Back When People Lived Lives

We are seeing a lot of the big publishers (and some of the independents) pushing their spring non-fiction releases toward the fall. There is no use pushing good books into a weak market, and with physical bookstores closed, Amazon deprioritizing book sales, and mail delivery slow, this is a weak market.

How weak? It’s hard to read the U.S. because Easter is early this year and Americans buy a lot of Easter books, throwing year-over-year comparisons out of whack. In Canada, business would appear to be down by at least a third. So weak, weak, very weak.

Nevertheless, there have been some big celebrity biographies launched into the teeth of the pandemic. Here are some of the more interesting.

Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown is Anne Glenconner’s account of her life in the royal circle. She was a childhood friend of Queen Elizabeth II and especially close to Princess Margaret, to whom she was lady in waiting for three decades.

Young Anne had a governess who would punish her by tying her hands behind her back and leaving her like that all night, a mother who wore a hat with a sculpture of a duck in a pond with actual water, and a father who wanted his daughter to marry one of his best friends, and she lost a favorite suitor to rumors of her family having “mad blood” (relatives had been parked in asylums). So the usual royal stuff.

She was maid of honor at the Queen’s Coronation and required smelling salts to keep from fainting (the Queen herself was unflappable). She was married for fifty-four years and had five children with Colin Tennant, later Lord Glenconner, who owned a swath of Scotland. He took her to cockfights, wore paper underwear so he could actually eat his shorts as a party trick, and rewarded his wife’s loyalty by leaving his fortune to his manservant. “A terrible humiliation,” she says. As for the children, one died of an AIDS-related illness, another was a heroin addict who died of hepatitis C, and a third crashed his motorcycle and spent four months in a coma.

There’s much on Princess Margaret (that’s her with the Glenconners above) and a lot of fascinating detail on how the Glenconners bought Mustique, a 1,300-acre Caribbean wasteland with no running water or electricity for £45,000 in 1958 (it had been on the market for five years) and turned it into the A-list party island. Lord Glenconner built Princess Margaret a house. Together they threw fabulous parties (the trees were painted gold). Before long David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Bryan Adams, Tommy Hilfiger, Shania Twain, and Mick Jagger (top with Lady Glenconner and Rupert Everett) were building and buying houses there, too.

The island really took off after the Queen’s visit in 1977. Mustique’s management company (it remained a privately-owned property) would show prospective residents and investors Macaroni Bay and say: “The Queen swam here last week, and we haven’t changed the water since.”

Lady Glenconner (in happier times with the lord, above) was royally pissed when her husband left their home on the island to his servant. “I despaired. Going against everything my mother had always taught me, I let emotion take over and I screamed and screamed into the pitch-black night.”

Patsy Cline died in a 1963 plane crash at the age of thirty after playing three standing-room-only shows in one day at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City. Her career was only about six years long but included such classics as “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Crazy”—more than enough to establish her as one of the most influential American recording stars in history.

About a decade ago, Ellis Nassour wrote Honky Tonk Angel, a good biography of Cline chronicling her rise in the boys’ world of Nashville, her foul mouth and free-living ways and violent relationships, her devastating financial mistakes, among much else. Now we add to the Cline library a weirdly compelling memoir from Loretta Lynn: Me & Patsy Kickin’ Up Dust: My Friendship with Patsy Cline.

For Lynn, who, of course, rivals her friend as a leading influence in the world of country music, her first glimpse of Cline was life-changing:

The first time I ever laid eyes on Patsy Cline, it was 1957…. That night the Arthur Godfrey show came on—Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, it was called. That’s the first time I ever seen Patsy. When she come on, boy, it caught my eye. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She sung like she was singing just for one person watchin’. She sang ‘Walkin After Midnight.’ Her voice was so powerful. So rich and pretty with a real lonesome sound…. I had a real good feelin’ about Patsy Cline. I felt real proud of her somehow, like was were connected, even though we’d never met.

Yes, Loretta Lynn’s authorial voice sounds like she’s playing herself in a movie. Cline gave her confidence that she could make it as a professional singer. She bought a pair of white Acme boots, a western shirt, a skirt with a fringe on it, a white cowboy hat, just like Patsy, and was soon on her own way to fame.

Lynn and Cline later met and became fast friends, although they knew each other only two years. “Me and Patsy would be sitting on the couch and we’d be telling each other stories that we knew were lies. We’d get to wrastling and fall out on the floor.”

Cline taught Lynn how to not take shit from anyone and gave her a pair of lace panties to spice up her marriage. Lynn wore them for four years.

Long after Cline died, Lynn would have visions of her, like the time she was nervous before a concert in Vegas:

I just put my guitar strap around my neck and though ‘I just have to try.’ I closed my eyes, opened my eyes, and Patsy was sitting right above, about six feet up, in her little stretchy pants and white blouse, looking down at me smiling. Then, I went right through the show and never made a boo-boo.”

For me, like a lot of people, spring arrives with the Masters golf tournament. I watch as much to see the greenery and the blossoms and to hear the birds as to follow the players. There is no Masters this year (or at least not this spring) but there is a new book about last year’s champion, Tiger Woods.

Michael Bamberger’s The Second Life of Tiger Woods follows the man who still might be the world’s most famous athlete from the devastating revelations of his compulsive sexual behavior and the implosion of his marriage over the many other bumps that followed to his eventual one-stroke triumph in Augusta last year. There is a lot of great material about Woods’ life in Jupiter, Florida and the social dynamics of the professional tour, and about the various medical problems he has dealt with in recent years. There is a deep discussion of whether or not Woods used performance-enhancing drugs and whether they contributed to those various medical problems.

And there are scenes like this one from May, 2017, the last humiliating incident that is said to have triggered Woods’ comeback:

Tiger was in a holding cell at the Palm Beach county jail at four in the morning. He was about to take a Breathalyzer test. A police officer was posing a series of boilerplate questions. Tiger was barefoot and hatless. He was wearing baggy workout shorts and a long-sleeved Nike running shirt. His cuffed hands were behind his back and he was unsteady on his narrow feet. He was forty-one and not ready for his close-up. Still, he soldiered on, as pros do.
Home address, Mr. Woods.
Your date of birth
Your height, your weight
Your eye color
Your hair color
“Mostly brown,” Tiger said to the last. “And fading.”