Written by Peter Guralnick, who wrote the two definitive Elvis biographies, Last Train To Memphis and Careless Love, one would not be wrong to assume that this protean biography - all resolute, exceedingly well researched and nothing short of stupendous – would be as good, if not better. As good, because Dream Boogie is as unsurprisingly homeric in language and vision as its predecessors, and (perhaps) better, because it’s subject isn’t as icosahedronic a figure as Elvis – whose evolutionary permeance has nigh been distorted and destroyed beyond recognition.
As such, this book covers all terrain that a good biography ought. With unrelenting poignancy, Dream Boogie regales us with not only Sam Cooke’s rapid rise to stardom, but also his troubled marriage (and relationships with women), his classic recordings and, along with Ray Charles, reinvention of (gospel) rhythm and blues as soul music. Simply put, the book is as informative as it is endearing as it is thematically secular (like the singer himself) as it is both tragic and true and a labour of undisputed love.
From the author’s note that ‘’Sam Cooke was born into a world defined, but not limited, by its separateness…in which it was impossible to avoid…measuring one’s soul by…a (predominantly white society) that looks on in an amused contempt and pity,’’ it becomes immediately apparent that Guralnick has left no personal, let alone political, stone unturned. This may (partially) explain why Jimi Hendrix, Jackie Wilson and James Brown (to name but three) are as much a part of The Triumph of Sam Cooke, as are Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and the young Cassius Clay (to whom Cooke acted as a mentor).
Furthermore, all of the above, were, and still are, pivotal to what was the essential issue of the day, racism and the civil rights movement – for which Cooke wrote the everlastingly beautiful civil rights anthem ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’
Whether or not said change has come, remains pitifully open to debate; but what is without doubt, is the purity and the endless romance of Cooke’s voice, upon which the singer once remarked: ‘’When I do it, it just comes.’’
According to Guralnick: ‘That’s the way his music still sounds: as fresh, as elegant, as full of mirth, sadness, and surprise as when it first emerged, translating somehow across the ages in ways that have little to do with calculation or fashion and everything to do with spontaneity of feeling, with a kind of purity of soul. That’s the Sam Cooke I’ve sought to describe…’’
And in Dream Boogie, he’s described him brilliantly.