Massive thank you to Sarah Hughes at ‘The i’ who picked ‘The Mobster’s Lament’ as one of the books of the year. It’s in very esteemed company. The full list is available here:
This is the last of my posts from the research for The Mobster’s Lament, and it’s a fitting one.
The quote is from Leonard Feather’s ‘Inside Bebop’, the first proper book about the new musical movement. It’s got some brilliant quotes in it from Parker himself.
This photo is from much later, in 1950s, and is by William Claxton. The reason this is a good image to end on, is because the kid playing the trumpet in the background is Chet Baker, who may or may not make an appearance in the quartet’s final book…
I’ve been in two minds about putting this one up due to the explicit homophobia (and implicit racism) of the quote. It’s from ‘New York Confidential’ the 1940s true crime ‘expose’ that was basically a travel guide for criminals. I’ve posted loads of quotes from the book before so figured for full transparency I’d post up some of the more odious content, hopefully it shows how ludicrous some of the authors’ statements were and are.
At the time this quote was made, 52nd Street was the home of bebop, where you could catch a set from Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, among others. Funny to think this was how some contemporaries characterised a musical revolution.
The photo is from the ever incredible Andreas Feininger.
“All the roofs are wet
and underneath smoke
that piles softly in
streets, tongues are
on top of each other
mulling over the night.”
Frank O’Hara, ‘Gamin’.
A couple more pics from the 1947 Blizzard. The first one is from ‘Life’, not sure of the photographer. The second is by Harry Harris. I tried a million different ways to match up the Frank O’Hara quote with an image, but I just couldn’t get anything to work, so left them separate.
A few more bits and pieces from my The Mobster’s Lament research. The quote is from ‘Christmas on the Hudson’ by Federico Garcia Lorca, which can be found in his collection ‘Poet in New York’. The original was written in Spanish, obviously. I found 3 or 4 different translations of it, but I didn’t really like any of them, so cobbled together that one from all the different versions. Translating poems must be the hardest job in literature.⠀
The second photo is by Gordon Parks.
A couple more night scenes from the research I did for The Mobster’s Lament. Quotes are from ‘The Birth of Bebop’ and from the New York District Attorney’s Report for 1946 – 1948, which was a goldmine of information that I stumbled across during my research. ⠀
The photos are both Feiningers, though the second one isn’t from the correct period, unfortunately, but from the mid-50s, but I loved it so much, I stuck it in. Meh. ⠀
Above is a photo of Charlie Parker and a quote from James Baldwin. I love both of them. The quote was actually going to be the front quote in The Mobster’s Lament, but I switched it out at the last minute (anyone who has the promo copies of the book will see it’s still in there). It basically sums up one of the main themes of the book – how do you cope with the roaring void? How do you deal with the chaos of existence? The photo of Parker matches it perfectly, I think. The photo is a multiple exposure by Eliot Elisofon.
And here’s an eye-witness account of what it was like to watch Charlie Parker perform back in the 1940s. I love the pork chop line. The quote is from Stan Levey (from an interview with Burt Korall in ‘Modern Drummer’ magazine from some time in the 1980s) I found the quote in Scott DeVeaux’s ‘The Birth of Bebop’.
The Great North American Blizzard of 1947 hit New York the hardest, dumping record levels of snow onto the streets. The storm forms part of the backdrop to ‘The Mobster’s Lament.’ Below are some photos taken of the storm’s aftermath.
The quote in the first photo above is from the DA’s report that proved so useful for my research for the book. There’s something very sinister about that figure trudging through the snow, and the way it combines with the ‘Fugitive’ poster on the right is brilliant. I think this photo is another from ‘Life’, but I couldn’t find an attribution for it, so if anyone knows, please let me know.
The poem excerpt above is from Billie Collins’ ‘Snow’. I couldn’t find the poem online, so here’s a link to one of his other snow poems: https://buff.ly/2UMnKsu
I did something reprehensible here, and split the poem’s first line so the design would fit better. Sincere apologies to Billy Collins. The photo is by Andreas Feininger, and I think is from the 1956, though I’ve found some sources online saying it’s from the 1947 storm.
In 1947 Billie Holiday was serving time in prison for possession, so she doesn’t appear in The Mobster’s Lament, but she’s discussed by her stable-mate, Louis Armstrong, and her manager, who are both side characters in the book. There are rumours that her manager, a former Capone stooge called Joe Glaser, assisted in her imprisonment. In the book, Armstrong and Glaser discuss her plight, and and Louis wonders if his manager really did arrange for the star to be imprisoned.
