Saturday, April 21, 2007

You Can't Win: Jack Black

It was time for a re-reading of You Can't Win, Jack Black's autobiography. Maybe because I often wonder why intelligent people make bad choices in life. Why someone raised in a "decent" family will choose to go wrong. This book pretty much answers my questions and it's entertaining to boot. The timing of Black's adventures are the 1890's and early 20th century. A completely different time from Dillinger and Capone but I think with some of the same sensibilities. Thieves saw themselves as professionals. It's also easy see that many of the same social problems that abound now, homelessness and addiction, were much the same.

It's telling to admit that I had to buy another copy of this book. I had loaned my copy to someone who moved away and took the book with him. I usually wish that most of the characters that I read about had written an autobiography explaining the why they chose crime. I think as to the choice, if not the methodology and experience, they might say the same thing Jack Black says. The honest life the pay is too little and the demands too great; the criminal life excitement and "easy" money for the high life.

This book gives great descriptions of jails, penitentiaries, flop houses, hop houses, and other places in plain language that rivals any novel. Ah, to go on a binge with Salt Chunk Mary and to attend a "convention".


Gord said...

I, too, am just wrapping up a re-read of this most engrossing book, which I learned about from a full-page article in the Vancouver Sun.
There was a local spin to the article: Jack Black was born in New Westminster (though he went to the U.S. with his parents while very young), which is part of Metro Vancouver.
New Westminster was the home of the infamous B.C. Penetentiary, where Jack was administered the lash by the prison's flogging master, Capt. Burr. (grandfather to actor Raymond Burr).
The other local angle involved Vancouver's historic Chinatown. Chew Chee, who Black made one of his jail escapes with, is believed to be a relative of Chinatown patriarch, Yip Sang (who helped Black out with the letter). The four-storey building which housed his home/business still stands on Pender St.
Many times when I have walked the older streets of Vancouver and New West I have wondered if Jack Black had trod the same spots before me, so very long ago.

bestyegg said...

I'd love to get a copy of that article. Do you remember the date it was published.

Anonymous said...

Are you still interested in jack black? I found an old online 1912 San Francisco call with two articles about old jack crushing out of ingleside jail as he described in the back of his book-
The article includes his stranger pal that helped him out with name and pic. The article also amazingly has a picture of jack that no one else has seen and also has his real name!
I flipped when I found it all-

Gord said...

Anon, do you have a link to that article? There are many of us out there who would love to see it...

Gord said...

Further to my last comment, I did a search for the San Francisco Call, which is included in the California Digital Newspaper Collection, and managed to find at least one of the articles:
Good read, indeed, in addition to filling in some more info it also revealed his real name, Thomas Callaghan.
Thanks to Anon for bringing this to everyone's attention.