I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Screamin' Jay Hawkins All-Time Greatest Hits
on May 3, 2016
Pages: 224 pages
Buy on Amazon
Mark Binelli turns his sharp, forceful prose to fiction, in an inventive retelling of the outrageous life of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, a bluesman with one hit and a string of inflammatory guises
He came on stage in a coffin, carried by pallbearers, drunk enough to climb into his casket every night. Onstage he wore a cape, clamped a bone to his nose, and carried a staff topped with a human skull. Offstage, he insisted he'd been raised by a tribe of Blackfoot Indians, that he'd joined the army at fourteen, that he'd defeated the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska, that he'd fathered seventy-five illegitimate children.
The R&B wildman Screamin' Jay Hawkins only had a single hit, the classic "I Put a Spell On You," and was often written off as a clownish novelty act -- or worse, an offense to his race -- but his myth-making was legendary. In his second novel, Mark Binelli embraces the man and the legend to create a hilarious, tragic, fantastical portrait of this unlikeliest of protagonists. Hawkins saw his life story as a wild picaresque, and Binelli's novel follows suit, tackling the subject in a dazzling collage-like style.
At Rolling Stone, Binelli has profiled some of the greatest musicians of our time, and this novel deftly plays with the inordinate focus on "authenticity" in so much music writing about African-Americans. An entire novel built around a musician as deliberately inauthentic as Screamin' Jay Hawkins thus becomes a sort of subversive act, as well as an extremely funny and surprisingly moving one.
Mysterious. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. As a kid, I was told not to listen to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins because he represented Witchcraft. I still have vivid memories of the first time I saw the guy behind the music. I was petrified and intrigued at the same time.
As my love and appreciation for music grew – I found myself revisiting some of the music I was forbidden from listening to as a child. There was Prince, Millie Jackson, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. My banned list was longer than the three names I just listed, but I don’t want this review to become a short story.
I Put A Spell On You took on another meaning for me. It wasn’t that scary Halloween song that I heard every year as a child – it was now a moving song about yearning for someone. Even if the feelings wasn’t reciprocated – they were going to be yours even if you had to put a spell on them.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins All-Time Greatest Hits is the retelling of the infamous performer we knew as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The book starts off confirming my intuition about the song, I Put A Spell On You. It began as a love ballad about Jay missing his former lover, but once the record label got their hands on it – it became the song we know today. They changed the song so much even Jay had to learn the lyrics of his song.
Mark Binelli does a good job of piecing together the life of Jalacy Hawkins. The book is told from various perspectives – so the reader gets to know the different sides of Mr. Hawkins. After reading this book, I will use the word I started this review off with – Mysterious.
I don’t believe we will ever know the full story on the life of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Born Jalacy Hawkins in 1929 – he claimed to be raised by a tribe of Blackfoot Indians. He is even rumored to have over 70 children.
What I do know is Screamin’ Jay Hawkins continues to be an inspiration/muse to a lot of musicians – even if they admit or not. He may not have been a household name to all but he lives on.
Reviewed by: Orsayor