Wednesday , February 28 2024
This is a brilliantly written but depressing book about a man who holds both himself and nearly everyone else in contempt.

Book Review: ‘Ghosts and Ballyhoo: Memoirs of a Failed L.A. Music Journalist’ by Thomas Wictor

Thomas Wictor writes very well. He has a particular gift for description that plants vivid images in the mind’s eye. His ability as a writer sustained me for about 200 pages of the 272 pages of Ghosts and Ballyhoo, but by the end frankly I was fed up with Wictor and just slogging through the rest of it.

ghostsandballyhooSeeing other reviews online, I know that other people reacted very positively to the book. This reviewer finds it hard to understand why. It is a thoroughly depressing memoir by a man who is miserable for the majority of the book.

Very little of this book is about music,  so don’t pick it up expecting that it will be. Wictor does not appear to be interested in any aspect of music except for bass players and the only bass players who get a substantial amount of mention in the book are Scott Thunes, who was Frank Zappa’s bassist, and Gene Simmons.

Thunes appears to be one of the few people Wictor genuinely likes and whole sections of the book are given over to excerpts from an interview Wictor did with him. These interludes occur at what appear to be random places in the book and are strange to find in a memoir devoted to someone else.

Most of the book is devoted to detailing Wictor’s failures and the traumatic things that happen to him. He has a series of failed relationships with small, dark-haired female musicians who start out as goddesses and then turn inexplicably cruel and evil. Wictor tells excruciatingly intimate details about these women and his relationships and he himself is very cruel in some of the things he says about them. At no point does he acknowledge that he did anything to cause all of these women to turn on him in the ways that they did.

But it is not only women who let Wictor down. Editors, friends, and casual strangers also fail to live up to his expectations. Even the couple he is friends with the longest eventually drop him. People who come to his book readings are either insulting or morons. Every party he goes to is full of deadly dull people and no one is able to carry on a conversation except him. He hates every movie he goes to and he is shocked and appalled when he tells truly disgusting stories (detailed in the book) and no one laughs.

He looks at people or meets them for just a few  moments and immediately decides he does not like them. He writes cuttingly of their appearance or the sound of their voice and he writes them off in exceedingly insulting ways and seems to think that is all right since he doesn’t actually give their names in the book.

When Wictor’s articles get rejected by the magazine he writes for, Bass Player, it seems from what he tells us here that he never sends them off to some other magazine. He just assumes that he is doomed to fail and takes it to heart forever as another example of how the world hates him. When he is unhappy with an experience he has with someone, he writes them harsh letters that tear them to shreds. Never does he stop to examine what he may have done to contribute to these experiences.

If you enjoy reading brilliant writing about a self-centered man who is willing to tell anything about anyone he has every known (without giving their real names) and who is one of the most judgmental people this reviewer has come across in literature, you will enjoy this book. Other reviewers are praising it. This reviewer, by the end, found it nearly impossible not to throw against the wall.

About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.

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