Company

Plus the memoirs of Donovan.

Company

By Max Barry (Doubleday, $22.95) Don't they have Google in Australia? Since novelist Max Barry (Syrup, Jennifer Government) decided to set this overly broad and disappointingly obvious corporate satire in Seattle, why didn't he check just a few details first? Washington University? Gravel-covered surface parking lots at First and Madison? Jubilant workers kicking a ball around the office in a spontaneous game of "football"? Meaning to be universal in this send-up of management jargon and capitalism gone amok, Barry is sketchy with most details, wrong in others. If nothing else, his novel proves that small ideas, stretched far enough, become universal. Fresh out of school, Stephen Jones is hired at mysterious Zephyr Holdings, which occupies a Seattle tower numbered inversely, from 20 at the lobby to 1 in the penthouse suite, in a kind of literalized management chart that's supposed to motivate its employees. Jones encounters only varying degrees of motivation in Training Sales, however. One salesman is obsessed with the theft of an extra doughnut from the morning meeting; another colleague is pregnant from a desktop quickie with a co-worker. It's all very The Office (take your pick, British or American), only without the laughs or wit. Barry is a young and formidable entrepreneur, a former Hewlett-Packard drone whose Web sites include www.nationstates.com and www.corporateoppression.com. You can respect him as a brand, in other words, and Company is a canny brand extension in the ongoing revolt of tattooed knowledge workers against the whip hand of shareholder value and cost externalization. Thus, when Stephen is told by a desperately sexy superior, "The only thing keeping these people sane is the belief that their work means something. Sometimes you do have to choose between morals and results," he's tempted only to a point. He wants to get in her pants, but he also wants to penetrate the supersecret star chamber of Zephyr as well. Unfortunately, once Stephen begins his secret campaign of resistance ("You're not a resource, you're a person!"), it's not exactly Spartacus. You'd learn a lot more about cubicle life from the cartoons of David Rees (My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable!), or even Dilbert. BRIAN MILLER The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man

By Donovan Leitch (St. Martin's, $24.95) The real story about rock stars' lives always involves female trouble. John Lennon's "Norwegian Wood" and Elvis Costello's "Accidents Will Happen" are about feeling guiltily caught between a groupie and the missus. That's how Donovan Leitch often felt. And his incense-scented bedroom saw more than its share of stampedes. A polio-gimped poor Glaswegian laddie with a lopsided underbite, he became girl candy overnight in 1965. One minute, he's washing dishes for a boho living; the next, he's blowing dope with Dylan and becoming one of the Beatles' best friends. It's an amazing life story, as he relates in this breezily egomaniacal memoir. Though he caught the same folkie wind Dylan was blowin' in, Donovan wafted on his own distinctive Gaelic gust, and soon even Dylan's jilted girl Joan Baez was covering Donovan's second hit, "Colours." He married Brian Jones' girl Linda, helped her raise Brian's son and their own, and lives with her to this day. Except that he and Linda spent the five years of his fame, 1965–70, rejecting each other while he savored groupies and cheated on the steady American girlfriend, Enid, whom he treated like dirt. A 1967 Time article on Donovan coined the phrase "Flower Power," but he claims much more credit than that. In his estimation, he was the first to do poetry songs and folk-rock (Dylan was folk-blues), a better musician than Dylan (though he allows that Bob was a better lyricist), and the first to do drug songs and get busted (by the same English cop who later planted drugs on the Beatles and got jailed for fraud). He wrote a couplet for "Yellow Submarine," and Harrison a verse of Donovan's "Atlantis," the second-worst poetry song ever (after the Moody Blues' moony coldhearted orb ode, "The Day Begins"). When he went with the Beatles to study with the Maharishi in 1968, Lennon patted the old man's head and said, "There's a good guru." Then Lennon wrote "Sexy Sadie" and Donovan wrote "The Hurdy Gurdy Man" about the Maharishi. The book provides the patchouli equivalent of Proust's madeleine for boomers, and scads of fun with its inside trivia. When his manager refused to let him give "Hurdy Gurdy" to Jimi Hendrix, for whom it was written, Donovan recorded the song with musicians Jimmy Page later recruited to form Led Zeppelin (which he takes credit for). "Mellow Yellow" isn't about smoking bananas, it's a reference to vibrators. "Lalena" is about Lotte Lenya in The Threepenny Opera. Like most documents born of the '60s, this is not a fully reliable book. Donovan misspells some famous names, claims to have inspired more than he likely did (Andy Warhol's banana album cover, Beatles themes and guitar stylings), and probably paints himself as a nicer pied piper than he really was. Twice he says he slept with Enid "for the last time," the results being today's actors Donovan Leitch Jr. and Ione Skye. On the other hand, his flowery tunes really do pack power; check out the 2002 tribute album A Gift From a Garden to a Flower (Darla, $15.98), with covers by My Morning Jacket and other bands. And he was influential in other ways: When Donovan bought an island, Lennon had to have one, too. This autobiography is the next best thing to those flashbacks they promised us that never came. TIM APPELO

 
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