Sunday, January 06, 2008

Born Standing Up

I really enjoyed this book about Steve Martin's life before he started making movies. I almost never read celebrity bios, but I've always found Steve Martin interesting, and am sorry I never saw him in the small venue days. A review in Slate got me interested.

(some great but hard to find showbiz autobios: errol flynn: sex fiend, tiny tim: compulsive complainer, rudy vallee: had an excuse for everything, harry richman: ended up buying dented cans in miami, all eccentric books.)

This is a nice book. He doesn't fuss over famous people. It's more like "this is how it was." And that "how", was Steve Martin, a strange isolated guy with ideas, who spent hours/years perfecting a unique act in Southern California, haunting magic shops, Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, and playing a banjo. It's a strangely honest book in a level way. He wanted to create an act that was totally original and he borrowed from all kinds of sources to do it. The way everyone creates...

It sounds as if, for awhile, the act was sort of magical. He'd have the audience in small clubs in the palm of his hand, and then actually lead them all outside. It was performance art that was actually entertaining. I appreciated what he revealed without portraying himself as smaller or greater than anyone else who's weird and exhibitionistic and shy. And I often burst out laughing at what he'd written.

Here's his King Tut video.


Katy said...

I read the part that came out in the New Yorker, and liked it a lot, too. A magic potion of philosophy classes, Knotts Berry Farm and magic. Is his Southern California of that time a vanished world?

Sally said...

Katy, Knotts Berry Farm still had some of its original quirkiness, last time I was there, erk, five plus years ago. I mean more than quirkiness, they had actual 19th century Gold Rush buildings moved and set up there, a nice sense of history to the place. Weird plaster cowboy people on benches set up so you could take your relative's picture next to them. That's where Steve Martin really got his act together in the literal sense. But a large corporation has bought Knotts Berry Farm with all the wrong ideas of how to improve it.

I've read fiction by Steve Martin and didn't like it, but this book really charmed me.

sal said...

I like this review, Sally. I heard an NPR interview with him about the book recently, and he sounded nice.

Did you see his movie "Shopgirl"? I was surprised he wrote and played such a chillingly cold character.

Namowal said...

I think the magic shop at Disneyland (Main Street) is still around. That's a good thing, as a lot of formerly unique shops at Disneyland have turned into bland souvenir sellers.

Sally said...

Sal, thanks for the link. He sounded a little ill at ease in that interview, I thought. Namowal, with your Disneyland experiences I'm sure you'll especially enjoy this book. Remind me to loan it to you the next time I see you.

Linda said...

That's a wonderful video!
I had never thought much about Steve Martin until Tom was getting ready to go to work in LA (15+ years ago?). "L.A. Story" came to Knoxville and we went to see it. I went only because I thought I would get an idea of what L.A. was like. WELL!! I fell in love with Steve Martin.
Actually, I've read some short stories by him that I've really liked since, but when I try to Google them and figure out which they were, I only get titles like "The Vengeful Curtain Rod" and "Cows In Trouble."