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Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Continuum; 1 edition (November 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826429653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826429650
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,135,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In the poem “The House of Blue Light”—whose eponym is where Miss Molly does her rockin’, dontcha know—Kirby says that when he, à la Whitman, hears America singing, it “sounds like Little Richard.” He sticks to his line in this high-spirited, ambulatory meditation on Richard’s America. Ambulatory literally as Kirby pinballs mostly around Macon, Georgia, Richard’s hometown, but also New Orleans, where Richard recorded his first big hit, and L.A., home of Specialty Records, which Richard made a major independent label. Ambulatory spiritually, too, because Kirby adopts Greil Marcus’ canny conception of Old, Weird America—poor, superstitious, culturally “backward,” but always striving—as the home ground of rock ’n’ roll (along with the other vernacular American pop musics: gospel, blues, country) to explain Richard’s artistic roots. Kirby insists that that first big hit, “Tutti Frutti,” a cleaned-up “paean to heinie-poking” howled by “a gay black cripple from a town nobody ever heard of,” is the first 100-proof rock ’n’ roll song and devotes the central chapter here to its creation and impact. Kirby packs his prose as fully as he does his verse and likewise runs it on high octane, pedal to the metal. He beats all the professional rock scribes hollow with this light-footed but profound little book. --Ray Olson

Review

"So much about the 'architect of rock 'n' roll' defies linear logic that his life and work lend themselves to a more digressive and intuitive chronicle. It takes a poet, in other words,to convey the miracle of Little Richard. David Kirby limns his subject with the loop-de-loops of wonder, mischief, and insight that characterize his verse, and the resultingaccount sings in a way that, like the singer's hammy, barn-storming performances, makes you gyrate with pleasure. It is less a straightforward biography than a meditation on art, music, and culture through a lens lined heavily with kohl and 'Pancake 31' makeup. Kirby's hagiography fits his subject like a sequined cape. Its fringe of odd details and learned asides affirms his contention that, 'All new music changes the world, but no music changed the world the way this song did.'"
- Candice Dyer, author of "Street Singers, Soul Shakers, and Rebels With a Cause: Music from Macon"


"In Kirby's book, Elvis and Chuck Berry are milquetoasts next to Little Richard: The former Richard Penniman channeled Baudelaire, hard bop and juke-joint hoodoo, and invented rock & roll in two and a half minutes with 'Tutti Frutti.' The Georgia Peach is well and truly buffed."
Rolling Stone

"In the poem "The House of Blue Light"—whose eponym is where Miss Molly does her rockin', dontcha know—Kirby says that when he, à la Whitman, hears America singing, it "sounds like Little Richard." He sticks to his line in this high-spirited, ambulatory meditation on Richard's America. Ambulatory literally as Kirby pinballs mostly around Macon, Georgia, Richard's hometown, but also New Orleans, where Richard recorded his first big hit, and L.A., home of Specialty Records, which Richard made a major independent label. Ambulatory spiritually, too, because Kirby adopts Greil Marcus' canny conception of Old, Weird America—poor, superstitious, culturally "backward," but always striving—as the homeground of rock 'n' roll (along with the other vernacular American pop musics: gospel, blues, country) to explain Richard's artistic roots. Kirby insists that that first big hit, "Tutti Frutti," a cleaned-up "paean to heinie-poking" howled by "a gay black cripple from a town nobody ever heard of," is the first 100-proof rock 'n' roll song and devotes the central chapter here to its creation and impact. Kirby packs his prose as fully as he does his verse and likewise runs it on high octane, pedal to the metal. He beats all the professional rock scribes hollow with this light-footed but profound little book."
-Booklist, STARRED Review


"David Kirby, a poet and professor in Tallahassee, Florida, is on an uphill, uproarious mission to rewrite the legacy of Macon's outsize Little Richard. "'Tutti Frutti' occupies a finite space smack in the middle of our huge-ass Crab Nebula of a culture," Kirby writes. "It's like the skinniest part of an hourglass; everything that came before flows into this narrow pass, and the world we live in today flows out the other side." Even if you don't agree with the sentiment, you have to admire Kirby's enthusiasm. This is a very personal biography, full of good-humored energy and insightful wit."
-Theresa Weaver, Atlanta Magazine


"Kirby isn't interested in stolidly documenting all of Little Richard's life; he's interested in him as a transformative figure who embodies a whole array of antitheses in one pompadoured, satin-and-glitter-clad person, like some trickster god of 20th century pop culture. ...A rich subject for a scholar and poet, and Kirby has a ball with it."
-St. Petersberg Times


"...it's hard to imagine [Little Richard] will ever find himself championed by a more enthusiastic and persuasive advocate."
Washington Post Sunday, December 2009


"...a huge cultural shift that Richard, unlike Elvis, say, has never been given full credit for. With one foot firmly planted in academia, and concentrating on that one song, Kirby makes a valiant attempt to right that perceived wrong."
Q Magazine, February 2010


3 extracts in The Word, February 2010.


