The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

Leslie Jamison

With a somber tone, intricate detail and multilayered storytelling, Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath lays bare the myths surrounding artists and addiction. The work consists of several narratives following the same current.

In tandem with the author’s account of her own spiral into alcoholism, she meticulously examines the lives and work of writers who inspire her, exposing the turmoil of addiction plaguing Raymond Carver, Billie Holiday, David Foster Wallace and more. On top of this, she unpacks America’s long relationship with addicts and lastly tells the stories of the biker, the nurse and countless others occupying the folding chairs in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Jamison’s exploration of how culture impacts the direction that addiction takes people is, while not new, framed in a nuanced context, giving new breath and voice to an old problem. The author’s own alcohol dependence led her to a church basement where she received coffee, a sponsor and endless encouragement. Meanwhile, her nonwhite countrymen follow the path of substance abuse to federal penitentiaries.

Jamison at times seems adamant that readers dislike her, force-feeding her selfishness onto the page lest her audience suspect an ounce of goodness resides in her. Even the sober scenes of her personal narrative pulse with notes of disgust, trucking beyond humility and resembling self-loathing. Even so, this book reads like a fine poem.

Encompassing depth adorned with eloquence and a marriage of memoir and research, the message is important and should serve to shatter our romanticism of the altered artist’s contributions. Jamison digs deeply into the mythical cloud billowing around writers and what’s in their glass, proving sobriety is a creative force to be lauded.

— Christina Ledbetter

Associated Press

Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)

Derek Smalls

This album answers a question no one was asking: Is Derek Smalls still alive?

Smalls was once a bit player in the two-bit heavy metal band Spinal Tap, a group long forgotten except for being the subject of a 1984 mockumentary that ranks among the best movies ever. Now the British bassist (played by comedian Harry Shearer) is attempting a comeback with his solo debut at age 77, and the result is so bad it’s funny. Actually, it’s hilarious.

The sludgy arrangements are thick with every cliche known to metal, from the opening flute to a recitation and brass fanfare, followed by boogie beats, operatic female vocals, syrupy strings and hysterical solos. All that’s missing is an umlaut.

Equally predictable is the subject matter, which ranges from Satan’s hairline (Hell Toupee) and MRIs (MRI) to cellphones as a pain in the rear (Butt Call, bringing the backside to the forefront as the Tap’s Big Bottom once did).

An impressive supporting cast includes Donald Fagen, David Crosby, Richard Thompson, Steve Vai, Rick Wakeman and Dweezil Zappa. Alas, Smalls’ explanation for how he recruited such a Hall of Fame lineup is too bawdy to be repeated on the internet, much less in print.

The rock ’n’ roll lifestyle has clearly taken a toll on Smalls’ voice, and he sings like a character on The Simpsons. A couple of tunes go on too long, a reminder it’s a fine line between stupid and clever.

But criticisms aside, there’s wit in nearly every couplet, and the album should play well with Smalls’ demographic — septuagenarians who wear spandex.

— Steven Wine

Associated Press