by Nelson George
Derek Harper is an r&b junkie whose desire since childhood has been to be a successful songwriter in the tradition of his idol, Curtis Mayfield. Indeed, music frees Derek from the protective cocoon that his enigmatic father, an undertaker, and his devout mother created for him in their black middle-class Queens neighborhood. Derek's ambitions take him away from the comfortable predictability of his life to a tiny Times Square apartment in Manhattan. There he encounters the guts of the music industry in the 1980s: frustrated gospel singers, nefarious record producers, captivating vocal divas, the cultural stripmining of jingle writing, rebellious rap groups, and record company executives in Atlanta, L.A., and New York. The seduction of women, music, and flash take Derek around the country, with only his parents to act as his conscience: his mother admonishes against his irresponsible lifestyle. Yet it is his father's attitude that is more troubling to Derek. In the wake of their neighborhood's steady deterioration, his bitter pragmatism shocks Derek into maturity. His odyssey comes full circle, when Derek gets what he thought he wanted from life - and maybe even more. Using his own lyrics, songs of the times, and colorful anecdotes, George shows us how the threads of love - both romantic and familial - weave into the work of an artist and into building a young black man's life.
Hardcover: 333 pages