"An entertaining read." Total Music, February 2010. Read the full review at http://www.totalmusicmagazine.com/bookreviews.htm


"[Kirby] writes with the fast-talking charm of the music he loves...a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense." Times Literary Supplement, March 2010


'The contentiousness of [this book] is refreshing, and a welcome alternative to merely rehashing facts and figures.' Record Collector
(Terry Staunton)

"So much about the 'architect of rock 'n' roll' defies linear logic that his life and work lend themselves to a more digressive and intuitive chronicle. It takes a poet, in other words, to convey the miracle of Little Richard. David Kirby limns his subject with the loop-de-loops of wonder, mischief, and insight that characterize his verse, and the resulting account sings in a way that, like the singer’s hammy, barn-storming performances, makes you gyrate with pleasure. It is less a straightforward biography than a meditation on art, music, and culture through a lens lined heavily with kohl and 'Pancake 31' makeup. Kirby’s hagiography fits his subject like a sequined cape. Its fringe of odd details and learned asides affirms his contention that, 'All new music changes the world, but no music changed the world the way this song did.'"
 - Candice Dyer, author of "Street Singers, Soul Shakers, and Rebels With a Cause: Music from Macon"


“In Kirby’s book, Elvis and Chuck Berry are milquetoasts next to Little Richard:  The former Richard Penniman channeled Baudelaire, hard bop and juke-joint hoodoo, and invented rock & roll in two and a half minutes with 'Tutti Frutti.' The Georgia Peach is well and truly buffed.”
Rolling Stone

"In the poem “The House of Blue Light”—whose eponym is where Miss Molly does her rockin’, dontcha know—Kirby says that when he, à la Whitman, hears America singing, it “sounds like Little Richard.” He sticks to his line in this high-spirited, ambulatory meditation on Richard’s America. Ambulatory literally as Kirby pinballs mostly around Macon, Georgia, Richard’s hometown, but also New Orleans, where Richard recorded his first big hit, and L.A., home of Specialty Records, which Richard made a major independent label. Ambulatory spiritually, too, because Kirby adopts Greil Marcus’ canny conception of Old, Weird America—poor, superstitious, culturally “backward,” but always striving—as the homeground of rock ’n’ roll (along with the other vernacular American pop musics: gospel, blues, country) to explain Richard’s artistic roots. Kirby insists that that first big hit, “Tutti Frutti,” a cleaned-up “paean to heinie-poking” howled by “a gay black cripple from a town nobody ever heard of,” is the first 100-proof rock ’n’ roll song and devotes the central chapter here to its creation and impact. Kirby packs his prose as fully as he does his verse and likewise runs it on high octane, pedal to the metal. He beats all the professional rock scribes hollow with this light-footed but profound little book."
-Booklist, STARRED Review


"David Kirby, a poet and professor in Tallahassee, Florida, is on an uphill, uproarious mission to rewrite the legacy of Macon’s outsize Little Richard. “'Tutti Frutti’ occupies a finite space smack in the middle of our huge-ass Crab Nebula of a culture,” Kirby writes. “It’s like the skinniest part of an hourglass; everything that came before flows into this narrow pass, and the world we live in today flows out the other side.” Even if you don’t agree with the sentiment, you have to admire Kirby’s enthusiasm. This is a very personal biography, full of good-humored energy and insightful wit."
-Theresa Weaver, Atlanta Magazine


"…it’s hard to imagine [Little Richard] will ever find himself championed by a more enthusiastic and persuasive advocate."
Washington Post Sunday, December 2009


'The contentiousness of [this book] is refreshing, and a welcome alternative to merely rehashing facts and figures.' Record Collector
(Sanford Lakoff)

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Customer Reviews

This is one of the best books on music that I know.
David Graham
As a huge fan of both Little Richard and early rock n roll history I was very excited when I heard about the book.
Mark Twain
True, LR is a masterful muscian, but David Kirby weaves a memorable story of the real LR.
Hilary Hyland

