Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Will Power

Last week my roommate got back from the thrift store with a stack of books he'd pulled off the shelf, most for 50¢ each. On top of the stack was this book, Will Power! A Biography of Will Smith, by Jan Berenson. You've seen this kind of book before. It has a "bonus color photo insert" and way more exclamations and scare quotes than is generally considered healthy for writers to use. In this book things aren't top-notch, they're "top-notch!" which makes sense, since Berenson's other writing credits include Meet the V. R. Troopers and Sister, Sister, Sister; Getting Along at Full House.1

So why would I actually read this book? Well, for one, I've had good experience with this genre. While at BYU I was thrilled and excited by Sting: Every Breath He Takes by Barney Cohen.2 For two, if I didn't read it I would've missed out on the following sentences:

As [DJ Jazzy] Jeff recalled in an article in Disney Adventures, "I was the best DJ in Philadelphia and I had heard of Will, but I already had someone that I worked with."

The successes, and the slings and arrows aimed at them because of it, would follow them for the next decade.3

Like Rock the House, this new album [He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper] reflected Will and Jeff's irreverent sense of humor and flippant approach to everyday life. It wasn't so much hip-hop as flip-hop!
Perhaps the most provocative passage in the book is this one, both for its unexpected sophistication and its grammatical difficulty:
To some in the rap community, what the frothy "Parents [Just Don't Understand]" had done was not so much crown Will and Jeff kings, but open the door of rap music to a more mainstream—read: white—audience.

Maybe I haven't become my dad at all.

Also, if I hadn't read this book I wouldn't have learned the following fact:
It wasn't only the music that was selling. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince started their own 900 number info line—which soon turned into a 900 number info gold mine.4 The rappers simply prerecorded daily messages for their fans, who responded eagerly to the new venture. In the first six months the line was set up, it received over two million calls—at an average of $2.45 a pop. Record company executives were taking bets that Will and Jeff would make more money on the telephone than on the album itself.
Friends, let us read. Let us read and be happy.

One more story to send you on your way. Will Smith starred, as you well know, in the uproarious sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. One of the best parts of the show was watching the snooty English butler, Geoffrey, look down his nose at the family. Well, a few years ago my brother and I were on study abroad in London, and as part of the trip we went to the Globe theatre to see a production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. It's a lesser-known play of his, but you can imagine our surprise when Joseph Marcell, the actor who played Geoffrey, appeared on that famed stage as Cominius, Coriolanus's general. It was awesome to see him in what appeared to be his natural habitat, and after the traitors cut Coriolanus's beating heart from his body right before our eyes, Marcell smiled at Drew during the curtain call when he heard him point out to Rachel (Drew's now-wife, who probably has never seen an episode of Fresh Prince in her life) who he was.

1 Amazon has no picture of this book—what is it about!?
2 ML 420 .S84 C63 1984, but, amazingly, it's not due back until 8/18/2008.
3 This Shakespearean phrase appears again four pages later.
4 Wait, does this mean the phone line was an informational treasure trove?

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Dude, you are silly. Bad books really are as good as good books, aren't they? I just watched "I Am Legend" again, by the way, and Will has to be credited for any decisions he's made to get him there. He really acts well. Perhaps not Marcell good, but better than many.