on May 13, 2010
I first discovered Mark Edmundson through his earlier memoir, TEACHER - ONE WHO MADE THE DIFFERENCE, and have been gobbling up his books as soon as he produces them, ever since. (WHY READ? and THE DEATH OF SIGMUND FREUD I consider masterpieces). Only more remarkable than Edmundson's eloquent and evocative prose is the astonishing range of his interests, from culture to pop culture, from history to introspection, from movies to poetry, from philosophy to music - Edmundson writes gracefully yet passionately about all. He is observant, he is tolerant and he is funny. His latest book, a memoir entitled The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of Rock and Roll, is one of the most enjoyable - and moving - books of its kind I have ever read. Edmundson describes with candor and courage, his own growing up, his on-going search for a life with meaning and all the various paths he took (and is still taking) to get him to his elusive destination. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading, people and life.
on May 4, 2010
I've been reading this man since Nightmare On Main Street, a cogent analysis on the very beginning of the horror-porn genre. Can anyone say SAW? Gee, did he call that one?
Fairly recently, in addition to the role as an in your face cultural critic, Edmundson has started another track in his career with the memoir-as-cultural- mirror book. "The Fine Wisdom..." is the latest installment and, for me at least, it does a better and more entertaining job of limning the oft-maligned 70s than anything else I've read.
Very much as Charles Newman's great (unknown) book, A Child's History of America, did for the late 60s.
No decade is a joke. There were millions of us who, like the author, stumbled, stood up, experimented, judged, matured or didn't, and finally found our souls and settled on vocations (default or otherwise) in those years. As he writes, it was both easier and harder than it is now: "growing up" wasn't lionized, success wasn't defined; there were few auto-tracks to law school-business school-investment banking to either cleave to or reject. You had to make yourself up--something that is always true, but gets disguised when you live in a society of career-path freeways and financial fear, as we live in now.
Edmunson is consistantly ahead of the curve, and I don't know how he does it. If you were growing up then, or if your parents were, you should read this book as a hilarious and fascinating overture of young life in the very different country that shaped many of the souls in positions of cultural and political power in contemporary America.
Then buy and read The Death of Sigmund Freud--a title that sounds like Novocaine, and reads like Le Carre.
He also/always just writes crazy good.
on June 3, 2010
When I was given this book as a graduation present, I didn't think much of it, as I'm not a frequent reader and tend to be allergic to preachy coming-of-age stories. However, I was taken aback by Edmundson's book in the best way possible; it is simultaneously witty, lewd, and touching, and written with such voice and heart that it makes it difficult to put down. Edmundson dodges cliches and pontificates like the uncle we all wish we had, reflecting on not just his highs and lows working as a stagehand but also on those transitive periods in which we struggle to make sense of ourselves and the world around us, in such a conversational style you feel as if he's sitting down with you. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't enjoy this book as much or more than I did, and I recommend it without hesitation to anyone looking for a great read.
on May 4, 2010
This is a really wonderful book. It's an honest look at a man graduating from college and trying to make his way in the world. Edmundson, like a lot of young people, is a quester; he's looking for what he calls "it", the way of life meant especially for him. And he looks in a lot of interesting places: driving a cab, toting amps on a stage crew, hiking in the Colorado mountains and even working in a disco. Edmundson is a terrific storyteller. His stories are funny, sharp and entertaining. As he passes from job to job, chapter to chapter, he conveys something that sounds a lot like wisdom.
on May 18, 2010
Edmundson's book is not just exuberant, not just hilarious, not just consummately well-written and full of juicy moments of every sort, but really reflective about becoming a grown-up in the America of the 70s. His stints as a cabdriver, a roadie, a bartender, a bouncer, and a hippie teacher are deliciously described, with plenty of bounce and fascinating reflections on his former self--reflections that apply to the rest of us too, and that are sometimes gentle, sometimes stinging. There's so much fun on every page, and lots of insight, too. I've been recommending it left and right since I read it a few days ago--and I know I'm going to be rereading it pretty soon. You won't be able to put this one down...worth it not just for the wonderful nuggets strewn everywhere, but for the quester's style and stance that informs it throughout. Take a look inside and see whether you're hooked. You don't have to remember Jefferson Starship, or disco, or the gritty ebullient mishmosh that was New York in the late 70s, to go for this one, but those of us who do will have extra reasons for delight!
