Wednesday’s sections of the Miki Dora biography dealt with Dora’s middle age. Predictably, the chickens come home to roost. In the late 1960s to early 1980s, Dora spent him time traveling the world to a) search for the perfect surf spot and b) evade criminal charges in the U.S. This section of All for a Few Perfect Waves is good, but the reader feels frustration with Dora’s poor choices and total self absorption.
“Miki was a chimpanzee on a motorcycle with a loaded shotgun” – Dora friend Allan Carter (p. 198)
One thing that I should have commented on yesterday was that Rensin’s book is an oral biography. This technique works well as it presents a kaleidoscopic view of a man who spent his life fashioning a cool pose that varied depending on his audience at the moment.
Also, the oral bio comes as a relief given that the sections Rensin writes are often overly flowery, attributing far more significance to Dora than seems merited. For instance, readers begin the book with a meandering, 24-page intro in which Rensin compares Dora to Muhammad Ali, Jack Kerouac, Jack Nicholson, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Bob Dylan, John Cassavetes, Cary Grant, Sid Vicious, the Flying Wallendas, Neal Cassady, Robin Hood, and Citizen Kane. By the time the oral part of the bio begins on page 25, the reader is ready to kiss Rensin goodbye.
Friends on Dora
Then the book gains momentum. Surprisingly, it is infamous rock promoter Kim Fowley (1939-2015) whose quote best encapsulates Dora’s life –
“Probably Johnny Fain [another surfer] and Miki Dora had great moments in a small window of time, and when that window of time passed, they didn’t break the pattern and reinvent. They stayed there, and that’s the tragedy. In life there’s hardly anyone who’s both charismatic and good at something. When there is, even for a brief moment, they’re one of the privileged. Like Miki, I had no idea what happened to him. All I ever heard was, ‘Oh, bad boy. Buccaneer Bandito stuff.’ I said, “Oh, good. Well, tragedy poster boy.” When you’re given gifts of male beauty and athletic prowess, then the world is your wastebasket. Even if you make mistakes, you look good doing it. It’s like waiting to see [punk musician] Johnny Thunder die onstage. People would go to see these guys fall apart. The rapid ascent is a turn-on, and the descent is equally fascinating. Miki didn’t so much reinvent as relocate. Yet here we are, all these years later, still talking about him” (p. 322).
To me, that’s a perfect summary of Dora’s life – awesome, almost legendary youth as a surf rebel, then a steep decline into a pathetic middle-aged crook scamming Social Security, food stamps, and the estates of deceased friends. Author Rensin labors to make Dora into more than that, but I felt that Fowley nailed Dora.
Sunset on the Water
So far, I give All for a Few Perfect Waves a 7.5 out of 10. Rensin had a great 350-page book. The problem is that All for a Few Perfect Waves is 444 pages long. The padding slows the book’s momentum and makes the reader wish that Rensin had an editor to trim the fat. Still, I’m enjoying Waves and recommend it.