Monday, October 12, 2015

Steve Knopper

Steve Knopper is a Rolling Stone contributing editor and author of MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson (2015) and Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Business in the Digital Age (2009).

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Knopper's reply:
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer. I have no idea why I cracked this 1,147-page, meticulously footnoted beast of a classic World War II history. At first I was totally lost with all the German names and formal titles, and the elaborate Mein Kampf quotations were giving me a headache. But as I kept reading, Shirer's crushing thoroughness, drawn from secret Nazi papers, Nuremburg trial transcripts, an exchange of letters with an actual German general and his own observations, took on a sort of poetry. "Thus, it happened," he writes, "that I was in Vienna on the memorable night of March 11-12, 1938, when Austria ceased to exist." And the details! The tattooed concentration-camp victims whose skin became desirable black-market lampshades for the "Bitch of Buchenwald." The description of the unusual table-leg that saved Hitler's life by protecting him from a conspirator's briefcase bomb. What explains Nazism? Reading Shirer, it's obvious to me that post-World War I Germany was a rare moment in time that a group of manic serial killers was allowed to achieve total power.

The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, by RJ Smith. More than any other book, Smith's definitive work on the Godfather of Soul inspired "MJ" -- I even pitched it to my agent as "The One, only with Michael Jackson." For the prologue, Smith reaches back into Georgia history, long before JB, beautifully describing the rebellious importance of drums and rhythm to slaves in 1700s South Carolina. "For James Brown, the One," Smith writes, "was an anchor, an upbeat that put him in touch with his past and who he had become." Smith's concise chronicle of Brown's genius, temper, guns, wives, mistresses, sidemen and music makes you wish for more than 385 pages.

Metropolis, by Elizabeth Gaffney. Due to the aforementioned slog through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, I'm only a bit more than halfway through this terrific 2005 novel about a German immigrant who finds himself trapped in a complex conspiracy involving arson, gangs and (at least, so far) unrequited love. At one point I had a rare idea for a work of historical fiction and picked up this 1930s-era New York City streetscape, hoping it would serve as a sort of how-to. I realized quickly I have a lot more work to do—Gaffney weaves in the historical setting with the characters and plot so seamlessly that you forget none of this actually happened, even when the developments become absurd (the menacing gang members secretly communicate to each other, delightfully, by singing).
Visit Steve Knopper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue