Jul. 5th, 2016

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(well, if you take into account the three-hour time shift, anyway.)

Reading and listening are the same this week: I just finished Mark Binelli's second novel, "Screamin' Jay Hawkins' Greatest Hits." As I note in my music column (see below), the title is a joke, since technically Hawkins had zero hits, and only one song he's really known for. But "I Put a Spell On You" is a pretty big signature tune, man.

Binelli, you may notice, is also the author of "Detroit City Is The Place To Be," the book I have been reading up to this point. I was impressed enough by his nonfiction to give his fiction a spin. And I liked this book enough that I am going to check out his first novel, "Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die." Binelli is "experimental" to mainstream reading audiences and only mildly odd to indie readers; sure, "Greatest Hits" is not entirely linear and features a ghost, a theatrical monologue and a re-imagining of "Jailhouse Rock" starring Hawkins instead of Elvis (not all in one scene, though), taking care to note that Hawkins actually went to jail. But the writing itself is pretty straightforward, which I appreciate. It's a surprisingly subtle and thoughtful novel. Don't put too much stock into the cover blurbs about how it's talking about race in surprising new ways, though. All it really means is that Binelli is a white guy who doesn't collapse the complexities of a black man who loved opera, fathered dozens of illegitimate children, performed wearing a bone in his nose, and titled one of his albums "Black Music For White People." Which does make it a cut above the rest, I suppose.

The ending chapter is perfect.

The earworm is here:

http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/07/05/earworm-weekly-the-many-versions-of-screamin-jay-hawkins-i-put-a-spell-on-you

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