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Carey O. Pickard on December 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Read this book. David Kirby's vibrant prose left me with an entirely new appreciation of "the architect". As a Maconite, I've long been aware of the special place Little Richard holds in the history of rock n' roll, however, not until I read this well-researched book did I understand the breadth and depth of Penniman's influence. Kudos to Kirby for an important addition to the understanding of an extraordinary musician.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By justin brooke on January 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In the introduction to this new Little Richard biography, poet David Kirby lets us know right off what kind of book this is going to be."If this book were a car," he declares, "it'd be a hooptie -- an Oldsmobile 88, say."
Kirby proceeds to take us on a fast and bumpy (yet stylin') ride through the mad career of The Georgia Peach: Mr. Richard Wayne Penniman. Along the way we're treated to Kirby's witty, poetical musings on pop music, the 1950s, the "Old, Weird America", Gay Macon, and the occasional Chuck Berry zinger. In fact Kirby drives us right into the heart -- I mean the birth -- of Rock `n' Roll.
Strangely, it's not so much the biography of a man, but the biography of a song. "Tutti Frutti" was Richard's breakout 1955 single, and it must have horrified people when it first erupted from A.M. radios. Kirby asks: how exactly did a song like that come to be?
He begins with Richard's magical incantation: A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom, a phrase born in the dish pit of the Macon Greyhound Station, where young Richard used it as a way to curse out his boss. We see it evolve from there into a bar song about anal sex, and then (as Kirby claims) into the world's first Rock 'n' Roll song.
Try as he might, Kirby is never able to nail down an interview with The Queen of Rock `n' Roll himself. The closest he gets is a phone conversation with the man at the home of Willie Ruth Howard, Richard's cousin. Here, in a hilarious exchange, Little Richard tricks Kirby into giving Willie Ruth 88 dollars.
Little Richard: The Birth of Rock `n' Roll is a funny, strange, and totally fitting tribute to a long-overlooked genius. Was "Tutti Frutti" really the "first" Rock `n' Roll song, as Kirby insists? Sure, I'll buy that. And even if you disagree, I think you'll love this book anyway. Any musician, music-lover, or lover of weirdness should hop on in.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mark Twain on December 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a huge fan of both Little Richard and early rock n roll history I was very excited when I heard about the book. I was also apprehensive worried that someone would screw up a piece of history I love (See: Cadillac Records). However, after the introduction I knew Little Richard was in safe hands with Kirby.

David Kirby is a passionate writing who makes grand statements: i.e. Tutti Frutti is the center of western culture. But by god, he backs it up with one hell of an argument in this book.

If you are already a fan of Little Richard, you'll love this book and have further appreciation for the Georgia Peach. If you're new to little Richard or just a fan of Rock n Roll this book might be the beginning of a beautiful relationship
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By It's on January 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I read way too many rock 'n' roll biographies. I could be filling my head with interesting socio-political tomes (which I do read on occasion) or treatises on the latest thoughts on victims' rights or whathaveyou, but instead I read typically badly-written stories of people who may or may not be remembered in another ten years for wielding their cigarette-burned axes all over the world with fellow drug-addled losers... Okay, maybe not all of them are that bad, but you know what I mean.

Well, anyway, my pal Dick and his wife gave me a nice gift certificate to a book store and I bought this here book, Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'N' Roll, by a real life professor of English, David Kirby. It's a small thing, suitably decorated in a mid-2oth century pink cover design depicting our own Richard Penniman looking his straightest best, more than likely belting out "Tutti Frutti" or one of his other hits. In fact, Kirby's main premise in this book is that that song is the most important in the history of rock, and based on his very erudite and quite humorous arguments, he may just be right. This book isn't exactly a biography, though, because Kirby doesn't present "just the facts, m'am" like most do--he gives you basic facts 'n' figures but he surrounds them with his very interesting anecdotes and observations of Macon, Georgia (where Richard was born), of the man's bi/gay persuasion, of his lifelong swingin' back 'n' forth from absolutely primordial rock 'n' roll screamer to good-boy churchgoer. Kirby, a prof at Florida State U., makes this such an entertaining and energizing read, you just gotta get out your 18 Greatest Hits CD (on Rhino) or any one of the other packages of Little Richard's awesome songs and start boogieing right there on the floor in front of God and everybody.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David Graham on January 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best books on music that I know. Not exactly a biography, certainly not musicology, not history, either--its hidden-in-plain-view secret is that it's not *exactly* anything. Instead it's a tasty gumbo, a most varied carol, a rousing, splendid book-length essay centering around but hardly limited to the cultural importance of Little Richard and his song "Tutti Frutti." Full of great stories and arresting information, it's also got to be one of the most entertaining books on music ever written. If you know Kirby's poetry, you won't be surprised to find that it's also seriously funny. Roll over, Greil Marcus, and tell Guralnick the news!
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