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on October 26, 2012
I came to this book after reading Jerry Lewis 'Dean and Me", Nick Tosches (novel like) 'Dino' and Frank Sinatra 'The Voice' by James Kaplan so I was in the mood to read more about singers and entertainers of mid century era. This book is the best of the bunch. It has renewed my enjoyment of Bing and put into context his success and the success of later performers like Dean and Frank. Interest in him has lapsed possibly due to his scattered and often low fidelity recorded legacy and negative stories about his harsh rearing of children in his first marriage. He was by far the most popular figure in show biz in the mid 30's to mid 50's. The biggest movie box office attraction, the biggest radio attraction and easily the highest selling recording artist. In the day he was the personification of cool. I read this while watching some of the old movies, listening to his music and most of all listening to his radio shows (My Old Radio.com) where his easygoing banter with guests and regulars shows the core of his appeal.The book is really well written and is entertaining without pretending to know what was going on in Bing's mind a flaw in Kaplan's book and especially Tosche's mentioned above. You get to know the people and events of long ago that created this incredible artist. Only problem it stops at Road to Singapore in 1940 and I REALLY want to read the rest of the story particularly the war years and High Society so Mr Giddins get on with it (PLEASE)!
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VINE VOICEon July 5, 2001
Incredibly, there appear to be no comparable books in print about the man Giddins defensibly characterizes as America's Everyman and the King of Popular Culture during the first half of the 20th century. Consequently, this 728-page book certainly amounts to an impressive achievement and fills a gaping hole. But in attempting to cover all bases--biographical, cultural, musicological--the book risks pleasing no one in particular and being consigned to the shelf of pop musical reference works.
Frankly, I had expected Giddins, a familiar face after the recent PBS series on jazz, to focus more specifically on musical analysis, following the exemplary study by Will Friedwald ("The Song Is You") of Frank Sinatra's artistry. But since he went a more comprehensive, autobiographical route, I would have expected him to take on a responsibility as important as scholarly objectivity, viz. reveal the "real" Bing Crosby to the reader. Giddins acknowledges the paradoxes of the man as well as the complexity and inscrutability. Then he proceeds to give his subject the Joe Friday treatment, presenting the record of the career in a logical, chronological, highly readable manner. But we rarely get inside the mind of the subject or experience the sensibility that might enable it to come alive for the generations born after Bing. Some readers might like it this way, but others will argue that a biographer's task is to construct a thesis and develop it. The great biographers seem to be part historian, part critic, part psychologist, part novelist, poet, and painter.
In any case, were it not for this book I would not have returned to the Crosby recordings before 1940. Indeed, they are frequently eye-opening and captivating. The mellow, relaxed crooning sound that I had dismissed as negligible when I heard it in the fifties and later, has body, expressiveness, drama, and charm, practically making the author's case all by itself.
The discography, filmography, and bibliography are exhaustive, though I find it somewhat disappointing that the author did not attempt to identify recorded collections of Crosby music that are still in print.
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on November 13, 2013
A most complete and fascinating work. I can't remember the last time I reached for either a dictionary or musical reference to help me through a book. It took me over three weeks to read as I continuously looked up songs or movies to watch in which the excellent references by Mr. Giddins came to life.
My hats off to the completeness in this writing of the early life of Mr. Crosby, and all who contributed to that life. They are all here.
I must recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Mr. Crosby, early recording history, early movie making or the early part of the 20th century. But you must be for-warned; this book will cause one to listen only to radios, dust off the old record collection, read only newspapers, and look to read other works by the author. This was fun!
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on February 6, 2009
My most enduring memory of Bing Crosby was of reading his obituary soon after his death. It told about how he had finished a round of golf in Spain, putted out, shook hands with his playing companions, walked off the green, and fell over dead. What a way to go, I thought, and how so much like his persona was his death. Easy come easy go no mess no fuss.
He had survived Elvis Presley by almost exactly two months.

Like Presley, it didn't take long for the hyenas to start barking. No slight went unpunished on a man who could no longer tell his side of the story. Unlike Presley, there were fewer people around to remember his extraordinary contributions, especially in the early years. Bing went into eclipse.

