Category Archives: Autobiography

Where’s Warhol? by Catherine Ingram and Andrew Rae

What do these movies have in common?

Funny Face

New York Stories

Beetlejuice

The Big Lebowski

Ghost World

WarholStumped? They all suggest that contemporary art — some of it, anyway — is a lie, a con job, or just a form of time-wasting practiced by the deluded. Lebowski’s Maude Lebowski, Ghost World’s Roberta, Beetlejuice’s Delia Deetz and Gregory Stark, the performance artist in Martin Scorsese’s section of New York Stories, are all either frauds or dupes. And that type is hardly limited to these movies. You can find it all over TV: in The Simpsons, Broad City, Comedy Bang! Bang!, Girls …

It’s not too surprising that this trope is so common, or that it should span decades. For many Americans, it seems to go without saying that the art world is a haven of emptiness and perfidy. Or, actually, it doesn’t go without saying: It gets said, and said a lot.

How, then, do you explain the instantaneous, bubbly appeal of Where’s Warhol? At a glance it’s clear this book will entertain virtually everyone who picks it up — art fan or no. It feels as buoyant as the silver balloons that drift across its cover. Its concept hardly needs explanation: Just like in Where’s Waldo, the bestselling kids’ series it emulates, Where’s Warhol challenges you to find one person amidst a crowded landscape. The difference is that these landscapes, real or imaginary, are all related to art history or pop culture: the Bauhaus, Studio 54, the excavation of Pompeii, a dinner party hosted by Salvador Dalí. And instead of looking for a goofy fellow in a striped hat, you’re seeking a too-cool fellow in a silvery wig and sunglasses.

The book’s focus on Andy Warhol is the key to its charm. It just wouldn’t be the same if it were Where’s Wassily? or Where’s Willem? There’s something about Warhol that seems fundamentally approachable, fundamentally democratic. Even before he attained the status of icon (that most democratic form of stardom) Warhol concentrated on subjects ordinary people know intimately: consumer products, Jackie O. –NPR

3 Stars

Paul McCartney: The Life by Phillip Norman

Paul McCartneyJust as his 1981 book, Shout!, is considered by many to be the definitive history of the Beatles, so biographer Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney: The Life will be the once-for-all-time record of the lad from Liverpool whose song lyrics and boyish good looks broke hearts and whose career after the Beatles was almost as successful as his time with them.

Drawing on scores of interviews with McCartney’s family, friends and associates, Norman delivers a sprawling, year-by-year chronicle filled with details about McCartney’s personal and professional life that will be familiar to many devoted fans. The book ranges from McCartney’s childhood and the devastating death of his mother—after which, he said, “I learned to put a shell around me”—to his love of rock ’n’ roll and his early days with John and George in The Quarrymen. From a young age, McCartney capitalized on his considerable appeal to the opposite sex. “Ever since kindergarten, he’d been aware of his attractiveness to girls and the infallible effect of turning his brown eyes full on them,” Norman writes.

The author chronicles the Beatles’ apprenticeship in Hamburg, the acrimony that tore the band apart and the beginnings of Wings, as well as McCartney’s relationships with Linda Eastman, Heather Mills and Nancy Shevell.

Along with the biographical narrative, Norman weaves in analysis of McCartney’s music as it evolved. For example, Wings’ 1973 album, Band on the Run, appeared at first to be out of control, but the band, according to Norman, “made a courageous journey through unfriendly territory” to emerge with a record that garnered “reviews as ecstatic as those of his previous albums had been dismissive.” On Ram, McCartney includes an instrumental to please his father, Jim, a former big band musician in declining health when the album appeared in 1971.

The author paints a portrait of a musician driven constantly to reinvent himself and a perfectionist who still deeply loves the process of songwriting. While Norman never shies away from revealing McCartney’s shortcomings (“the inexhaustible geniality Paul showed the world was not always replicated in private,” for example) his enthusiasm for the artist turns this book into a sympathetic look at McCartney’s life and his deep contributions to music. -NY Times

5 Stars

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard – Book 5

My StruggleIn which our author, never at a loss for words, spends his 20s figuring out how to use the right ones. In the previous installment of Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical epic, the narrator was a teenager hoping to start a novel and put an end to his virginity. Now, just turned 20 and starting college at the national university in Norway, he’s adjusted his ambitions only slightly: can he get serious about writing and romance? In this book’s first section, both goals take a beating. He’s been accepted into the school’s prestigious writing workshop under the tutelage of national luminaries like Jon Fosse, but his output is desperately subpar. (“Apart from the stupid names and all the clichés, and the lack of psychological insight, I quite liked what you wrote,” one classmate tells him.) As for settling down, his brother, Yngve, winds up stealing away the woman he had his heart set upon. So in the 14 years that follow, Karl Ove becomes aimless and reckless, drinking heavily, playing in bands and hanging out with musicians (in one memorable scene he drunkenly vomits in Bjork’s apartment), taking menial jobs (including a stint helping the mentally handicapped) while launching a sideline as a book critic, and cheating on his girlfriend. All of this, of course, becomes grist for the mill, and the novel becomes a bildungsroman about literary victory snatched from drunken self-loathing. That makes it the most conventional book in the series, but its form echoes the urge for conventionality he’s seeking. And in the context of the entire series, it’s a self-deprecating study of how stories are made and found and how the best ones get ignored. His father’s death was a heartbreaking event in Volume 1, told from a decade’s distance. He elides it here, suggesting he lacked the literary and emotional tools to process it at the time. An admirably seriocomic look at a headlong leap into maturity. –Kirkus