Book Review: Charlie's Notes: A Memoir by Cherie Kerr
By Kathryn J. Atwood Jul 9, 2005, 22:50 GMT
Cherie Kerr's memoir of her father Carluchi (Charlie) DePietro is "a true American story" in every sense of the phrase. It is a book about the aspirations of turn-of-the-century European immigrants, it is a book about the hopes and dreams of their children, and it is a book about the American love affair with popular music and the silver screen.
Charlie was born in upstate New York to Italian immigrants Francesca and Eugene DePietro. When it becomes apparent to Francesca that Eugene will never provide her with the lavish lifestyle she craves, she emerges as the story's monster, forcing her five-year-old daughter into virtual slavery (to make up for the servants they couldn't afford) and taking every opportunity to make her husband and family miserable.
Eugene, a hardworking tailor, endured his miserable marriage by losing himself in his work, his music and his children. He instilled a love for music into his children, especially in his two eldest boys, Charlie and Joe, providing them with violin lessons, encouraging them to practice for hours a day, and proudly tailoring little suits for them to wear at their radio debut.
When the story isn't overdosing on the horrors inflicted by Francesca, it focusses on Charlie's growing passion for music, which, during his adole scence, begins to take a decidedly jazzy turn. He and his brother Joe play in a local band where Marge, Charlie's future wife, joins them. The couple eventually migrates to California where Charlie, now playing guitar and string bass, pursues his musical dreams in earnest.
He attains a certain amount of success in Tinseltown, landing background musician roles in dozens of films and playing at private parties, rubbing elbows with such luminaries as Bob Hope, Jack Benny, George Burns, and John Wayne. In a scene that is arguably the book's most dramatic, Charlie gets a insider's glimpse of Judy Garland's powerful artistry when the singer, obviously drugged out and inebriated at one of her own parties, is miraculously able to belt out a powerful rendition of the then-new song,"The Man That Got Away" before wobbling back to her table. The song's lyricist, Ira Gershwin, could be seen nearby, silently weeping.
Although Charlie never pursued his dreams at the expense of his family, Hollywood's glitter seems to have gotten into the eyes of his memorist daughter, who occasionally seems to exaggerate the star qualities of her parents. When her "sultry and sexy and stunning" mother, Marge, was first observed dancing by her father, she "appeared as spunky as Claudette Collberte, as sumptuous as Marlene Dietrich and as stylish as Mary Pickford." Charlie, while desperately maneuvering through a crowded room to meet this combination of female stars, ostensibly "looked like Fred Astaire, zigzagging his way on his toes." Charlie's own good looks which apparently "reeked of sexuality," once made Elizabeth Taylor do a double-take which "indicated she obviously found him dazzling." It's hard to know just what Ms. Taylor was thinking, but it's obvious that Kerr has stars in her eyes; at times some of her inferences seem a bit over the top.
Kerr is a tremendously detailed writer and she occasionally gives more detail than necessary (I didn't really want to read an entire paragraph describing Francesca's huge, middle-aged, misshapen breasts) but when she focuses on Charlie's passion for and pursuit of music, this attention to detail provides for a tremendous sense of time and place and makes her writing almost cinematic, quite appropriate for a book largely set in Hollywood. Her wonderful storytelling ability pulls the reader in until we're so involved with Charlie's "notes" that we are whole-heartedly rooting for him to achieve his dreams.
Did he achieve them? He didn't become a household name, but if he wanted to live a life dedicated to music, he most definitely achieved his goal. His story, just like a beautifully written song, will linger long in the mind of the reader.
"Overture" Professional Musicians Local 47, January 2005. - Click Here to Read Review
"Charlie's Notes mesmerized me with its good ear for dialog, its fine eye for character and its finger-snapping musical motif. Delightful, earthy, authentic, immediate and emotive, Cherie Kerr speaks to our collective memories of familiar and alien immigrant homes and the common desire to fit in and to be special. Kerr strums the strings of our hearts with her grand love of her father, of music, of family."
Author of China Boy and Chasing Hepburn
"Cherie Kerr explores every high and low, every passion and fire that feeds a jazz man's soul - all the while painting this loving portrait of her father the way only a daughter can do."
Journalist and jazz singer
"Anyone who has a passion for his or her 'art' will love this book. It is simple, touching, and also a wonderfully nostalgic story. It is one of those books that begs to be made into a feature film!"
"Charlie 'Carluchi' DePietro's musical career provides exciting, first-hand experiences with some of the biggest jazz and Hollywood players from the golden era of the 20th century. His daughter, author Cherie Kerr, has detailed a deeply personal and touching account of the cruel effects of Alzheimer's as it robs Charlie of the memories most precious to him. Charlie's Notes is a vivid depiction of the unique life of an Italian American who, through his passion to play and the love of his family, made his dreams of music greatness come true."
E! Entertainment Television
"What a wonderful reading of the birth and life of a jazz musician. It makes me wish that I had had the pleasure of Charlie's company. I really enjoyed reading 'Charlie's Notes.'"
Legendary jazz bassist
A must read for all muscian's. No matter the harsh obstacles of his immigrant childhood, the ups and down of show business , Charlie followed his bliss with tenacity. The author provides a real page turner.CHARLIE'S NOTES is a must read and for the avid reader it should be placed #1 on your list for 2005.
Thanks Cherie Kerr for sharing the life of CHARLIE.
Nancy Kaye-Weiler,. music therapist for long term care.
"This book is a heartfelt tribute by a daughter who obviously understood the dreams, frustrations and drive of her beloved father. His love of music,the glue that held Charlie together through the insanity that was his early life, comes through loud and clear, as does his love for his family. While the great musical success he dreamed of always remained just out of reach, he clearly succeeded in creating a family that was bound together with love and respect. The music is , after all, fleeting, but the love remains, and this book is a testament to it."
A Loving Memoir, January 10, 2005
Reviewer: K. Gallinger (So. California)
"Ms. Kerr did a fabulous job of representing her father's life with the utmost care, compassion and truth. Her metaphoric way of describing scenes in her father's life put me in the right mood at the right time. For example, the muscles in my body ached at the repeated beatings Maria Conchetta received at the whim of her deeply disappointed mother, Franchesca. I could feel the great loss Charlie felt when Eugene (Charlie's father) died. My heart pounded with the passion Charlie felt when he fell in love with Marge. I could hear the jazz playing in the background of my imagination as I turned each page. This is a great biography of a jazz musician and tribute to a well loved father."
Italian Angela's Ashes, January 5, 2005
Reviewer: E. Gambrell (Southern California)