A Writer's Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success
Viking: 248 pp., $25.95
Nelson George is a true hyphenate -- journalist, music critic, cultural critic, filmmaker, novelist -- whose many endeavors have met with more or less equal success in his nearly 30-year career. George's strong suit has always been putting his heart and personal convictions into his authorial voice, making potentially academic analyses of race and other matters accessible while at the same time reminding us that analyses of race are no substitute for the power and complexity of black experience itself. As this author of a respected book on Motown history might say, ain't nothing like the real thing.
A goal-oriented person
His new book, "City Kid: A Writer's Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success," is therefore, something of a letdown. It covers a lot of bases -- all of George's life -- but ultimately doesn't drill very deep and lacks his characteristic passion. It could be that George's genius is in his writing about music and culture, not himself. Still, I was surprised that many of the descriptions are primary-color and that the narrative, though often entertaining and even poignant, noncommittal. Often he follows trenchant observations with flippancy that feels jarring. Explaining why an aunt relocated to L.A. from Louisiana in 1952, he writes: "There were jobs in the factories open to blacks, and she found the whites, while largely racist, were too busy enjoying the surf to be interested in lynchings." Though there's some general truth in that, it's more of a good sound bite -- which George admits he became very practiced at, as a TV pundit -- than anything else.