Pocketful of Dreams is meticulous in research and details. It is James Michener-like in its account of his genealogy. Like James Cagney, another icon of Irish Catholic Americans, Crosby was only half Irish. He was descendant from English Puritans on his father's side. Crosby was raised Catholic but his first wife, Dixie, was also of Puritan ancestry who refused to convert. This struck me as important in understanding Crosby's family problems with his older sons. I grew up in a mixed religious family and it can make you crazy. You must stand up for your right to make your own decisions for yourself about who you are and face the inevitable battle.

Giddens also does not gloss over both Bing and Dixie's problems with alcohol. In the early years, it appeared that Bing was headed toward the same deadly fate as his friend Bix Beiderbecke, but was able to pull out of the death spiral. He was able to control his drinking most of the time; something that is almost unheard of among alcoholics and usually is accompanied by what we would call today "anger management issues." Dixie began drinking heavily after they were married and that story apparently awaits the second volume. It is truly a curse.

But the main point of Pocketful of Dreams is that Gary Giddens set out to balance the record and remember why we should care about Bing Crosby. If Crosby had chosen someone to tell his story, he could not have chosen better than Giddens. Giddens has an astonishing command of the popular culture of the 20's and 30's (this book ends in 1940.)

Giddens's story of Crosby's rise is about how his natural talent as a singer overwhelmed every one who heard him. In each of his early musical groups, they were hired because of his talent. His pitch was perfect and his timing superb. He could sing in any key. He made it look so easy. He was extraordinary to begin with and he just kept getting better and better throughout the 1920's and 1930's. The same with his acting in the movies and radio broadcasts.

When he first went on radio, he was forbidden to speak because he didn't use the formal pronunciation of that day (which itself sounds hilarious nowadays.) Later, his casual manner of speaking became norm. When he first went in the movies, they made him wear a toupee and they glued his protruding ears back. Eventually, he refused the rubber guming of the ears, understanding at some level that people would get used to seeing his ears poking out of his head. His movies were successful throughout the 1930's, and it is only at the end of this volume that Bob Hope enters the picture with the first of the Road movies.

Bing's recording career lasted longer and produced more hit records than anyone else. When Bing Crosby agreed to follow Joe Kapp from the Brunswick label to Decca records, it began a partnership that defined the popular music of the 78 RPM era. Just reading the discography at the back of the book takes your breath away.

