Saturday, October 7, 2017

Book Review: 'All in Good Time' by Jonathan Schwartz

All in Good Time

Jonathan Schwartz

Published: Jun 19, 2013
Category: Memoir
"Welcome to the evening," the voice on the radio said, and you stopped for a minute when you heard those words, because they were so full of promise you had to think about your evening, and what your plans were on that night in New York City, and if you might somehow better them. The DJ would do his part — that was assured. The best rock, the smartest commentary on the music, a learned and rambling meditation on some amusing topic: all these and more were sure to come your way in the transitional hours you spent with Jonathan Schwartz on WNEW-FM.
When I started listening to Jonathan, I did not know he wasn’t that many years older than I was — he seemed much further down the path. For one thing, he knew the entire history of American popular music; in addition to his authority as a rock DJ, he was the world expert on Sinatra and he saw no reason to pretend he wasn’t. For another, he seemed so much more experienced; there was whisky in his voice, and women, and a lot of late nights.
Years later, we met. And became friends. But until I read his memoir, I had no idea what a tortured childhood he’d had, and how hard it was for him to survive it.
If you’re googoo over celebrities, that childhood won’t look bad. Judy Garland tucked young Jonathan in with a bedside rendition of "’Over the Rainbow." Later, he writes, "she sang it again, downstairs. But when she had come upstairs, it had been only for me. Just one person. I was special, that’s for sure."
Show-biz special, it turns out, maybe the worst kind. His father was Arthur Schwartz, composer of ‘Dancing in the Dark’  and ‘That’s Entertainment’ and a hundred other classics. From an early age, Jonathan knew Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen and the stars of immortal musicals. But his mother was always ill, and then his mother died, and his father, broken and lost, didn’t know how to help his son.
And soon Jonathan was lost. In Beverly Hills, he slipped into neighboring houses and hid in closets, just to feel the presence of others. In New York, he rigged up his own radio station and broadcast onto Lexington Avenue. He learned to drink. He was a mediocre-to-bad student.
And then came Mary Gray, the wicked stepmother. The language she uses to Jonathan is vile, and, of course, he remembers it perfectly. He recalls his vile retorts with equally accuracy. Mary convinces Arthur Schwartz to send the troubled boy to live with others. Too young, he’s off to Paris, where he scratches out a living in jazz clubs.
He meets Sinatra. Has affairs, crazy romances that keep him on permanent edge. He runs into Bobby Kennedy. ‘You’ve caught me at a weak moment,’ he says, by way of greeting. No fooling — he is slowly losing his balance. But then he pulls it together. Gets a radio job and the start of a reputation. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
No one writes better than Jonathan Schwartz on the excitement of programming rock music in the late 1960s. That sounds like a silly sentence; read his book and you’ll see that spinning records can be a minor art form. And if anyone has had funnier encounters with Frank Sinatra than Jonathan Schwartz, I’ve missed them. They’re so clever you are slow to realize what his childhood pal Carly Simon knew: Sinatra was a father figure. (Who was not averse to tough love — at one point, Sinatra calls Jonathan on the phone and screams: ‘I don’t care how much you respect me, you schmuck! I don’t care what you know about my music, you asshole!’)
There are scenes you will never forget in these pages. To choose just one: His father, ill, in the hospital, and Mary Gray ordering everyone — Jonathan included — out. ‘One more word, and you’re a dead woman,’ Jonathan tells her. And it is Mary who leaves.
It gets darker, then lighter. And you see — you knew this before, but one function of memoirs is to hammer it home — that successful adults have climbed more than the mountains of their profession. Almost more important, they’ve come to terms with their childhood. There’s no ‘closure.’ There’s just ‘living with’ and ‘getting through’ and ‘keeping on.’
At the heart of this book is a sad and lonely little boy. At its end is a man of a certain age and a hard-won sense of self. Welcome to the evening. 

Editor's note: This review was written by Jesse Kornbluth and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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