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Screamin' Jay Hawkins' All-Time Greatest Hits: A Novel Hardcover – May 3, 2016
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“Unexpectedly strange, haunting, funny and magical . . . A spectacular exploration into the ways one black musician negotiated racial and gender expectations onstage.”
―The New York Times Book Review
“A stylish new novel [that] continues a formidable and distinctive career. . . . Binelli’s magpie approach is deeply rewarding. By the end, this series of brief fictionalized impressions feels as true to life, or more so, than a conventional biography might.”
―The New York Times
“Binelli's book is half-biography, half-fiction, and its best parts combine both into impressionistic imaginings of Hawkins’ bizarre life, adding emotional complexity to the shock-rock cult-fave . . . Hawkins never had another hit like ‘I Put a Spell on You,’ and he spent time in prison after being found with a 15-year-old girl (and drugs) in a hotel room. In his final years, he drank heavily and churned through wives, resentful of his rock & roll peers. But Binelli makes him sympathetic. As Hawkins told an interviewer, ‘I wish I could be who I was before I was me.’”
“The real-life ‘I Put a Spell on You’ singer created an outrageous biography for himself . . . Binelli mines it all for a rollicking romp of a tale.”
―New York Post
“Mark Binelli is the only contemporary writer with enough courage, imagination, and sheer brilliance to wrestle the story of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins out of myth and legend and into a novel. The portrait of Hawkins that emerges is subtle, profound, and heroic, and, like all great fiction, utterly indelible.”
―Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names
“Mark Binelli makes this novel play like a jukebox loaded up with the B-sides of American history. Brilliantly mixing up the facts and the myths into an audaciously original, bleakly comic tale, he turns one old blues song into a casket big enough to contain all the country’s most bizarre nightmares.”
―Rob Sheffield, author of Love is a Mix Tape
“Mark Binelli, like Screamin’ Jay himself, shouts, shimmies, and self-reinvents on the fly, with no concern for any genre besides ‘classic.’ Few books about music have had so much prose-music. Few books about race have had so much nose-jewelry and sex in phone booths. Read and be moved, grooved, baited, and blued.”
―Joshua Cohen, author of Book of Numbers
“Mark Binelli conjures the theatrical props and mortal remains of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and brings the master out of the coffin alive and screaming.”
―Gary Panter, artist
About the Author
Mark Binelli is the author of Detroit City Is the Place to Be and the novel Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! as well as a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and Men's Journal. Born and raised in the Detroit area, he lives in New York City.
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Disjointed, impersonal, and (at times) very lame. According to the review snippets on the cover (likely written by the author's publicist), the intention was to capture the 'essence' of the subject. I found this project failing miserably on this point. At times, I wonder if the author has any genuine interest in the subject and if they had done any significant research. The snippets of fact seem "googled" and any quotes or insight are recognizably parroted from easily-available sources (most notably the "I Put a Spell On Me" doc).
Would not recommend to anyone, really. Author is obviously ballsy, and I can only offer an extra star for his artistic attempt.
Hawkins’ mother left him on an orphanage doorstep in 1929. The priests decided to offer the “colored” child to a Native American couple who wanted to adopt. Growing up in Cleveland, Hawkins attended a music conservatory before enlisting as an underage soldier in 1943. Hawkins reenlisted in the Air Force, did some boxing, drifted to Atlantic City where he worked as a chauffeur for a jazz musician, played the role of Blackula in a jazz band, and had his way with women. Lots of women, including a lady wrestler and a girl who was barely in her teens (he went to prison for that one, unlike Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis). Hawkins had scores of extramarital offspring, making for an interesting family reunion of complete strangers. (News coverage of the reunion is available online.)
All of this and a whole lot more takes place in a short novel that is rich with detail. The last chapter, wrapping up the bulk of Hawkins’ life, reads like a magazine article. How much of the novel is fiction and how much fact I cannot say, but this is a novel so it doesn’t need to be factual. Still, the book might have been better as nonfiction, given the difficulty of discerning which bits are invented and which are straightforward biography.
Mark Binelli depicts racial tension as an integral part of Hawkins’ life, and I suspect that is closer to fact than fiction. Hawkins is portrayed as abrasive and petulant, which he may have had a right to be. Tellingly, in his middle-aged years, Hawkins is quoted as saying “I wish I could be who I was before I became me.”
If there is a difference between Hawkins’ persona and his deeper essence, the novel does not explore it. In that regard, the novel might be criticized as shallow, but it does convey a good sense of the artist’s tumultuous life, if not of the artist himself. I enjoyed reading it, which is about all I ask of any novel, but it left me wanting more.
Not everything you read or hear is true.
Okay, now that the spoiler is over... this tale is alright. I'm not a Screamin' Jay Hawkins historian by any means, but every time I saw an article on the man, saw a mention; I had to read it. His musical progression is fascinating. I seriously hate the fact I never got to see him on stage.
I saw this book was available so, of course, I had to request it.
The good: I fairly enjoyed the writing and the history behind the legend.
From his being adopted into a Native American family to his schooling and growing obsession with opera.
From doing music that will sell to the white people to expanding his artistry to something very few have been able accomplish what he's done.
Heck, he was the precursor to all "shock rockers". Love them or hate them, without him there would never have been an Alice Cooper, Esham the Unholy, Marilyn Manson, Gwar, just to name a few.
He knew the secret of a good show.
To prevent any real spoilers... apparently, the reality is nonexistent. The truth is much less fun.
To tell the truth though, I feel there's some speculation to a few of the "debunkings" of the legends. That's purely speculation on my part though.
I am really going to need to re-read the book though. I can't say, after first reading, whether it's truly a 3-star tale or if maybe it's higher and I'm just disappointed after finding out that most of my favorite stories were just that. Stories.