From James Bond to “Midnight Cowboy”
Paperback: 272 pages Illustrated
Publisher: Constable (November 9, 1998)
Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
It’s been like waiting for a bus: You wait for oh-so long and then two come along at once. At the time of writing, Geoff Leonard’s book JOHN BARRY – A LIFE IN MUSIC is not yet out. Consequently, comparison between Leonard’s book and researcher-journalist Eddi Fiegel’s tome, JOHN BARRY – A SIXTIES THEME, is Impossible – though extracts from Leonard’s transcript, released on the internet, reveal the two books are in different directions. Leonard’s appears to offer itself as the encyclopaedia of John Barry in a definitive chronology. Fiegel’s book on the other hand is, as she explains in her introduction, “not a catalogue of events and line-ups” but an attempt to gain insight into the combination of a dynamic musician and the phenomenon of the sixties vogue in which he lived. Fiegel brings together her interviews with some fifty colleagues, collaborators, friends and observers: the eye-witnesses who were actually there around Barry in that time, people like Michael Caine, Bryan Forbes aid Peter Hunt. Indeed this book is not so much what Fiegel knows or feels about John Barry but what “they” have to say, and the greatest collaborator is John Barry himself. He gives many personal reflections such as the dominance of his father and memories such as the outbreak of war, the emotionally devastating loss of life at his school, and what it felt like to direct Nina and Frederick the night Kennedy died. Money simply can’t buy personal reflections like that.
Fiegel smartly avoids any personal comments on the emotional repression of Barry’s childhood, but she does offer her insightful observations of the 60s and 90s cultures for whom Barry is fashionable in an understated kind of way. Through her interviews she paints a man who is Mr. Dynamism, a successful and versatile breakaway who might have been none of these things had he not happened at the same time that the sixties vogue did. She also paints a man with a glittering social life, as suave as a poet, a man who enjoyed parties with Michael Caine, and was not shy of sex. But this is no scandal sheet; if this book touches on the briskness of Barry’s private life, it is to understand a man who philosophizes “it was the sixties.” Discussion of work is foremost and what is particularly interesting is the best discussion of the famous Bond theme debate yet. Barry also shares the agony and ecstasy of GOLDFINGER, when on his first really big-time assignment he faced self doubt at the hands of a disliking producer, before realising that he had very truly succeeded.
If this book has any faults, it is that it is unable to expend more wordage on less discussed films such as PETULIA and BOOM, which are mentioned only in passing, and that many of Barry’s quotes are familiar from the BBC Radio 2 “Music by…” interviews, hosted by Brian Matthews in 1992. But what the hell, no one asked Fiegel to write a book on obscura. The fact is she has written an entertaining, observant book getting to the heart of how the great and diverse Barry music catalogue of the sixties came to be, and she does it combining journalistic factualism with a readable up-tempo style. Her writing about how Barry bounced from one exciting film to another, from experiments with cymbaloms and jazz to moogs and Egyptian kantele, simply leaves one anxious to re-watch and re-listen to MIDNIGHT COWBOY and THE PERSUADERS – and hope that Barry will be so dynamic and exotic again.