Reviews and Commentary — Dead Man’s Curve: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of Jan Berry

With his latest tome Dead Man’s Curve: The Rock and Roll Life of Jan Berry, Moore will likely become a Mark Lewisohn figure to Jan & Dean fanatics. . . . 2021 is shaping up to be the year for reappraisals of Jan Berry’s work, first with Joel Selvin’s ode to the Los Angeles music scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s Hollywood Eden (where Jan is a major player) and now in Moore’s definitive Jan biography. . . . . The first half of this book, chronicling Jan Berry’s development as a music (and mischief) maker in tandem with the burgeoning career of Jan & Dean, makes for great reading. . . . Jan was the studly boy wonder who could throw the ultimate campus party and somehow trick the cops into buying the beer. . . . . The only thing more impressive than putting on the whole world (the duo was on a meta hot streak with albums like Jan & Dean Meet Batman and the original version of Filet of Soul before Jan’s accident) was the sterling academic future ahead of them. In fact, Jan Berry was a med student by day/rock star by night! Had there not been any gold records, these guys probably would’ve been fine anyway. . . . Moore interviewed a number of the musicians and industry peers who worked with Jan and they all marvel at his talent and forward-thinking studio work . . . an innovator before it became acceptable and expected for a pop artist to think outside the box. . . . The second half of the book documenting the years after Jan’s car accident is both inspirational and harrowing. . . . At over 500 pages, Dead Man’s Curve: the Rock and Roll life of Jan Berry is a feast for fans of Jan, early rock and roll, and the powerhouse of pop percolating from the Sunset Strip. The section of the book dealing with Jan’s rise to fame is like reading about the greatest frat party of all time set to a killer soundtrack. If the goal here was to enrich the experience of listening to those Jan & Dean records once more or to encourage the uninitiated to think about them (and Jan) seriously for the first time, then I’d recommend you check out the book. It’s a heck of a story . . . and a lot more than what they could ever fit into a made-for-TV movie. — David Wills, Endless Summer Quarterly, September 2021. Read the full review at ESQ Online.

Moore (The Jan & Dean Record: A Chronology of Studio Sessions, Live Performances and Chart Positions), an avid Jan and Dean buff, has written the definitive biography of Jan Berry (1941–2004). Drawing from dozens of interviews and an exhaustive survey of existing materials, he details Berry’s childhood in the posh neighborhood of Bel Air near Hollywood, his infatuation with doo-wop groups, his garage studio, and his surprise 1958 hit, “Jennie Lee,” with teenage friend Arnie Ginsburg. Soon after, Berry and Dean Torrence, who met in high school, saw huge success as the rock duo Jan and Dean; kings of the California surf, they recorded records and were featured on television and in films (“Surf City”; “Drag City”). Moore also covers Berry’s friendship with the Beach Boys and his dual life as a medical student and a rock and roll singer, arranger, and producer—until 1966, when he crashed his Corvette Sting Ray, which left him with a brain injury. The author spends the last third of the book on Berry’s triumphant return to the music business as a producer and sporadic tour-mate of Torrence’s. VERDICT: A comprehensive, accurate, and balanced account of a rock icon who was talented, impulsive, and driven, though sometimes difficult and dismissive. Crammed with minutia and drawn-out stories, this work will appeal to rock fans. — David P. Szatmary, formerly at University of Washington, Seattle (Library Journal)

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