Tag Archives: For Whom The Bell Tolls

Tinker Tailor

writer sailor

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 by Nicholas Reynolds (William Morrow, $27.99, 384 pages)

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy by Nicholas Reynolds chronicles Ernest Hemingway’s time as a spy and his involvement in politics on the world stage during the years 1935 through 1961.

As to credibility, Reynolds was a Marine for 30 years, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and eventually became the curator of the CIA Museum.  He references 107 primary sources and each chapter is replete with citations to support his claims.

While Writer, Sailor is almost certainly factually accurate, I am not certain this book entirely succeeds.

The book chronicles some aspects of Hemingway’s personal life such as his downward spiral into depression, his four wives, and his extremely excessive alcohol intake; though this is not news, nor is it the main point.  Reynolds also tries to tie some of Hemingway’s writing to his wartime experiences, particularly with For Whom the Bell Tolls and his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and then his final book, The Old Man and the Sea.  He also name drops quite a bit.  For example, correspondence with Archibald MacLeish and his friendship with John Dos Passos are frequently referenced.  The book tells of Hemingway’s love of Cuba and briefly alludes to some interactions with Batista and Castro.  But, again, there is not much new ground covered here.

What would be considered new ground for most is Hemingway’s dalliance with the Soviet NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, and involvement with the American OSS, the predecessor of the CIA.  Hemingway was not a Communist, and perhaps not even a Socialist, but he hated Fascism and during the 1930s was disappointed in America’s lack of resolve to fight against it.  He was particularly upset with the Pearl Harbor attack, which he believed was due to complete negligence on the part of the American government.

Hemingway’s travels during this time are discussed.  How he managed to get around on both official and personal business is interesting at times.  One of the most interesting stories is the chapter on Pilar, Hemingway’s cabin cruiser, and its role as a spy ship in 1942 and 1943.  This would prove to be the most significant of Hemingway’s wartime adventures.

writer, sailor, soldier, spy back cover

Most Hemingway buffs and literary scholars would find nothing of interest in this work.  But while it succeeds in chronicling his adventures – and there are some interesting tidbits to be gleaned among the way, the truth is that Hemingway’s involvement as a spy did not seem to lead to any major intelligence that impacted the outcome of the war – or particular battles – in any way.  If so, it was not evident in the pages of this book.

Recommended, with the reservation that the book seems to promise more than it delivers.

Dave Moyer.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

For Whom The Bell Tolls

The Bee Gees: The Biography by David N. Meyer (Da Capo, $27.50)

Bee Gees Meyer 2

An attempt to de-mythologize the best-selling brothers Gibb that doesn’t even get the song titles right.

It’s hard to understand why David Meyer wrote this book. Moreover, who is the audience for it? The biography is not a tribute to the Bee Gees, which means that fans will have no reason to read it. It does its best to present the brothers Gibb as a strange band of brothers, but that will hardly be enough to convince non-fans to purchase the book.

The band bio is perhaps best described as an attempt to de-mythologize/bring down the musical group described on the jacket as, “[O]ne of the bestselling bands on the planet….” Meyer puts his cards on the table in the introduction (one as unnecessary as most introductions are). Here he tells readers that, while the Bee Gees “made hits for forty years, they sold a quarter of a billion albums, (and) everyone on earth knows their music… they still seem like they don’t really belong.” Really? Well, that’s one person’s foolish opinion.

Early on the book tries to dwell on things that might make the brothers appear to be unlikeable. For example, within the first 50 pages we’re informed that Maurice Gibb might have spent “an aggregate of $100 million on automobiles.” Except that Meyer is not reporting this as factual. Instead, he relates that, “It’s rumored he spent… $100 million on automobiles.” So it is not necessarily factual, and it has nothing to do with the group’s music.

Meyer proceeds in this realm by telling us that a young Barry Gibb once parked six expensive cars in front of his London flat. And if we haven’t got the point, there’s a photo of Barry standing in front of his Lotus, circa 1969. The relevance of this is what, exactly?

Since this is a book about an esteemed musical group, Meyer does try to provide some pseudo-analysis of the band’s music. But his heart doesn’t seem to be in it. As an example, he refers multiple times to a song called “Marley Putt Drive” recorded for the Odessa double album. He refers to “Marley Putt Drive” as a track with lyrics that are “beyond idiocy.” This might be a tad interesting, except for the fact that the song in question is actually “Marley Purt Drive.” How is it that one would set to write about a band’s music and not get the song titles right? (If one were to write about the Beatles and refer to one of their songs as “Nobody Man,” how much credibility would such a writer have?) And how is it that neither the writer nor an editor caught this error in the hardbound release?

The writer’s negative bias is glaring when he refers to the group’s mega-successful songs on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack as “mediocre songs.” This is pretty tactless, pointless criticism, as when he writes of the song “Stayin’ Alive” that it is “a mechanistic artifact from a mechanistic genre, and tragically, soulless at its core.” Not only is this over the top, it reads like something written for a high school newspaper, overdramatic to its core.

As an illustration of how weak Meyer’s point is, he tells us that “Stayin’ Alive” “spent less time at #1 (in sales) than any other #1 (song) on the album.” Shocking and almost shameful! The group had multiple number one songs on this album, and this song was the least successful of the ultra-successful tracks. This must be the opposite of damning with faint praise.

When Brian Wilson inducted the Bee Gees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he called them, “One of the greatest vocal groups ever assembled.” Consider the source in terms of praiseworthiness. Wilson went on to state: “There’s nothing more important than spiritual love in music. And the Bee Gees have given us this love in music.” Beautiful words which reflect the way the Bee Gees might properly be remembered.

The late Robin Gibb once wrote a bestselling song called “Saved by the Bell.” The bell may have already rung for David Meyer’s account; tragically, it did not ring timely in order to save us from it.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of the finished book was received from the publisher.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

Book Review: ‘The Bee Gees: The Biography’ by David N. Meyer

The review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Book-Review-The-Bee-Gees-The-Biography-by-4826973.php

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized