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REVIEWING

The Perfect Nanny

By Leila Slimani

Translated by Sam Taylor

Reviewed by Jane M McCabe

Leila Slimani

When I read Lauren Collin’s column, “Letter From France” in the January 1, 2018, New Yorker about the literary sensation Leila Slimani, a 35 year-old Moroccan woman (and long-time resident of Paris), has become in France, with the publication of her second novel, Chanson Douce (Sweet Song), soon to be published in the United States under the title The Perfect Nanny, I knew this was book I must read.

Slimani has won the Concourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize, which counts its laureates Proust and Malraux. More often the prize goes to middle-aged white men, so the committee had broken its history, making Slimani the new face of French literature

When I was at the main branch of the Los Angeles Library downtown a few days later, I was able to put a reserve on the soon-to-be-released book, and thus became the first person in Los Angeles to read the library copy.

It’s a slender volume—only 278 pages. The Perfect Nanny is more than a psychological thriller—it depicts the lives of an ordinary, professional couple, Paul and Myriam, their two children, Mila and Adam, and their nanny, a frail-looking white woman named Louise. Ultimately, the nanny kills the children. The New Yorker article says that Ms. Slimani was inspired by a news item about a New York nanny who killed two children in her care.

The book begins with one of most memorable lines in all of literature: “The baby is dead.”

Slimani’s style is to write short, factual sentences that punctuate a given situation and accumulate the tension. She tells a dark story in a rather bleak, reporter-like style (think Hemingway or Hillebrand), describing Paul and Myriam’s decision to hire a nanny—Paul says they will hire no one “too old, no veils, no smokers.”

Louise soon makes herself indispensable—not only does she give the children excellent care, she also puts the apartment in order, cooking and cleaning, even mending. She is, in short, the perfect nanny.

Had I fewer responsibilities to tend to, I was so riveted that I would have read this book in one sitting…

I don’t mean to take anything away from Ms. Slimani’s enormous talent, but if she wanted to show the development that brought Louise to the execution of this horrible deed, I think she failed. In the actual story we are told that the nanny was upset at having to take on cleaning duties. In The Perfect Nanny Louise is worried that she may have outlived her usefulness to the family—so, she wants Myriam to have another child, as this would secure their need for her for many more years. Perhaps she was disturbed that this hasn’t happened. She obsesses over this child she wants her employers to have…

“She feels sure that Paul and Myriam don’t have enough time to themselves. That Mila and Adam are an obstacle to the baby’s arrival. It’s the children’s fault if their parents are never alone together.”

Louise is portrayed as a disturbed woman, but she doesn’t seem to possess a murderous rage within. And, we are not shown how she is lead to do away with the children she dearly loves. Furthermore, Louise is not stupid, so, surely, she would have understood the murder of the Massé children would hardly endear her to their parents—she would be about the last person they would hire to watch over a new child.

I may be a stickler for verisimilitude, but, ultimately, I don’t think Louise’s murder of them adds up. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this novel to all who would like to be spellbound by this highly unusual book.

J. M. McCabe is an Associate Editor of The Neworld Review.


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REVIEWING

Chester B. Himes: A Biography

By Lawrence P. Jackson

W.W. Norton & Company | 2017

Reviewed by Robert Fleming

Lawrence P. Jackson

When I arrived in New York City as a young writer in the 1970s, one of the major events of my fledgling career was meeting the legendary Chester Himes at the apartment of poet Quincy Troupe. My great friend, Verta Mae Grosvenor, invited me along for the afternoon meeting. Himes, still recovering from an illness, spoke softly and sparingly. His wife, Lesley, stood by his side. I hung on his every word as he talked about Baldwin, Ellison, writing, publishing, and the American racial climate.

Later, Himes would tell an interviewer that he considered himself, “an evil, highly sensitive, unsuccessful old man, but not an American Negro in the usual connotation of the word.”

This new Himes biography, painstakingly researched by Lawrence P. Jackson, a John Hopkins Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of English and History, sets those doubts to rest. His peerless digging into the writer’s life spanned probing in the three library archives housing Himes’ papers, along with journals and letters with such literary figures as Sterling Brown, publisher Alfred A. Knopf, patron Carl Van Vechten, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright.

“If you’re looking at African-American men, Himes, to me, is the singular figure that helps us understand many of our pressing challenges,” Jackson recently told John Hopkins Magazine. “People that are obviously talented but don’t have credentials and are perhaps barred from obtaining credentials. He helps us begin a discussion on some of these things.”

