Book Review of “(Low)Life: A Memoir of Jazz, Fight-Fixing and the Mob”

It took over an hour to get there from Boston. You had to pass clam shacks, fried-food takeout places, soft-serve ice cream carts, pre-computerized arcade games, and a decrepit amusement park that had once been wildly popular but was seeing its last days. By the time you finally drove down Nantasket Boulevard to reach the Grey Finch you had made your way to the end of the United States, where life seemed to drain into the ocean.

Buddy was a tall, pretzel-shaped sad sack who resembled the legendary poker hustler Amarillo Slim. Without a rigid bone in his body, he melted over the mic, poured himself into a chair when he sat with customers, and collapsed in a heap on the back-room couch during the band’s breaks. His default impulse was to try to achieve the next level of recline, whatever it might be.

Networks didn’t believe that Norwood’s style was marketable. This kind of racially mediated determination had long been used in boxing to marginalize great black fighters who were defensively adroit and offensively efficient. Norwood was part of a dwindling list of Black Code fighters.

Black Code fighters had honed their techniques down to pure essence, winnowing away all extravagant display. Not only did you have to be a sophisticated fighter to master the style, you had to be sophisticated to appreciate it. Defined more by subtlety than bombast, the aesthetics of Black Code fighting floated over the head of most viewers and commentators alike.

Years after Freddie Norwood’s time had passed, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. employed a similar style on his way to amassing more money than any fighter before him. Tellingly, his wealth came not from the style, but from his ability to talk about the style as part of his multitiered negative public persona marketing.

He was big, but his size was unimpressive somehow. Instinctively, I started grasping for usable descriptive terms that could mitigate his obvious liabilities: farm-strength, throwback, and Pat Petronelli’s standby ‘just a rough, tough kid.’ I rejected ‘goober,’ ‘yokel,’ ‘hayseed,’ and ‘Klansman’ as counterproductive.

Recent years had brought Ornette a Pulitzer, a MacArthur, and a Grammy, along with the wealth that went with them… [He] hated his condo. He was certain his neighbors in the building didn’t like black people… I sort of got it. This sudden elevation of his standard of living had been thrust upon him through channels he didn’t understand by sources he didn’t know.



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