on May 12, 2010
I've always admired the memoirs that dare to look back with honesty and humor on the life of the writer, that dare to say something about the time in which the author came of age. Edmundson's book is wonderful: big-hearted, often laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully written. But there's something else about it that I think will appeal to readers - its lack of ego, its transparency, its maturity. Mark Edumundson's done his share of living, and of thinking about that living, and now, in the fullness of time, has written a book about it. And whether you grew up in the 60's and 70's or not, if you care about music, if you care about the messy, wonderful business of finding your way in this world, you'll want to read this.
on May 24, 2010
The 60s, like childhood, were another country, and for all of the media ruckus over the years, very few writers have managed to catch the pulse-sensation of it all. Mark Edmundson has swum back upstream, pushed through the received wisdom, to give us the script as it was being written. Rowdy, pitilessly honest, but also wonderfully tolerant of excess ventured in the name of idealism, Kings of Rock & Roll puts the Fake Book aside and plays it true. To become the superb teacher he is, Edmundson had himself to be educated--sentimentally and unsentimentally.Here is that story.
on May 22, 2013
Having read and enjoyed Mark Edmundson's earlier memoir, Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference, this next installment, THE FINE WISDOM AND PERFECT TEACHINGS OF THE KINGS OF ROCK AND ROLL, with its long (and deceptive) title, sounded intriguing. What I expected, and I am probably not alone in this, was a personalized study of the lyrics of pop songs from Edmundson's youth and how they influenced him and made him who he is today. Nope, or not exactly. The "Kings" of the title do not refer to Elvis or Mick or John & Paul, or any number of rock and roll heroes from the 50s onward that might come to mind. No, the kings Edmundson refers to are the movers and shakers behind the scenes of all those rock concerts, and not even the executive types, but the booking agents, stage crews and security guards - the "boots-on-the-ground" guys who made these events all happen. In particular, one of Edmundson's "king" mentor-heroes was a larger-than-life character he met one night in 1974 at Bennington College. Pelops was a visitor, introduced thusly by a female classmate:
"'Mark,' said Deidre, 'this is my friend Pelops Kazanjian. He's brilliant. You'll interest each other. I have to go to bed.' She dropped Pelops's invisible chain and walked away."
Thus began one of the most influential acquaintanceships of the young Edmundson's life. I don't call it a friendship because Edmundson was always, it seemed, the disciple, the apprentice, while Pelops was the teacher-guide. It was Pelops who got Edmundson jobs working security and stage crew for major concerts in New York City and New Jersey by some of the biggest names in 1970s pop music. A close enounter with an older Grace Slick of the recently renamed Jefferson Starship is only one highlight of those days, which also featured lugging amps and chasing gate crashers at concerts by such luminaries as Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead. Pelops's main effort, however, is to convert Edmundson to the ways of Engels and Marx, to join the People's revolution. Indeed, Pelops takes on such mythic significance in Edmundson's coming of age that I began to wonder if he was even a real person.
There are other phases in Edmundson's checkered attempts at post-college self-education. He drives a taxi in New York City. He becomes a devotee of Robert Altman films. He does drugs. He moves to Colorado to attend Outward Bound. He's a bouncer in a Massachusetts disco. And, finally, he joins the faculty of the Woodstock Country School in Vermont, an educational holdover from the sixties which brought to mind Robert Rimmer's notorious novel, The Harrad Experiment. There, he casts about for his true place in life, while also enjoying skinny-dipping in Buffy's Pond with his pot-smoking, sexually liberated students.
There is a kind of ornate grandiosity in Edmundson's writing style, coupled with a constant peppering of philosophical and literary allusions, all of which can have the unfortunate effect of keeping his reader always at arm's length. In any case, more than once he made me feel just a bit of a dumbbell. The new headmaster at the Woodstock Country School once accused Edmundson of being a "hustling intellectual." Maybe that was it. I was being "hustled." The truth is though, I didn't mind. I enjoyed Edmundson's story too damn much to feel insulted - or hustled. As a wholly unique and entertaining record of finding one's place in the lost decade that was the seventies, this book succeeds admirably.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
on February 13, 2011
In his New York Times bestselling book, "Teacher", Mark Edmundson gave us an entertaining chronicle of early youth as a high school student in the working class town of Medford, Massachussetts. "Teacher" is a coming-of-age story, where an Ivy-league educated, inspiring, erudite, and unique teacher, Frank Lears, helps a booze-drinking, rebellious, athletic, and somewhat lost young man see the power of knowledge, and the desire of a life spent in pursuit of learning. "The Kings of Rock and Roll" is also a coming-of-age story, but one that begins a bit further down the road of the the author's life, in that uncertain transition from college graduation into the "real world".