This book is meticulous in recounting the details of his movies and recording sessions. It is a treasure trove of stories and facts not well known. It might be too much for casual readers, but it serves well those of us deeply interested in the cultural era of the 1920's and 30's
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on February 16, 2015
Just when I thought I knew almost everything about this period of American music, this book proved me wrong! Giddens has written a comprehensive, informative and insightful book about Bing Crosby, the music of his era and his development as a singer and entertainer. For anyone interested in Bing Crosby and the history of 20th Century American music--this is the book to read! So often in biographies of this nature, I learn almost nothing about what inspired and motivated the artist; we learn nothing about what made them loved by the public. Now, this is different! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!
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on March 26, 2001
A serious, authoritative biography of the unjustly forgotten Bing Crosby (a more complex man than is generally assumed) has been long overdue. Finally, Gary Giddins delivers the goods, and presents Bing as what he was: nothing less than a social and cultural phenomenon. He was the first multi-media superstar, influencing not only all singers who came after him , but also the way Americans perceived themselves (or wanted to be perceived) during the heyday of the Greatest Generation.
Giddins gives us a straight from the shoulder look at a man who was neither the Father O'Malley figure he portrayed in "Going My Way" (to whom he was unfairly compared in his lifetime), or the exaggerated monster his troubled oldest son portrayed him as in an infamous book published after Bing's death. Crosby was loved by millions like a member of the family for decades, yet few people were actually close to him. Nevertheless, everyone who was associated with him personally or professionally claimed that what you saw was what you got: he was a regular, likeable, nice guy. Who just happened to simultaneously be the world's top radio, movie and recording star!
An enjoyable, satisfying read and an enlightening window into the first four decades of the past century. Painstakingly well-researched.
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on February 8, 2015
Excellent, serous biography, this is not a "fan magazine" type book. Book includes discussion of his early involvement with jazz as well as a reasoned treatment of his family life. I try, where ever possible, to purchase used books as a conservation measure. Amazon provides a selection of new and used copies for the books they offer. For this book I was able to get a very good used copy of this book.
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on February 28, 2004
Amazingly, no one had written a serious Crosby biography since 1948 - when Bing was a household name - until Gary Giddins gave us this incredible first volume of what promises to be the definitive study of the man of whom it used to be said, "the voice of Bing Crosby has been heard by more people than the voice of any other human being who ever lived."
"Pocketful" is a thorough, heavily researched evaluation of the first half of Crosby's life and career, and his cultural significance. As such, Giddins covers not only the landmark moments and achievements, but also the minutiae. To me, this is not a drawback. The subject is worthy of such intellectual scrutiny. It isn't a gossip-laden Hollywood tell-all, so if that's what you're looking for, look elsewhere.
Bing Crosby personified everything Americans of his generation found admirable: he was self-assured, easygoing, intelligent, quick-witted and athletic, yet modest and self-effacing. Possessing a relaxed manner and a mellifluous and universally appealing baritone voice, he was adored by women and admired by men, and was the nation's most beloved entertainer throughout the Great Depression and the Second World War. The across-the-board nature of his of fame and longevity - he was simultaneously the world's top singer, actor AND radio star for a number of years, and he remained popular to the end of his life - is almost unfathomable in this age of perpetually divergent trends in entertainment, and disposable celebrity.
The cold, hard facts of Crosby's career, laid out for us by Giddins, are staggering:
* He had sold 400 million records by 1980.
* He charted more records (368) - and scored more #1's (38) - than any other recording artist in history, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson.
* His rendition of "White Christmas" is the most popular single ever, and the only one to make the American pop charts 20 times.
* He dominated the medium of radio for over 30 years with his top-rated programs, regularly attracting 50 million listeners in his peak years (about 1/3 of the population of the U.S. at the time!).
* His "Road" films with Bob Hope were the highest grossing comedies of their time.
* He was the #1 box office movie star for five consecutive years (1944-48), a streak which still hasn't been topped.
* He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, and won it in 1944.
* "Going My Way" became the top grossing film in the history of Paramount Pictures. A fluke you say? The next year "Bells Of St. Mary's" became the top grossing film in the history of RKO!
* He was a key figure in the development and popularization of audio- and videotape.
* He started the first celebrity/pro-amateur golf tournament, which raised millions of dollars for charity over the years.
After Bing's death in 1977, his reputation diminished to the point that he was almost forgotten, or simply dismissed, in part due to a hyped-up hatchet job of a book by his eldest son. This straightforward, factual effort by Giddins has begun to turn the tide back in Bing's favor. Since the publication of this essential work, a reassessment of Bing Crosby's life and career has taken place in many circles. A scholarly conference entitled "Bing Crosby and American Culture" was held at Hofstra University in 2002, and last year his alma mater, Gonzaga University, celebrated the centennial of his birth with a three-day event.
Giddins understands that to know about Bing Crosby is to know about American culture from the 1930's through the early 1950's, because Bing WAS American culture during those years.
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on April 29, 2015
I haven't finished it. I'm a slow reader. This book is very interesting. It starts back in the 1600-1700's with Bing Crosby's family line. As it comes forward you learn about Bing's childhood and other personal stories, which is exactly what I was really hoping to learn. This is a truly great read if you are into one's family history with personal stories thrown in for good measure.
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on January 3, 2015
While the book was in more ragged shape than I anticipated, this is the book for all who want to know about Bing's first 37 years and how his career changed American Music. Highly recommended. Very readable. Enjoyable analysis and loaded with anecdotes about this colorful, if mysterious icon. Good service and quick response on behalf of the vendors.
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