The early years in the life of Chester B. Himes reads like a sepia puzzle gone amok. Himes was born in 1909 to a middle-class black family in Jefferson City, Missouri, near the Lincoln Institute where his father taught as a professor of metal trades. His mother, often mistaken for white, provided instruction at the elite Scotia Seminary in North Carolina before she got married. Their domestic clashes were fiery—over race or work, then complicated by the loss of Chester’s brother, in a school blast. His father slowly disintegrated into a mundane existence ruled by menial jobs as his wife seethed with rage at having “destroyed my life by marrying a Negro.”

Himes suffered from a series of bad luck on the road to adulthood. While serving as a busboy in hotel, he fell down an elevator shaft, busting up his face, breaking his left arm, and injuring his back and pelvis. Something happened inside him. He dreamed of being a medical doctor. He recovered sufficiently to attend Ohio State University, hoping to avoid the harsh parental conflicts, and started running around with a rough crowd. Whoring in brothels, drunken binges, learning the tricks of the trade in gambling dens. He loved dangerous thrills, teetering on the edge of arrest or getting shot.

The reckless partying continued, along with all-night parties of drinking and reefer. Next, Himes met Jean Johnson, a 16-year-old brown-skin bombshell with an hourglass figure. He was arrested in Columbus for a confidence scam in 1927. The crisis building up at home and inside his head was starting to unravel his resolve. He was losing control of his life.

Jackson, the author of the Himes biography, handles the sordid details of the young writer with sensitivity and style. In 1928, he shows the reader an emotional-distressed Himes, all played out, robbing an Ohio National Guard armory with his crew, and stealing weapons. A botched fur heist. Followed by an attempted robbery of some steel mill workers in nearby Warren. This crime got them busted and hurled into a Cleveland jail. But the crime spree went on.

One of the pivotal events in Himes’ life occurred later that year when he stole a car and drove to the home of a wealthy family in a Cleveland suburb. After a failed entry to the estate, he cornered the Miller family with a gun and robbed them of the contents of the safe, cash and jewelry. He fled to Chicago where he tried to fence the jewelry and was later arrested in a pawnshop. Local cops tortured Himes, “hanging him upside down and beating his testicles until he confessed.” Later, he was brought back to Cleveland and sentenced to a minimum of twenty years in prison.

According to Himes, he became a man behind bars. In 1929, the 19-year-old smooth-faced boy was sent to Ohio State Penitentiary for armed robbery. It would be his 26th birthday before he was released from prison in 1936, and the quiet youth used his time in lockup to his advantage. He watched the surly guards, the unruly inmates, the forced discipline, the harsh routines, the regulations separating the races. He even pursued the customary same-sex union with an inmate who encouraged him to write.

Jackson details the evolution of Himes as a writer while imprisoned, refusing to play up the popular myth of the warrior-convict. He credits the lethal 1930 fire at the overcrowded prison as the catalyst for his budding career as a scribbler, jarring the carefree attitude of the 21-year-old in the second year of his lengthy sentence. Intense flames spread from the scaffolding into the heavily populated G and H blocks, collapsing the roofs on the 1,600 prisoners below. As the charred corpses were piled up in the yard, the final tally was 322 men killed, 230 injured, making it the most tragic prison fire in the nation.

Of the prison experience, Himes summed it up this way: “The advantage I had over other black convicts was that I knew my own mind. Most of the black convicts were stupid, uneducated, practically illiterate, slightly above animals…I began writing in prison. That also protected me, against the convicts and the screws.”

While in prison in 1932, he published his first story, “His Last Day,” in Abbott’s Monthly, a black magazine. In 1934, he scores with his first story in a major magazine, “Crazy in the Stir,” in Esquire. The publication, with Arnold Gingrich at the helm, published three more Himes stories. It earned him a quality reputation for being featured with such A-list writers as Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Posses, Erskine Caldwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe.

When Himes was paroled after serving seven and a half years, he married Jean and worked at a wide range of jobs to keep writing. Also, he wrote pamphlets and circulars for the WPA. Somehow, he landed in Hollywood in 1940, working on screenwriter Louis Bromfield’s farm in Malibu, listening to him hammer out an adaption of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls that didn’t work out

Langston Hughes, a generous friend from Cleveland, gave him a list of contacts in California but they were mostly Communists. Himes watched and listened intently as he walked among the fellow travelers.

