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Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams-the Early Years, 1903-1940 Paperback – October 8, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (October 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316886459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316886451
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #458,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Jazz critic Giddins's latest subject will probably surprise those who think of Bing Crosby (1903-1977) as "a square old man who made orange-juice commercials" and sang "White Christmas" every year on TV. Giddins reminds us that, in the 1920s and '30s, Crosby was a very jazzy singer indeed: "the first white performer to appreciate and assimilate the genius of Louis Armstrong." This sober, comprehensive biography lacks the thematic breadth and action-packed sentences that made Giddins's Visions of Jazz so memorable, but it's a perceptive portrait of Crosby as a man, a singer, a radio personality and a budding movie star in the loose, creative years before he hardened into a monument. Giddins's account of Crosby's middle-class, Irish-American youth in Washington State astutely stresses this singer's years of Jesuit schooling, which made him unusually well educated for a performer and grounded him in values that contributed to the modesty, reserve and self-confidence American audiences found so appealing. Tracing Crosby's rise through vaudeville, Paul Whiteman's band, short films and radio shows, Giddins also offers a mini-history of technology's impact on popular music, most notably Crosby's famous ability to use a microphone to create a more intimate singing style. There's a bit too much background on minor characters and on forgettable films before readers arrive at The Road to Singapore, which launched Crosby's epochal partnership with Bob Hope. But Giddins amply makes his case that Crosby "came along when American entertainment was at a crossroads [and] showed it which road to take." Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.) Forecast: Giddins has long been popular among serious jazz fans, and his name recognition jumped after Visions of Jazz won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1998. The first volume of a multipart biography, this book will be further boosted by advertising and an eight-city author tour, including an appearance on Ken Burns's PBS documentary, Jazz, airing in January.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Those who remember Bing Crosby only for "White Christmas" may be surprised to find jazz-critic Giddins, the author of books on Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, singing Der Bingle's praises as "one of the handful of artists who remade American music in the 1920s." Through a combination of careful research and precise, remarkably insightful analysis of vocal technique, Giddins shows how Crosby, the first white singer to recognize the genius of Louis Armstrong, remade our notion of pop singer (the term didn't even exist before Crosby), developing a vocal style that was based on intimacy and naturalness--the very opposite of the artificial, effeminate tenors who were fronting orchestras before Bing. Following Crosby's development from childhood in Spokane, Washington, through a revolutionary period with Paul Whiteman's band (where Bing quickly associated himself with other top jazzmen including Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and Joe Venuti), and on to his phenomenal solo career, on record, on radio, and in the movies, Giddins reveals how Crosby transformed mass entertainment, whether it was teaching a generation of American singers how to use a microphone or redefining what it means for an actor to "play himself." Above all, though, there was the Crosby persona: "Bing was quintessentially American, cool and upbeat, never pompous, belligerent, or saccharine, never smug or superior. He looked down on no one and up to no one." Or, as Artie Shaw put it: "Bing Crosby was the first hip white person born in the United States." In the course of reestablishing Bing as a hipster, Giddins has contributed a landmark study of popular singing in the first half of the twentieth century. But, like Bing, he does it without pomposity, and he swings. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Anyone who enjoys Bing work will find this book interesting.
T. Radcliff
Gary Giddins struts his stuff, a wonderful book about American life, jazz, movies, and, of course, the brilliant and complicated man, Bing Crosby.
SWAMP FOX
My time was well spent reading this book, and I await volume two with anticipation.
Gary A. Lynch

