Brown, Mick 1950–
Brown, Mick 1950–
PERSONAL: Born 1950, in London, England; married; children: three.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Author and journalist. Has worked as a staff writer and columnist for London Sunday Times and as a senior editor for Sunday Correspondent.
Richard Branson: The Inside Story, Michael Joseph (London, England), 1988.
The Spiritual Tourist: A Personal Odyssey through the Outer Reaches of Belief, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
The Dance of Seventeen Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet's Seventeenth Karmapa, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Manchester Guardian, London Observer Independent, Telegraph, and Rolling Stone. Author of BBC-Radio documentary The Second Coming, about the Maitreya legend, and BBC television series Cult Classics, on cult books.
SIDELIGHTS: A British journalist with more than a quarter century of experience, Mick Brown has interviewed many highly influential figures in religion, entertainment, and popular culture. Among his interview subjects are musicians such as James Brown and the Rolling Stones, renowned artist Salvador Dali, writers Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy, Motown music legend Berry Gordy, and prominent religious figures Ravi Shankar and the Dalai Lama.
Brown's books continue his focus on popular culture and individuals with strong personalities. In Richard Branson: The Inside Story, Brown offers a biography of maverick businessman Branson, head of Virgin, an international business with multiple interests in areas such as airlines, hotels, music, mobile phones, wines, publishing, cars, and more. Brown explores the background of a businessman who, with a natural ability to make money, "seems to have had a wonderful time building up the Virgin business as an innocent lark," according to a reviewer in the Economist. Always iconoclastic, Branson avoided expulsion from school at age eleven by faking a suicide—after being caught in a clinch with the headmaster's daughter. He held business meetings from the bathtub of his yacht; dressed against the grain of business conservatism; demanded (and usually got) the right to execute millions of dollars in overdrafts from banks; and made the Virgin brand well-known among a young, trendy audience of music fans, cell-phone users, and travelers with money to spend. In 1999, Branson was knighted by the queen of England for services to entrepreneurship.
Brown takes to the road in American Heartbeat: Travels from Woodstock to San Jose by Song Title, a travel narrative in which he explores American cities and places mentioned and celebrated in song titles. Brown finds Woodstock, New York, dealing with an identity and a mythology it never really sought; the music festival that shares the town's name took place sixty miles away. The town now lives tenuously with the commercialization and tourism that sprung up in the festival's decades-long afterglow, as well as with the diverse population of ex-hippies, lost souls, intellectuals, and rebels that subsequently settled there. Brown experiences the "plastic miasma of Graceland," talks with Sun Records founder Sam Philips, and portrays the rapid-fire wisdom of prolific country music songwriter Harlan Howard, whom Times Educational Supplement reviewer Scott Bradfield called "the best voice" in a volume in which "the sounds of authentic human voices emerge." Although Times Literary Supplement contributor Richard Cook bemoandd what he viewed as a "weak and artificial premise," he went on to state that "Brown is at his best when he forgets the reason for his travels, and simply lets the people he meets do the talking." "Brown's premise is rather foolish and unfulfillable" in American Heartbeat, but "this doesn't prevent him from writing some good journalism along the way," Bradfield commented.
Religion and spirituality often figure prominently in Brown's works. The Dance of Seventeen Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet's Seventeenth Karmapa chronicles the history and current conflict over the succession of the second most important religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism, after the Dalai Lama. "Brown provides an enlightening explanation of the mystical process by which reincarnated lamas are found and identified, then launches a gripping account of the labyrinthine dispute between factions aligned behind two possible 'emanations' of the sixteenth Karmapa," remarked Donna Seaman in Booklist. "The story of the dispute is both a primer in the darker aspects of Tibetan theological politics and a sobering account of what happened when Tibetan Buddhism went west," remarked Isabel Hilton in New Statesman.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the succession of the Karmapas occurs through reincarnation: when one Karmapa dies, his accumulated knowledge is passed to the living incarnation of the new one. Traditionally, Karmapas leave written instructions on where and when their new incarnations will appear, but in the case of the sixteenth Karmapa, no such instructions were found immediately after his death in 1981. Bitter disputes about the identity of the new Karmapa arose. Eight years later, the sixteenth's written instructions were discovered. Despite a dispute by one of the sixteenth's disciples, Shamar Rinpoche (known as Shamarpa), the instructions led to Ogyen Trinley Dorje, and this young man was recognized by the Dalai Lama as the true seventeenth Karmapa. In 1994, Shamarpa introduced his own candidate for the position, Thaye Dorje, who was embraced by Western followers. The legal wrangling and sometimes violent disputes continued to rage even as Brown's book on the subject was published in 2004.
"Far from being a mere report on the seventeenth Karmapa and his exodus" from Chinese-occupied Tibet, The Dance of Seventeen Lives "is an excellent history of modern Tibetan Buddhism on a broad scale," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "A less skilled guide might have trodden on any number of explosives that lie just beneath the surface," Hilton commented, "but Mick Brown picks his way unscathed through this landscape of good intentions, cynical plots, individual heroism, exotic tradition, and esoteric practice, pointing out the path for his readers in good-humored fashion."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of The Dance of Seventeen Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet's Seventeenth Karmapa, p. 1692.
Economist, May 28, 1988, review of Richard Branson: The Inside Story, p. 88.
Guardian Weekly, May 15, 1988, p. 29.
Library Journal, September 15, 1998, Leroy Hommerding, review of The Spiritual Tourist: A Personal Odyssey through the Outer Reaches of Belief, p. 85; June 1, 2004, James R. Kuhlman, review of The Dance of Seventeen Lives, p. 144.
New Statesman, February 6, 1998, Claire Rayner, review of The Spiritual Tourist, p. 47; May 17, 2004, Isabel Hilton, review of The Dance of Seventeen Lives, p. 53.
Observer (London, England), April 24, 1988, p. 40; April 2, 1989, p. 45; May 30, 1993, p. 61; February 6, 1994, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, May 31, 2004, review of The Dance of Seventeen Lives, p. 71.
Times Educational Supplement, June 18, 1993, Scott Bradfield, "Bigger and Better," review of American Heartbeat: Travels from Woodstock to San Jose by Song Title, p. 10.
Times Literary Supplement, August 8, 1993, Richard Cook, "Roaming at Random," review of American Heartbeat, p. 10.
Washington Post Book World, June 27, 2004, Jeffery Paine, "The Born-again Buddha of Tibet," review of The Dance of Seventeen Lives, p. T8.
Spring Hill Media Group Web site, http://www.springhillmedia.com/ (September 22, 2004).