But Beautiful (Geoff Dyer)

Even Dyer doesn’t know what this is. In the Preface, he explains the evolution of his ideas about its format and ends up with this conclusion: “What follows, then, is as much imaginative criticism as fiction” (the italics are his). As with all historical fiction that includes real people, this approach worries me. I can see examples of how the form of his writing is meant to mirror the particular musical style of the artist he’s writing about (long wandering sentences for Monk, for example), but I’m left here wondering how to sort out the truth.
Far more useful, I thought, is the Afterwords, which he calls supplemental to the main body of this work and not integral. In it, he offers the most cogent analysis of why so many artists, and particular jazz musicians, struggled with addictions and mental health. This is not the superficial, “You have to be mad to be great” argument. It’s much more thoughtful and persuasive than that.

So, buyer beware. Read it for its form and for the afterword. Take advantage of the discography Dyer offers; he seems to know his stuff. But if you’re looking to learn something about Chet Baker and others, this is not a reliable place.

Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake.