a typical jazz autobiography. I view it as more of an artform, just as I would view the music. I find BENEATH THE UNDERDOG to still be an enjoyable read, however, you must know what you are getting yourself into. The stories are all over the place, including wild stories that involve dozens of women in Mexico as well as his later frustrations concerning his time at the Bellevue mental hospital in New York City. Mingus also writes about his youth in Watts, California, specifically the fact that he did not fit in with the whites because he was black, and he did not fit in with the blacks because he was light -skinned. These issues of alienation spill over into other aspects of his life. Additionally, one could argue that the racism and alientation he suffered along with the fame he experienced are strikingly similar to Miles Davis's frustrations in his autobiographical work, MILES.

The writing style in this book is less than professional, to say the least, but it is still an entertaining read. If you would like to explore a much more solid biographical portrayal of Mingus, allow me to recommend his wife's book, TONIGHT AT NOON or the book, MINGUS: A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY by Brian Priestly.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By peter breslin on July 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
Look, all you people who are offended, turned off, disappointed by this book, it is a jazz fable, a tall tale, an anthem to an insane period in American history, a wonderful pastiche and motley carnival of fact and fiction, a truly ground-breaking early Post-Modern ride. It is precisely along the lines of the music Mingus made. The moralists and those who sit in judgment are reacting precisely the way Mingus would have found hilarious. If you don't get this book, you don't get Mingus music and you probably don't get a whole lot of other angles on underground American culture, race relations, black male sexuality as mythologized by our prurient pseudo-religious moralizers, drug addiction and its bizarre effect on personal relationships, raw spirituality and the shadow, the mid-century shambles of mental health care, the predicament of the creative artist in a capitalist society, etc., etc., etc. If you want a pallid "jazz biography" read a book by some footnote-addled academic. If you want a real vision of one of the craziest lives of one of the most amazing artists of the 20th century, this book can work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 7, 1996
Format: Paperback
Mingus discusses, in gorgeous Watts be-bop prose, the turns of sexual passion which come to symbolize his outlook. The book is about sex and sensual satiation, not music, but in the hide there is substantive reveal. Particular attention due to the night in Baja when Mingus makes love to thirty Mexican prostitutes. Hindsight eyeballing of Mingus' spectacularly hollow rationalizations for his abberant, abusive, behavior makes apparent that we will no know more about Mingus after the read than we did before, except that he swung it hard
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By MBoogie on October 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
this guy was amazing. His observations and they way he expresses himself are amazing both via his music and his writing. This book IS very feeling-oriented , I agree with the other reviewers, but that's how an autobio should be. It's an AUTObio, so that person will want to recount their life and any story is subjective. if you're looking to get a dry chronicle of Mingus' life, then don't get this book. But if you want to read an amazing mind put in words, go for it. I think it's brilliant.
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