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Candace Scott on January 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gary Giddins has pealed away the mendacity that has surrounded Bing Crosby in published literature since his death. Bing was pilloried in books by his son Gary, and painted in other biographies as a philandering, cold-as-ice misanthrope. Finally Crosby fans can embrace a book which contains much positive information on one of the greatest and most influential Americans icons of the 20th century. Bing's brilliance has been inexplicably eclipsed since his death. Hopefully, this book will introduce the Crosby magic to those who have never been exposed to it.
Without Bing Crosby, popular music would not sound the way it sounds today, it's that simple. When he first started singing with Paul Whiteman's band in the 20's as a member of the Rhythm Boys, all vocalists sounded the same: weak-kneed tenors warbling through megaphones, ala the insufferable Rudy Vallee. Bing's mellifluous, effortless baritone became the standard by which every other singer strove to emulate: Sinatra, Como, Dean Martin and every other singer initially copied Bing.
Giddins correctly emphasizes Bing's influence on 20th century pop culture. He was a vocal innovator par excellence and his jazz phrasing, timing and cadence remains unmatched. Giddins also explores in great depth Crosby's numerous affairs, his tortured marriage to the alcoholic Dixie Lee, and brings out some interesting gossip: did you know Bing smoked pot regularly with Louis Armstrong in the early 30's? No more Mr. Goody Two Shoes!
I've loved Bing Crosby all my life and have waited a lifetime for an intelligent and readable biography. Gary Giddins is an excellent writer and researcher and he has created a minor masterpiece. This is an essential addition to any Crosbyphile's bookshelf.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on November 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Gary Giddins has presented us with a masterful biography of the musicology of Bing Crosby. This volume is the early years through 1940, and it minutely follows Bing's evolving musicianship from his early days with the Rhythm Boys, through his early jazz days, to films and records. The author critiques a staggering array of songs and arrangements.
What struck me early on was the instant recognition of Bing's ability by the big names as well as his peers. Though he was not a dependable, responsible youngster (early 20's), he still was instantly sought after. His voice was so extraordinary; it paved the way for him. I particularly enjoyed reading of his early days with Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trambauer, their escapades as well as their music. In less than a year, Bing was well known in musical circles and played with Paul Whiteman (whose patience with Bing was saintly!). There's no denying Bing was lucky as well as gifted. Never have I read of a guy who was in the right place at the right time more than Bing.
Bing, apparently at the behest of wife Dixie, did a turnaround in attitude and consumption of alcohol (and probably marijuana as well) and became an incredibly hard working solid citizen. Alas, this left little or no time for his marriage and sons, for when Bing was not on the job, he was an obsessive golfer, outdoorsman, and competitor. One thread that carries over everything he did was he didn't like to lose. It is hard to comprehend just how one man could be as continually successful at whatever he turned his hand to. His positives were he never forgot an old friend, his modesty, generosity, and delightful cool sense of humor. His negatives were his total detachment, a dogged stubbornness and lack of forgiveness. You never got a second chance with Crosby.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By R. H OAKLEY on July 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Bing Crosby's reputation has not fared well in the years after his death. His screen image of an easy-going, ordinary guy seemed to ring false, especially with the publication of a kind of "Daddy Dearest" book by one of his sons. Moreover, his singing seemed unlikely to undergo the kind of revival of popularity that Frank Sinatra's has.
Gary Giddins is out to change much of that. He convincingly argues that Crosby was one of the key figures among American singers -- or even entertainers in general -- in the 20th century. Giddins argues that Crosby was the first to fully understand the change caused by the widespread introduction of records and to adapt his technique accordingly.
This book is extremely well researched, but Giddins is such a superb writer that he never allows the details to bog down the narrative, a fault common to academic biographers who seem to be incapable of leaving out the smallest detail about their subjects. Moreover, Giddins has extensive knowledge about popular culture of the period that allows him to put in Crosby in the perspective of his time.
Crosby turns out to be a better person than many might think. He seems to have lacked any racial prejudice; he was a great admirer of Louis Armstrong and worked to get in him into films when black entertainers were either shunned or forced into Uncle Tom roles. He was, if anything, excessively modest about his own abilities, giving the credit to others for his success. He was for the most part easy to work with in the studio or on a film set, only balking when his reasonable requests were ignored. He was generous to people he had known in the past who had fallen on hard times.
Yet Giddins is careful not to ignore Crosby's faults as well.
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More About the Author

GARY GIDDINS is a long-time columnist for the Village Voice and a preeminent jazz critic who received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, and the Bell Atlantic Award for Visions of Jazz: The First Century in 1998. His other books include Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams--The Early Years, 1903-1940, which won the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award and the ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Sound Research; Weatherbird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century; Faces in the Crowd; Natural Selection; and biographies of Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. He has won an unparalleled six ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Peabody Award in Broadcasting.

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