All Lit Up
Previewing the 10th Texas Book Festival
Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke
by Peter Guralnick
Little, Brown, 750 pp., $27.95Just as Peter Guralnick's deceptively sleek epic on the birth of soul music counts 100 pages of indices, there are almost as many passages detailing yet another Sam Cooke conquest, another Cadillac presented in lieu of cold hard cash, and another one-night stand by gospel quartet standard the Soul Stirrers. In explaining why he hasn't provided source notes for his exhaustive interviews, the author's self-deprecation allows, "That might equal the length of the book itself." Of course, it was Cooke's legendary cocksmanship ("there was never any shortage of girls within easy radius of his smile") that got him killed at an airport motel in Los Angeles at the very summit of his fame in 1964. That Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke builds meticulously toward this inevitable conclusion, tracing its subject out of the church and onto the pop charts with lucid, often down-home prose, is par for the course. 1986's Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom and two Elvis bibles have long since crowned Guralnick one of the finest music historians on the dig. Which is why the relatively brief, flat nature of Dream Boogie's final chapters is downright anti-climactic, as if Guralnick too is tired of the day-to-day ephemera and ready for the reader to do the math. (Daniel Wolff's acclaimed You Send Me: The Life & Times of Sam Cooke covered the terrain via 424 pages in 1995.) Nevertheless, Guralnick triumphs in his thorough, 11th-hour preservation of a crooner whose voice did indeed make ours an often "Wonderful World." Raoul Hernandez
Peter Guralnick, introduced by Robert Wilonsky, will be in the House Chamber on Saturday, Oct. 29, 3:45pm.