Books

'Screamin' Jay Hawkins' All-Time Greatest Hits' Is a Fun, But at Times Frustrating Read

Binelli has his finger on the pulse of pop culture in this era, but Jay himself, as presented here, lacks a pulse.


Screamin Jay Hawkins' All-Time Greatest Hits

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Price: $26.00
Author: Mark Binelli
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2016-05
Amazon

As any showman knows, there’s no better way to hook an audience than by making a spectacular entrance. At a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ show, the singer burst forth from a coffin borne onstage by shuffling pallbearers, starting every performance with a resurrection. Author Mark Binelli begins his novelization of Hawkins' life, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins All-Time Greatest Hits, with this same signature scene; unfortunately it’s simply the first occasion on which the author fails to exceed his subject.

Screamin’ Jay belonged to the rough and tumble first generation of rock 'n' roll. He's primarily remembered for two things: firstly for his one and only hit, “I Put a Spell on You”, an eerie, unique, supernaturally-inflected dirge that’s since been covered by artists like Nina Simone and CCR, and; secondly, for his outrageous live shows, which included the aforementioned coffin and other outré embellishments that played on racial and religious taboos, like a witch-doctor’s bone through his nose. Binelli vividly evokes various scenes from Hawkins’ life, such as meeting Fats Domino, contemplating the racial dynamics of the crowd while boxing in Alaska, surreptitiously buying a coffin for unusual purposes, and even one scene without Jay, a family “reunion” held for all of Jay’s illegitimate children across the country to meet each other.

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