Before I actually read this book, I had heard various comments about it, some flattering, some not. As there seemed to be no one stepping up to the plate to do a review, I purchased the book from Laurie and volunteered to review it for Jan Stevens’ web site, “The Bill Evans Web Pages.” It was a complex challenge, increasing my understanding of Bill and Laurie’s relationship as well as revealing deeper visions of Bill’s everyday living, loving and creating. Reading and re-reading this book, like listening to Bill’s music, has been a life-changing experience for me as I expect it will be for you.
“The Big Love,” is a love story, but unlike most. The stark realities of Laurie’s coming-of-age before meeting Bill, and later, the dried up riverbeds of Bill’s addiction are detailed in a narrative that might be shocking to some readers. Laurie writes in a sort of prose that is still liquid and finding its form as the book progresses. You might consider some of it explicit, maybe PG-13, even though quite appropriate to the situation.
In addition to her relationship with Bill, Laurie goes into great detail about the ups and downs of her personal life. We experience vivid details of her transformation from a young girl growing up in Canada in a semi-dysfunctional family. She experiences some difficult situations and sexual encounters through a fast-paced transition to adulthood. Her relationship with Bill figures prominently.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
After an education that included music theory and a growing understanding of jazz, Laurie has her first encounter with Bill Evans while she is waitressing at a place called the Mayflower Restaurant on 97th Street in Edmonton. The Railtown Jazz Society had booked the trio to perform in this “church/disco/Chinese restaurant.” It proves to be a trial by fire for her as she has not seen an audience so entranced by the music that they ignore the waitress trying to serve them drinks. None are big spenders as most are students and professors from Grant McKuen Community College where she was once enrolled.
Either due to the fact that she is inexperienced as a waitress, or the cheapness of the audience, or a combination of both, she is $50 short at the end on the night and has to borrow from a friend to tally-up with the bartender.
After the concert she and Bill get together. Laurie communicates her experience with the bartender to Bill while they spend the evening together at her apartment with other friends. Bill gave her a short note and his phone number written down on the back of one of his manager’s business cards asking her to call him. Several days later she gets her first letter from him with $50 enclosed to repay the debt to the friend.
Bill seems to be immediately convinced that he wants to have a long term relationship with the twenty-two year old and invitations and travel arrangements are made for Laurie to join Bill on his tours and performances. This culminates in Laurie eventually joining Bill, not just in hotel rooms while on tour, but as a resident of his apartment in New Jersey for his gigs in the New York City Area and the down-time between performances. After a meeting with Bill’s manager Helen Keene, Laurie is given the title of road manager.
The saddest part of “The Big Love” is an event that I thought somehow escaped Bill and his addiction - paranoia. I know that paranoia can be a normal part of an addict’s thinking, but somehow I thought Bill Evans was immune, since he seemed to continually compose and perform on a level that transcended those medical symptoms. Alas, that was not the case and when you read this section, it smacks you in the face. Be prepared for it dear reader.
Laurie delivers much of Bill's personal life to the reader - vivid descriptions of their love and growing bonds to each other as well as the sinister ogre of Bill’s addiction and its consequences. Along the way, we are permitted a close-up look at Bill’s crafting of the song “Laurie,” from a basic sketch, through various permutations, blossoming to the final version. Simultaneously, we watch his illness progress to the missed nights at the trio’s last engagement at Fat Tuesday and, ultimately, to his death.
The book is fascinating and hard to put down partially due to Laurie’s prose. Here is an excerpt from Laurie’s description of Bill Evans holding court at the Village Vanguard.
“He assumes his position, face draped gently over his hands on the keys. He tilts his head to one side - listening - and I see his face, the sallow skin stretched over the broad forehead, eyebrows raised in astonished agony or ecstasy, his eyes closed behind dark glasses, mouth and jaw open.
This is the expression he has at home composing at the piano. This is the expression he shares with me when we make love. This is his most intimate expression - egoless, vulnerable - full of truth and beauty.
Smoke curls up from ashtrays, filling the darkened red and black room with an eerie blue haze. No one speaks, everyone is in accord. We are all in accord with the intangible feeling of inner beauty decompressing from the depths of our neglected souls - surfacing.
We are remembering who we really are. Remembering our place in the perfection of everything. The place beyond words and feelings.”
All in all, this a great addition to the small library of written words about Bill. I would place it second only to Peter Pettinger’s great work, “How My Heart Sings.” You'll also learn the name of Bill's main drug dealer in the last chapter of his life, an anagram of the tune, “Yet Ne'er. Broken,” a name that I've been trying to figure out for years.
Feb. 27, 2011