Wednesday, January 05, 2011

“All In Good Time” by Jonathan Schwartz

During my recent vacation, I finished All In Good Time , the memoirs of disc jockey, writer and singer Jonathan Schwartz. 

Although probably primarily known as a local area disc jockey in New York City, Schwartz has also attained modest notoriety for being a writer of novels and short stories as well as a cabaret singer who performed tunes from The Great American Songbook that included standards made famous by a wide variety of singers – including and especially his idol, Frank Sinatra – and many songs composed by his father, Arthur Schwartz (who was perhaps most notable for contributions such as the standards “Dancing In The Dark”, “That’s Entertainment” and “You And The Night And The Music”). 

Originally, I came to know Schwartz first as a rock music DJ on the radio station WNEW-FM here in New York City.  Later, he abandoned playing rock for his real musical love, the classic American standards on which he was raised – not unlike those written by his father, with whom he sometimes had a bit of a testy relationship.  His particular interest in this genre of music was his incredible worship of Frank Sinatra – an obsession I have grown to share with him over these many years.  For quite some time, he has had a weekend afternoon show on WNYC-FM, a local NPR radio station in New York City; he dedicates a half hour on both his Saturday and Sunday show to exclusively play Sinatra tunes – a number of which are not just recordings from CD’s that can be purchased anywhere, but also, air checks from radio shows Sinatra hosted in the 1940’s and 1950’s as well as outtakes from recording sessions at the various record labels for which he worked over the many decades of his performing life.

Schwartz details both the highlights and lowlights of his life in this book, being sure to steer clear of the personal life of his wives and two children.  His own life, however, remains up for grabs, as you might reasonably expect.  Here, he talks about his difficult upbringing when his father re-married following a divorce from his mother, with whom, he had a rather distant relationship for most of his life.  His step-mother was something of a shrew, which was eventually confirmed by Schwartz’s half-brother Paul, who was the biological son of this woman – he complained that he suffered under her insanity just as much as Schwartz, despite his blood ties to her. 
The more alarming parts of the book include Schwartz’ decades-long battles with alcoholism, including a semi-successful stint in The Betty Ford Clinic years ago.  Additionally, he befriends his idol Sinatra, then becomes a mortal enemy when Schwartz dares to criticize a new Sinatra album on his radio show; the story shows what a horror Sinatra can be to deal with when his extremely thin skin was pricked ever so slightly.  On top of all of this, he is forced to deal with the craziness of his step-mother in order to try to maintain some semblance of a relationship with his biological father. 

While trying to stay open and honest, Schwartz keeps something of an upbeat tone, writing well and often with humor.  What of course is missing are honest revelations that would paint him as a bad guy; arguably, his tales of alcohol abuse might qualify as that, but he sometimes comes across more as victim than as victimizer.  This kind of lack of objectivity, while understandable and expected in a memoir, nevertheless does something of a disservice to the book.  The result is that we only see the person Schwartz wants us to see, and not necessarily the person he really may be.