As Himes later said, Los Angeles was a very prejudiced place at the time, and the only places for employment were in the kitchens in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Once he took a job in the reading department for Warner Brothers, but the big boss, Jack Warner, proclaimed: “I don’t want no niggers on this lot.”

Himes viewed the “cullud” stereotypes in the film industry as harmful, yet he knew black stars who were cashing on their skin color such as Stepin Fetchit, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and Hattie McDaniel. In fact, McDaniel said, “I don’t believe we will gain by rushing or attempting to force studios to do anything they are not inclined to do.”

The three years found him working various jobs in the war industries, while working on his first novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go. Finally, the book was published to pleasant reviews in 1945, although there was somewhat mixed criticism about Bob Jones, the victimized L.A. shipyard worker framed for rape. Another novel, Lonely Crusade, appeared on bookshelves in 1947 and was immediately savaged by communists, Jewish and black critics, who distrusted Himes’ politics and “heavy handed characterizations.” The writer thought it ruined his literary reputation in America.

From 1948 to 1951, Himes, according to Jackson, had second thoughts about establishing a writing career here. His writing struggled in fits and starts, as he held a series of menial jobs to keep his marriage afloat, but the union evaporated. Himes later told his family that he wanted to go to Europe and having a black wife would be a liability.

In his first autobiography, The Quality of Hurt, he explained his emotional turmoil: “Up to the age of thirty-one I had been hurt emotionally, spiritually and physically as much as thirty-one years can bear. I had lived in the South. I fallen down an elevator shaft, I had been kicked out of college. I had served seven and a half years in prison. I had survived the humiliating last five years of the Depression in Cleveland; and still I was entire, complete, functional; my mind was sharp, my reflexes were good, and I was not bitter. But with the mental corrosion of race prejudice of Los Angeles, I became bitter and saturated with hate.”

But Himes was noticed internationally. His French edition of If He Hollers Let Him Go, earned raves in 1949, as well as his “serious” novel, Lonely Crusade. It was published with a preface by Native Son author Richard Wright, immediately winning over the discerning critics. With his advance for The Third Generation, the writer left for Paris, where he was giving much support by a host of established artists such as Wright, Ollie Harrington, Jean Giono, Jean Cocteau, and Picasso.

Yet, in 1953, Himes was hard-up for money upon his arrival in Paris. His novel, The Primitive, was published in the States and France. The American reviewers ignored it largely. However, Marcel Duhamel, the editor of the noted Editions Gallimard’s Serie Noire, was a fan of Himes and advised the writer to write a detective novel.

“Make pictures,” Duhamel suggested. “We don’t give a damn who’s thinking what, only what they’re doing.”

At age 47, Himes recast himself as a noir writer and started the Harlem Cycle series. While the author had not resided in the mythic black community for any length of time, he knew the soul and character of the people there. He published For Love of Isabelle in America in 1957 but it didn’t cause a stir. Contrary to the U.S. lackluster response, Gallimard marketed the novel as La Reine des Pommes the next year, and it was a blockbuster, earning the coveted Grand Prix de la Litterature Policere. The publisher added another novel, The Real Cool Killers, which also became a literary sensation.

Himes was now in great demand throughout Europe, winning awards, his face on the cover of magazines and appearing on television and radio.

While America was going through a bloody, frenzied period of an organized campaign for equality between the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s through the Black Power era in the 1960s, Himes added a provocative blend of political and cultural elements to the rest of Harlem cycle series. The series with black cops Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson included: A Rage in Harlem, The Real Cool Killers, The Crazy Kill, All Shot Up, The Big Gold Dream, The Heat’s On, Cotton Comes to Harlem and Blind Man with A Pistol.

Instinctive and a keen observer of human behavior, Himes explained the appeal of his books with white readers across the pond. “White readers read into a book what they want, and in any book concerning the black people in the world, the white readers are just looking for the exotic episodes. They’re looking for things that will amuse or titillate them. The rest of it they skip over and pay no attention to.”

Jackson notes the convoluted friendships between Himes, Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright. Ellison, the author of the classic Invisible Man, admired the power and rawness of Himes’ work but criticized images of “an admission of the immorality of black women or the uncivilized nature of black people.” There was also talk about Himes’ violence against women in his fiction.

Critics accurately pointed to the raunchy, lusty sex scenes that filled his controversial novel, Pink toes, published by Putnam in 1965. Although it was heavily censored, the book still packed a wallop for its time and put Himes’ work on the map of America’s literary successes. Blistering interracial sex had always been a staple of Himes’ fiction right from the beginning. He was fascinated with the allure of white females and what that taboo union represented to racist America.

