Published in Jazz Journal, Feb. 2011
Michael Bublé: The Biography
By Juliet Peel
Piatkus, 2010, £7.99
Juliet Peel, "experienced show-business journalist and writer, with extensive contacts in the celebrity world", has produced a biography of the "international singing sensation" who's blessed with a "huge and loyal fanbase", it says in the blurb. I hope they enjoy it. Although crass enough to be at times unintentionally amusing, the book's musical and artistic content is sparse.
Bublé's repertoire is the Great American Songbook popularised by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, and explored most searchingly by Billie Holiday. Seeing his video of The Way You Look Tonight made me realise that though hardly a master, he's not a complete hack; and he can talk knowledgeably about Mel Tormé and Nat "King" Cole. Sadly, his biographer's critical insight is limited to descriptions of him crooning or "belting his heart out" – as in "he belted out Strangers In The Night" – with a "voice and talent" that are "God given". And I'm sorry to say that Bublé is quoted complaining that "jazz and easy listening music is constantly overlooked", as if they were the same thing.
The writing rises occasionally to a breathless showbiz-ese. "On 9 September 1975", we're told, "Michael Steven Bublé made his appearance on the world stage…A star really had been born". (Has she perhaps come across the Julie Andrews film that the critics mauled as 'A Bore Is Starred'?) It was a blue-collar life in Vancouver, where his father made a hard living as a fisherman. But Michael's Italian granddad played him Bing Crosby's White Christmas and the boy was hooked.
Beautiful women make frequent appearances, marking the singer's transition from nerd singing nerdy songs, to matinee idol. At elementary school he had a "huge crush" on his teacher, the "strikingly beautiful Mrs Moore". As Peel comments, "Here was an early appreciation of the female form, all quite properly expressed, too". Twenty years later he went back to present a cheque, and the "still beautiful" Mrs Moore was "visibly nervous" – evidently "the Bublé charm was as strong as ever". His first partner, Debbie Timuss was "a beauty, with long legs frequently showcased by her dancing, and very attractive to men".
(What is a showcase exactly? That reminds me never to use the metaphor again.) Michael was less happy at high school, though he, or rather his father, later presented it with a plaque of the first mega-selling album, 'Michael Bublé', along with sales accreditation seals. (Were there sceptics on the school board, or do the seals come as standard?) Michael was brought up a good Catholic, and confides his "good personal relationship with Christ" – a rare glimpse of the Holy Bublé.
Moving effortlessly from Christianity to its sternest critic, Ms Peel notes that "They say that what doesn't break you makes you stronger". Since the repertoire was retro – and Bublé deserves credit for loving and persisting with it – launching a career was a hard struggle. But Harry Connick Jr. had moved on to pastures new, so "that slot, the young crooner, was available", so with valuable support from ex-Canadian PM Brian Mulroney, who heard him at his daughter's wedding, Bublé was on his way. LA bigshot producer David Foster took a punt and made the album that went on to acquire the afore-mentioned holy seals – "David's balls were on the line", Michael reported. Fortunately they survived to perform the same risky service for future acts. (Which "line" was that? Another mystery metaphor.) It's also good to know that while Michael was becoming a success, his father was appointed to the British Columbia Salmon Marketing Council, so "the whole family was doing well".
I know what you're thinking: SNOB! But of course there's nothing wrong with your old man being appointed to the Salmon Marketing Council – still one of my favourite fish in fact, despite its ubiquity and the mercury scares. What is sad is that much of the world enjoys a musical diet where, as Lee Konitz put it, "No one sounds like themselves", and feeling is utterly fake. Not that this troubles Ms Peel in any way. For her publisher Piatkus, my spellcheck throws up "Piteous", which about sums up her achievement.
~ Andy Hamilton