June 08, 2006


Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll. By Rick Coleman. Da Capo. $26.95.

Indestructible: The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima. By Jack H. Lucas with D.K. Drum. Da Capo. $22.95.

     After Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath devastated New Orleans, one of the innumerable voices speaking up for the city was that of Fats Domino, the legendary singer whose whereabouts even many of his fans no longer knew.  Domino’s personal resiliency and that of his beloved home city were discussed together, and new attention was paid to the man whose debut single, “The Fat Man,” sold a million copies in 1949 and gave Domino his famous nickname (he was born Antoine Domino, Jr., his mother’s eighth and last child).  Domino was 21 when he recorded that single and is 78 now, his influence acknowledged and praised over the years by everyone from Elvis Presley to John Lennon to Bob Marley.  Surprisingly, Blue Monday is the first biography of Domino – and music critic and historian Rick Coleman has spent 20 years working on it.  That it is a labor of love therefore goes without saying.  It is densely packed with information, filled with tidbits about Domino’s life, music and legendary stamina and work ethic (he once played 79 tour dates – taking just two days off).  Domino is so unlike modern rock “stars” as to seem to be from another planet: guarding his privacy, rarely giving interviews, living in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward for years until Katrina forced him out.  Coleman not only tells his story but also tries (not altogether successfully) to place it in the larger context of America itself, taking readers back to the days of slave ships, forward to the evacuation of Domino and his family after the hurricane, and in between to many of the high and low spots of the development of rock ‘n’ roll.  Domino fans – and there are still many – will surely adore the book.  But it is worth pointing out that Domino’s amazing string of 80 hits – he outsold everyone except Elvis – occurred between 1950 and 1963.  Younger music fans, alas, may not even know who he is.

     Calling Domino a survivor is accurate, but there ought to be an even stronger word to describe Jack H. Lucas, the youngest Marine in history to earn the Medal of Honor – and the youngest soldier in any branch to win it in the 20th century.  Maybe the best word is the title of Lucas’ book: Indestructible.  After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Lucas left home, lied about his age (he was 14), and joined the Marines.  Not wanting the stateside duty to which he was assigned, he stowed away on a troop ship bound for the Pacific theater – with the help of his cousin, who happened to be aboard that very ship.  Lucas eventually took part in the bloody battle of Iwo Jima, where he jumped on top of two grenades that landed among his unit’s men – saving others’ lives but ending up with a huge number of shrapnel injuries.  He was 22 pounds lighter and three-quarters of an inch shorter when he returned home, and now tells readers that “for the rest of my life I will live with grenade fragments in my brain and lungs, some pieces as big as a .22 round.”  But he did survive, and to this day believes that “God was, and is, working in my life.”  Aided by D.K. Drum, Lucas tells his story matter-of-factly but with obvious pride – and if there ever was a man who deserved admiration, Lucas is one.  Unfortunately, there have been so many “greatest generation” books, about battles and units and individuals, that Lucas’ extraordinary story and sacrifice sound like tales already told.  In a sense, they are: he did what many others did – just with a little more intensity.  And he did come home, however broken; many, many others did not.  Lucas and the other World War II survivors deserve the nation’s gratitude, but no more of it than is due to those of his comrades who would never have the chance to collaborate on a book like Indestructible.

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