Edmundson, under the guidance of an eccentric and energetic friend, Pelops, whom he met at Bennington College in Vermont, heads, upon graduating, to New York City. Edmundson moved to New York City in the 1970's, a time when this big city of dreams, was "dirty and chaotic, but...in its strange way a paradise," and was ruled by the Kings of Rock and Roll and their defiant philosophies of rebellion and free love.
While in New York City, Edmundson tries his hand at many jobs: a security guard at large, unruly rock concerts, a taxi driver, a writer at "The Village Voice". Edmundson lives through these jobs with a wanderer's certainty of his journey, but also with the complete mystery as to his destination: "I was nearly certain that no straight job would ever yield the great good thing that on some level I secretly yearned for."
It is not in these hourly jobs that Edmundson ultimately found the meaning for which he longed. Art, music, and literature, combined with an open heart and mind, proved to be his beacon of light in a city of chaos. Artists, from Dostoyevsky to The Who, become Edmundson's secular heroes and saints. They guided him through the foggy abyss of early adulthood, and closer to some place of meaning.
Edmundson's search for meaning is not endeavored alone, but accompanied by characters worthy of the big screen- Duggan, Pelops, Duggan Senior, Murph. Together, the characters represent not only the desires of youth, but also the desires of us all. The desire to be something, to align our personal visions with reality, to fight the oppressive, deadening forces that stand in our way. Edmundson is aware of the chasm between dreams and reality in his own early adulthood, "there were many things I might want to be (writer, athlete, scholar). The gap between these things, and what I actually could claim to be was a source of ongoing pain."
Edmundson's bridge over this chasm comes as no mystery to those familiar with his work and views of the world. Above all, it is as a thinker and student of art that Edmundson finds meaning in the chaos, and aligns his experience with his ambitions. Even as a teacher, Edmundson never stops being a student.
"Perhaps there's another strong spiritual hunger that besets human beings...and that's the hunger to think about things. I'm talking about the need to look at life and ponder and try to make some sense where none is apparent." Through this book as with his others, Edmundson shares a honest and well-written self examination of his own life- a humble attempt to think, ponder, and ultimately insert meaning, where it may not be so ready to appear. In so doing, Edmundson shows us a way that we too can find secular guides in our own journeys, whether that be in friends, artists, film makers, or even kings and queens of rock and roll.
on June 8, 2010
In Nightmare on Main Street, Mark Edmundson limned two directions in which America has veered from its ideals. Gothic "shows time and time again that life, even at its most ostensibly innocent, is possessed, that the present is in thrall to the past. All are guilty. All must, in time, pay up" (5). Its polar opposite is "facile transcendence, epitomized by the various New Age panaceas, by the fixation with guardian angels, and by the pervasive attraction to idealized celebrity images, [so] that you can transform yourself into a higher being with little or no exertion required" (6).
Ever the Emersonian, Edmundson is always seeking moments of genuine transcendence in the shadow of what he calls The Monoculture (in his 2009 essay in the Massachusetts Review). Often, as in Teacher, these moments bloom within the matrix of education. The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of the Kings of Rock and Roll traces such possibilities from Bennington to the Woodstock Country School, but in between the world itself becomes a school.
Like Franklin Lears in Teacher, Pelops Kazanjian (the central character) is a world-historical individual, an Emersonian Representative Man. While making a living working cynically as a stagehand in the rock industry, Pelops spouts dense Marxist theory. He embodies the central conflict of the era--collectivist political impulses emerging at the same time as the last florescence of Romantic individualism.
The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings is a reminder that these two revolutions of the day, the cultural and the political, were not as isolated from each other as some historians contend. Pelops' collectivist wisdom is cultivated in solitude, while the individualist expression of rock musicians takes place in big collective settings. As someone who spent the sixties as a radical by day and a hippie by night, I'm especially compelled by Edmundson's big historical stewpot.
If Edmundson was often funny in Teacher, he's downright hilarious throughout The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of the Kings of Rock and Roll. He allows his Kings to be part world-historical individuals and part cartoons. The anarchic temper of the times lives fresh and free throughout the narrative: the migrations without plans; the burning, living Tree of LSD; the aggressive erotic demands of the age--all the visions and temptations are here in this memoir-as-Bildungsroman.