Speaking on the forbidden nature of interracial affairs, Himes did not mince words: “Emotions between black man and white woman are erratic, like a brush fire in a high wind. For a time they burn brightly, burning everything in their path, but they are subject to skip over green patches or turn abruptly about and flicker out on the ashes of what they have previously burned.”

In 1978, Himes married Lesley Packard, a white woman who often worked for the Herald Tribune. She was his second wife. After all of the womanizing in Himes’ past, she would be his loyal partner, editor, typist, and caretaker in the years of declining health following his strokes. In the 1970s, he published a two-volume autobiography, The Quality of Hurt and My Life of Absurdity, as well as Black on Black, a collection of short fiction. Lesley was there to give him an able assist.

The French publisher, Editions Lieu Commun, published Plan B in 1983 with Himes’ approval. With the support of friend Michel Fabre, the unfinished novel featured Tomsson Black, a political activist and underground revolutionary who wanted to smash inequality and injustice by starting a racial conflict. It was a scathing indictment of America’s race crisis. The book was later published by the University Press of Mississippi in 1994.

In the 1960s, the political consciousness of Himes was affected by the poet-activist LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), John A. Williams, and Malcolm X, who he met at a Harlem bookstore. These men had a great effect on his cultural viewpoint. Himes noticed the relative calm of his new French surroundings. Against the backdrop of the marches, protests, and riots in his distant homeland, Himes revised his opinions on his work and the American resistance to ending the Jim Crow obsession.

Asked about his Harlem books, he offered this statement: “They offer no solution. But they go some way towards explaining the violence of the current situation. I’ve come to believe that the only way the American Negro will be able to participate in the American way of life is by a series of acts of violence. It’s tragic, but it’s true. Martin Luther King couldn’t make a dent in the American conscience until he was killed.”

While Himes died in 1984, some of his concerns and warnings still prove timely today in this murderous racial climate of police shootings, white supremacist marches, and sporadic events of urban violence. Jackson, a superb biographer, does not go for the sensational or the tawdry but instead focuses on the man and the writer. He avoids the tabloid traps of an early biography by crime writer James Sallis. He moves past the gossip, rumors, or innuendo, choosing to just tell the facts with a minimum of judgement or commentary. That is the key reason that Jackson’s work is the definitive biography of Chester B. Himes, a very complex and controversial figure in modern letters.



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REVIEWING

Manhattan Beach

By Jennifer Egan

Scribner | 2017 |448 pages

Reviewed by Jane M McCabe

Jennifer Egan

In Chapter 20, page 288, of Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan writes, “…Dexter knew what action he must take.”

This provocative line comes on the heels of Anna and Dexter Styles single lovemaking episode, which “in forty-one years of his life, it had never been better than this,” and after Dexter tried to speak to his father-in-law about his desire to go straight (he is a high-level gangster in charge of numerous night clubs in New York City.) He is told that it would be nearly impossible after such a long time in “the business.” We also learn of Arthur Berringer’s stipulation that before he consented to let his daughter Harriet marry Styles, he had to agree to be faithful to her, a promise he had largely kept, except for this compelling encounter with Anna.

The action that Styles knew he must take was to return by ship to the place off the coast of Staten Island, where, years ago, Anna’s father, Eddie Kerrigan in chains (he was in Styles’ employment as an ombudsman) had been pushed overboard. Styles assumed Eddie had died and his remains would be found at the bottom of the sea. Anna, determined to find her father, was dressed in her deep-sea diving “dress” (she was the first female diver to repair ships that would help American win Word War II.) When she goes down to look for her father, all she finds is his gold watch.

This is because Eddie was something of Houdini and managed to free himself and swim to the surface and to the beach, where a kind-hearted fisherman dragged him home and warmed his body. Eddie took no changes after this—he joined a merchant ship and spent the next twenty years traveling the seas…

   Manhattan Beach was something of a puzzle to me, a puzzle I was determined to solve. And solve it I did, except I have failed to understand just why Eddie was tossed overboard. (Maybe a more astute reader than I can tell me why.) Largely, reading this book satisfied me that way eating a good meal does—like when you are at a restaurant and you know you’ve ordered just the right thing.

I admire Jennifer Egan’s assured writing style and her command of her subject matter. The novel is set mostly in Brooklyn during WWII. Since I was a resident of Brooklyn off and on from 1982 to 2007, I was familiar with most of the places described in the book. It was fun imagining it during the war.

