Bohemian Rhapsody (by Lesley-Ann Jones)

“Bohemian Rhapsody.  The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury” (by Lesley-Anne Jones) (1997; recently re-issued) This biography (not to be confused with the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody – click here for our review) is a sympathetic look at the life of the Queen front-man, from his lonely boyhood as Farrokh Bulsara, diligent Parsee schoolboy at an Indian boarding school, to his lonely death at age 46 as Freddie Mercury, adored British rock star. Some of those from his Zoroastrian background do not see this as an upward trajectory – his cousin Diana said, “He gave up his family name.  He did not…

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Leonardo da Vinci

(by Walter Isaacson) (2017) We picked up this heavy tome in Washington DC and carried it all the way home. It’s well put-together, beautifully illustrated, and fairly well organised. Whilst Leonardo the Man remains opaque, this book manages to avoid drowning in the sea of speculation, as a disastrous recent work on Beethoven does not. Leonardo da Vinci lived and died 500 years ago, and left behind a tantalising body of mostly incomplete work, in particular, some startlingly radical and luminous paintings, fanatically detailed drawings, and thousands of pages from inspired commonplace books.  Although his siege engines and tanks and…

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Beethoven: The Man Revealed

Stieler, Joseph Karl: Beethoven mit der Missa solemnis Ölgemälde, 1819

By John Suchet (2012) This “biography” is a sub-Wikipedia standard, slapdash tract that wouldn’t pass muster as an afternoon talk to Kiwanis with early onset dementia. We’ve developed a drinking game for those who choose to peruse it: When the author says “it seems” or something “might have” been, or is “likely,” “possible,” “probable,” or words to that effect, you have a beer. I had a beer on pages 4, 17, 26, 30, 41, 48, 50, 54, 56, 76, 83, and 100;  2 beers on pages 5, 6, 36, 47, 51, 82, and 105; 3 schooners on page 82, and 4 pots on pages 3 and 7….

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Peter Lawford – The Man Who Kept the Secrets

By James Spada (1991) This is a dense, fact-packed, competently written but somewhat pedestrian account of a very strange, sad man. Lawford (1923 – 1984) was an urbane English actor with more charm than talent, as can be seen from his mediocre filmography (reasonable performances in MGM confectionary like The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), quite moving as the doomed soldier; Good News (1947) with June Allyson (see below); Easter Parade (1948), and Royal Wedding (1951), and effective 2nd lead roles in It Should Happen to You (1954); Exodus (1960), a neat turn as a nasty, bigoted officer; The Longest Day (1962), suave as Lord Lovat; Dead Ringer…

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American Pharaoh

The Mayor at the opening of the Lake Front Festival, 1973, showing his sartorial flair

Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation (by Adam Cohen & Elizabeth Taylor) (2000) What other book to buy in the south side of Chicago? TVC was only a few blocks from Bridgeport, where Richard J Daley lived and died, with his wife of five or so decades and 7 children, bog Irish and loyal to their neighbourhood to an insane degree, so loyal that they looked down on Irish families that moved to the suburbs, the ones so pretentious that they “had fruit in the house when nobody was sick,”  Having selected this and one other book, TVC…

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