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Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed…

Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus (1971)

by Charles Mingus

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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453934,983 (3.83)9
  1. 00
    The Last Holiday: A Memoir by Gil Scott-Heron (freddlerabbit)
    freddlerabbit: Another memoir that doesn't tell you much about the artist, but that's written in his own, distinctive style.

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I loved this book. I read a lot of jazz biographies, and i have an interest in jazz behind the iron curtain - and this book has enough drugs, prostitution, crime, bigotry, religion, and insanity to justify banning jazz music in half a dozen countries. Mingus's voice is as clear as the voice of his muse, who takes turns narrating the story and interviewing the musician. Fifty years of the backdrop to the jazz scenes of New York, California, and the south - the way it was for a half-black half-mad genius.
If there's a downside, there isn't much about jazz. Great musicians wander through the tale, but the tunes, gigs, and venues are incidental to the girls and the troubles of a crazy pimp and artist trying to make his way through an impossible life. Occasionally the number of albums he's recorded comes up in conversation, but not a single session is mentioned. If you want more of that, read a biography - you might also find out how true the stories are. I don't care, it's his reality and they are his stories and i loved them. ( )
  andrewlorien | Mar 30, 2016 |
Large. Music. Jazz in the fingers. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Like, apparently, every woman mentioned in these pages, I finished Mingus with equal parts amusement and dissatisfaction. It's sometimes charming, and sometimes annoying - just like the repetitive tales of a good man brought low by his times.

Many memoirs are nothing but vehicles for ego-stroking and self-aggrandizement - Beneath the Underdog certainly qualifies - but it is so just plain bizarre that I found it more entertaining than offensive.

For such a storied artist, Mingus doesn't seem to have a lot of experiences. There are two stories in this memoir, repeated ad infinitum. A) Mingus is seduced by some woman, struggles with his morals, but decides to cave into sex, and then feels badly about it. All women are sex-crazed fiends who can't get enough of him and insist on dragging the poor man down! (We have a few mentions of prostitutes, who don't apparently count as women for this purpose.)This shows, I think he thinks, that he is a better man than anyone else, no matter what his behavior would otherwise indicate.

B) Occasionally, he pops up with a strong stance on musical purity, diatribing at his father or friends, but this bad world and his bad friends are too cynical to let that stand, and he always finds himself having to compromise. This shows, I think he thinks, that he is a better man than anyone else, no matter what his behavior would otherwise indicate. Sound familiar?

ETA: a friend points out I'm being unfair - there is also substantial name-dropping of other musicians. Not much about them except to mention they loved the Mingus, but Famous Names of Jazz are strewn throughout. Noted!

Throughout, Mingus narrates his own life in a third-person voice, an omniscient narrator voice - you're not sure if it's meant to be some heavenly or diabolical intervention until late in the book, where he says that as a consequence of being dropped on his head as a child, he's always existed outside himself, in the third person.

I can't in good conscience recommend this one - if you want a memoir that tells you nothing, really, about the person in question, but is quirky, I'd recommend The Last Holiday instead. But if you do pick it up, you might find moments of enjoyment, despite yourself, as I did. ( )
  freddlerabbit | Jan 3, 2013 |
Mingus' acerbity was legendary, and you can bet your bippy that this memoir is no break from that. Well worth reading, there is comparatively little -- lamentably little -- about his musical philosophy, processes, and techniques, but a tremendous amount about his seeting mind, plus great cameo-bios of the many people whose paths crossed with his. ( )
  HarryMacDonald | Dec 14, 2012 |
Spirited, raunchy read but if you're trying to find factual information about Mingus's life, Mingus isn't the one to ask. This book is his own personal mythology. It tells you how he wanted to be perceived, not what he actually did. ( )
2 vote cammykitty | Nov 27, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Mingusprimary authorall editionscalculated
King, NelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pfeiffer, GünterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'In other words I am three. One man stands forever in the middle, unconcerned, unmoved, watching, waiting to be allowed to express what he sees to the other two. The second man is like a frightened animal that attacks for fear of being attacked. Then there's an over-loving gentle person who lets people into the uttermost sacred temple of his being
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679737618, Paperback)

A wild, lyrical, and anguished autobiography, in which Charles Mingus pays short shrift to the facts but plunges to the very bottom of his psyche, coming up for air only when it pleases him. He takes the reader through his childhood in Watts, his musical education by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker, and his prodigious appetites--intellectual, culinary, and sexual. The book is a jumble, but a glorious one, by a certified American genius.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:29 -0400)

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Autobiography of the jazz musician.

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