The quote in the photo above is from ‘Go’, often hailed as the first ‘beat’ novel. I cheated with this caption. The quote is clearly referring to bebop music, not really what Holiday was known for, but there’s something about the faces in the crowd that matches the quote, which I like, so hey-ho. The photo is by Charles Hewitt.
This photo is from earlier in 1947, before she was imprisoned, performing at Cafe Society, possibly the first integrated nightclub in NYC. The text is an excerpt from the poem ‘The Day Lady Died’ by Frank O’Hara, one of my favourite poets: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42657/the-day-lady-died
The photo is by Gjon Mili
These photos are of the Copacabana (yes, the nightclub from the Barry Manilow song). One of the main characters in The Mobster’s Lament is the manager of the Copacabana (who was also a mob fixer). The Copa was New York’s premiere nightspot, and it was secretly owned by the mobster Frank Costello. It was where the world’s biggest celebrities rubbed shoulders with the country’s biggest crooks. At the time there was a young photographer at ‘Look’ magazine called Stanley Kubrick who was sent to take some photos of ‘The Hottest Club North of Havana’, these are some of those photos. I added a few relevant quotes I stumbled across in my research.
And below is the man himself, the club’s owner, and the boss of all bosses. Frank Costello is one of the characters in ‘The Mobster’s Lament’. One of the inspirations for the Godfather, Costello led the American mob to their height. He didn’t carry a gun, never employed bodyguards, didn’t even own a car. When he wanted to go somewhere, he caught a cab, like any other New Yorker. He was probably the most successful mob boss in history, and he never even wanted the job.
These are two opposite sides of New York in the 1940s; the shadows under the ‘El’, and the floating neon lights of the consumer promised land. These are the extremes the book tries to capture, the variety of the city, from its tenements to its luxury hotels, from its bebop clubs to the bustling wharves of the Brooklyn waterfront. The second photo is by Andreas Feininger (I think).
The quote is from Miles Davis’ autobiography, where he reminisces about seeing his idol, Charlie Parker, in the flesh for the first time.
In 1944 a teenaged Davis, freshly arrived in New York, spent months scouring the city’s clubs, looking for his idol. When Davis eventually found Parker, he was shocked at how bedraggled his hero looked irl. Miles was asked to join the band and the rest is history…
The second photo is from the famed bebop concert at Carnegie Hall in 1947, which was a turning point in the way bebop was viewed.
I couldn’t find an attribution for the first photo, so if anyone knows that would be brilliant. Cut off by the text blocks are Thelonius Monk, Charlie Mingus and Roy Haynes. Quite the super group!
In The Mobster’s Lament, Parker’s quintet from 1947 makes a cameo appearance. This was another super-group line up: it included the young Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach
EDIT TO ADD…
Tim Clifford got in contact to attribute the first photo. Turns out it’s a really famous photo by Bob Parent which I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t aware of. Tim forwarded a New York Times article all about the photo. The article is titled ‘Is This The Greatest Photo in Jazz History?’
Massive thanks to Tim for supplying the missing information, and the link!
Here are some bits and bobs from the research I did for ‘The Mobster’s Lament’. Hopefully they give a sense of the book’s atmosphere. Its backdrop is New York’s nightlife in the late 1940s. A noirish world of rainy nights, neon lights, basement jazz clubs, artist’s lofts, choirines and wise-guy detectives.
The quote is from Lait and Mortimer’s ‘New York Confidential’, published in the 1940s, it’s a massively racist, sexist and homophobic ‘expose’ of crime in the Big Apple. It’s written in this outraged tone, but it explains, in detail, the places you can go to score drugs, hang out with gays and lesbians, pick up a prostitute, or find a gangster. To the point where it even lists addresses, phone numbers, and street corners to stand on. Basically, you could use this ‘expose’ as a travel guide for all the illegal things you could get up to in the city. It’s one of the strangest books I’ve ever read.
I use Excel to plot my stories (something my mates all make fun of me for). In each draft of each book I mess about with the order of chapters and scenes, add and delete whole sections. ‘Dead Man’s Blues’ had seven drafts. I took screenshots of each draft’s plot as I worked it in Excel and stuck them together here to show the evolution of a plot. Each cell is a chapter and each cell is coloured according to its POV character. Not sure what happened with the 2nd draft.
What editing looks like… I think this is from a round of edits on the 6th or 7th draft of the new book. The published version will be the 9th draft. Much of the stuff I’m cleaning up on this page ended up getting cut from the final version anyway. My process is massively inefficient.