Some images that Ms. Egan conjured will stay with me forever, namely, that of Styles carrying Anna’s disabled sister Lydia, who, though severely disabled, has the countenance of an angel, down the stairs of their apartment building to his car and driving them to the beach, so that she can see and experience the ocean.

However, there were times when I felt passages not germane to the story were too detailed, and I just wanted to get through them and onto to more interesting material, like the process of dressing a diver and when Eddie’s ship was torpedoed off the coast of Madagascar, and he and his mates were lost at sea.

At heart Manhattan Beach is a love story between two unlikely people. Dexter Styles pays the price for wanting to break free—he is killed, but his life continues in the son Anna bears him.

I highly recommend Manhattan Beach to anyone who wants a good read.

Jane M. McCabe is the associate editor of The Neworld Review.



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REVIEWING

Wildlife in Wild Lands: Photography forConservation in Southern South America

By Laura Crawford Williams

My Wildlife Press

Reviewed by Rebecca Shpektor

Laura Crawford Williams

Wildlife Photographer Brings Awareness to Importance of Animal Conservation through New Book

You need to hear about this photographer's wild life. Wildlife photographer Laura Crawford Williams is gentle as a lamb in person, but her photos roar with intensity and beauty.  Williams has recently attended the 2018 Safari Night Ball benefiting Young Adventurers, Inc., which was hosted by honorary chairs, Jim and Elizabeth Trump-Grau. As the photographer mingled among the lions, tigers, giraffes and monkeys displayed around Mar-A-Lago, she was able to put her ten years of collaborative work on display. 

Williams most recently released Wildlife in Wild Lands: Photography for Conservation in Southern South America to commemorate her career. The book includes six chapters of wildlife photography with captions and a backstory chapter with images and stories of her superb work in the field. The project is the result of eight years of Williams’ extensive travels within the Southern Cone.

Laura’s photography has been published nationally and internationally in magazines such as National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, and Nature’s Best magazines. Learn more about Laura by watching a video on her website produced by The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Photography, Mark Godfrey.

Laura became a professional wildlife photographer in 2001, after three of her images were published in National Wildlife magazine. Since that time she has been published in magazines such as National Geographic, Smithsonian, Nature’s Best, and The Nature Conservancy. She has earned multiple national and international awards for her photography, has been exhibited in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History twice, and has been published in a variety of calendars, greeting cards, posters and textbooks. Recently, her photography was included in a collection of images by some of the best wildlife and landscape photographers in the world. The book is titled Sublime Nature and was produced by National Geographic Books.

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REVIEWING

SOUL SURVIVOR: A Biography of Al Green

By Jimmy McDonough

Da Capo Press | 2017

Reviewed by M. J. Moore

Jimmy  McDonough

How can anyone’s permanent mark on popular musical culture be assessed?  Sales of albums or CDs used to be one sure way of measuring a legacy, but in the Internet Age of iPod downloads and endless free streaming of all content, purchasing CDs or albums is a throwback to a bygone era.  And yet, here is an interesting tidbit.

During the two presidential campaign years when Barack Obama was on the scene (first as a trailblazing candidate in 2008; and again when running for re-election in 2012), there were two powerful reminders of Al Green’s musical legacy, and those reminders were transmitted to the masses in two entirely separate ways.

Quickly: In 2012, at a major campaign appearance, President Obama did more than deliver a speech – he sang a few words into the microphone, offering a melodious and nicely phrased musical flourish with merely three words: “Let’s stay together!”

The audience swooned.  Everyone seemed to recognize the song.  It’s one of those classic ballads that’s still heard on radio shows devoted to Classic Rock and varied specials like “Saturday at the Seventies.”  And the kicker is that while President Obama did a fine job of echoing the famous recording by 1970s soul singer Al Green, there’s no doubt that the original recording is what filled everyone’s imagination.

Rewind a little bit more: In 2008, when the Obama vs. Hillary campaign was stoking the nation, the summer of ’08 was lightened up a bit by the first movie rendition of the hit TV show Sex and the City.  In one heartrending scene, as a couple working through an adulterous episode try to repair their relationship, the soundtrack soars with “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”  Once again, Al Green’s legacy was not only reinforced, but measured anew with great appreciation.  Al Green is a legend.

He is also a mystery.  An enigma.  A bundle of contradictions.  A seriously religious seeker who walked away from fame and fortune to found a Memphis-based church.

Al Green is both a legendary performer who served as a bridge figure between the 1960s and the MTV-laden 1980s.  If Motown in Detroit—plus Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin and James Brown on varied labels—ruled the soul music scene in the 1960s, while Michael Jackson was the central MTV icon in the 1980s, then it’s fair to say that Al Green had a successful run in the 1970s that still looms large.

Journalist and biographer Jimmy McDonough has made a significant contribution to our cultural knowledge with this first-ever book-length biography of Al Green.  And to do so was no easy task.  Since largely exiting the major music scene after 1976, Al Green has not just cultivated a loyal church following in Memphis at his Full Gospel Tabernacle Church—he’s also cultivated an eccentric, elusive, mysterious persona.

Born the sixth of ten children in an obscure Arkansas town in 1946, Al Green’s family and upbringing were steeped in the black church of America’s South, with its blues-enhanced, country-inflected, deeply rooted gospel music filling not just the churches his family attended, but the atmosphere in general.  Music was in the air.  Always.  And outside the home and church, there were the varied secular influences in the late 1950s coming from television and the radio.  Al Green absorbed all of it.

Jimmy McDonough highlights one particularly strong influence on Al Green: “One rock and roll singer had a huge impact on Al—Elvis Presley.  ‘I had every Elvis record I could find, and I saw every movie.’  It was one more thing he felt his family just didn’t understand.”

Green said that he, “didn’t make distinctions between spiritual and secular music to any great extent back then.  If they sang with feeling, from their hearts, I loved their music.”

That was taboo to Al Green’s father, in particular.  Much like the fraught tension evoked in the novels of James Baldwin (whose father, like Green’s, was a strict and severe religious zealot), the household life of young Al Green was a minefield of domestic intimidation.  In his late teens, as the 1960s unfolded, Al Green left home.

Years of apprenticeship in all aspects of the music world (endless efforts with varied instrumentalists and ever-changing back-up singers), plus the rising tides of social turmoil and cultural waves that made the late 1960s spill over into the early 1970s with a national soundtrack equally driven by Rhythm ‘n’ Blues and Rock music—all that, and more, set the stage for Al Green to emerge as a star in his own right.

Like Elvis Presley (“He’s remained a lifelong fan,” notes McDonough), Al Green settled in Memphis and, once there, helped enlarge and expand that city’s musical integrity.  Memphis (both geographically and culturally) has for many decades been a beacon for music lovers and musical aspirants.  Americana itself thrives all over Memphis, with its incredible racial and biracial blending and overlapping influences from all aspects of many traditions: country, jazz, blues, gospel, folk, rock, and so on.

It’s no accident that independent Memphis-based record labels, like Al Green’s Hi Records, and indie studios (at different times) have provided sanctuary to myriad bands and singers, all of them eager to escape the clutches of the rabid accountants helming the larger record labels in Los Angeles and New York.

But even a serious music-maker like Green could not escape the troubles swirling around pop stars in that epoch.  Needless to say, while his record sales, radio play, and TV appearances were greeted with vast appreciation and hefty sales (he was beloved by whites and blacks, across all genres, with hit singles like “Love and Happiness,” “I’m Still in Love with You,” “Let’s Stay Married,” and “I’m Tired of Being Alone” damn near causing a latter-day baby boom between 1971-76), plenty of high-risk elements were omnipresent: Drugs.  Femme fatales.  Con men.  Freeloaders and party crashers of all types; always taking advantage of the man with the million-dollar career.

In 1976, a troubled woman with whom Al Green was romantically linked killed herself in his palatial Memphis home.  The official investigation concluded that it was a suicide.  Case closed.

But that scandal tainted Green’s reputation, thus launching a new quest.

He had already had a born-again episode that he took seriously as a sign to change his ways, all the way back in 1973.  After his ex-girlfriend’s 1976 suicide in his home, everything changed.  Gradually, star Al Green evolved into today’s Bishop Green.

He still performs on occasion.  But his true calling revolves around his religious devotions.  Having once been immersed in all of the profitable excesses and sensual delights of the secular world at the peak of the postwar pop music epoch, it has been Al Green’s fate to hear his distinguished legacy sustained on radio shows and even more prominently on the soundtracks to major motion pictures.  His music lives on.

More importantly, so does Al Green.  In that respect, he’s been luckier than Elvis.

(M. J. Moore is a frequent contributor to Neworld Review.)



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