By Judith Jacklin Belushi

Carroll & Graf

427 pp. $21.95

ONE DOES not expect objectivity from widows about their dead husbands. Samurai Widow, by Judith Jacklin Belushi, is a kind of new age memoir -- part therapy, part biography, and a large part score-settling.

Belushi -- she used her maiden name throughout their marriage but evidently felt the need to change it after his death (or was it before the publication of this book?) met John when she was 15, and was only 30 when he died. She began a journal to assuage her grief, and this book is based largely on it. It is meant to be "a book about healing, my healing."

Her sorrow was immense, and one feels her pain as she confronts living alone, moving, sorting through old pictures and finding herself less well off financially than she had been led to believe. While she did not have to get a job, and could continue the as-the-spirit-moved-her work as a freelance illustrator she did during her marriage, she did have to face a harsh reality that many young widows do not. That was the public inquiry into her husband's last days as an insatiable drug abuser and the subsequent trial and conviction of Cathy Smith, a heroin addict who had administered the fatal injections to John Belushi.

But it is hard to know if we would be interested in her painful recovery if her name were Judy Jones. Her prose is much influenced by women's magazines and her journalese gives her license to leave out orienting facts, or to ignore pertinent ones. (She writes often of her friendship with singer James Taylor and his girlfriend Kathryn Walker, for example, but never mentions Taylor's own well-publicized struggles with drugs.)

Much of the book seems like an extended windup for a punch at Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, who wrote Wired, a book about Belushi, his drug use and the show business environment that allowed his bad habits full rein. Although she initiated the Woodward book and cooperated fully with him, after it was published she repudiated it. Her primary objection -- that the self-indulgent, drug-crazed slob that emerged from Wired was not the warm, talented, loving and, yes, self-indulgent man she knew -- has been made before, by her and others, and with some justification.

She lent Woodward photographs, she says, some of them with promises that they would not be published. When five of them turned up in Wired, she was furious. She quotes an apologetic letter from Woodward explaining that "In the confusion and duplication of some shots" five photos were mistakenly used. She later sued him for unauthorized use of the pictures and settled out of court for $30,000, which she donated to a foundation named after John Belushi. But she admits the lawsuit was primarily an exercise of revenge on a small issue she knew she could win.

If, in Belushi's account, Woodward seems a bit disingenuous, she seems extraordinarily naive. She admits never having read anything Woodward had written previously, relying on his lustrous reputation as an investigative reporter and the fact that they all came from the same town. Somehow she thought he was going to uncover a plot against her husband, a connection between Cathy Smith and an undercover drug agent, that would explain that the comedian was lured to his death because his humor was, by the standards of society at that time, subversive and dangerous. When Woodward failed to prove this, and produced a harsh portrait of drug abuse without the nuances to explain it, she felt betrayed.

During the seven years she records here, Judy Belushi slowly attained a kind Zen acceptance of her life. She got into meditation, and writes about "letting go" of anger, grief, and other negative feelings, and describes situations in terms of whether it "feels right" or not. One is glad, in the end, that she has found some happiness. (She is soon to marry a film producer she met a few years ago). Her book, in ways she may not have intended, does provide an intimate record of a time when drugs, self-indulgence and brilliant creativity fueled the popular culture. Too bad more of the heroes of that culture aren't around to talk about it.


The Roy Orbison Story

By Ellis Amburn

Lyle Stuart

283 pp. $18.95

ROY ORBISON had a clear tenor that could reach a fine falsetto, a voice that -- according to Ellis Amburn's copious biography -- sent chills down the spines of his listeners. Self-taught, reared in mean Texas towns, he was -- despite his unique abilities -- unable to hold to a firm perch in the rock star firmament, partly because of bad breaks and partly because he was so homely. He died of a heart attack in 1988 at age 52, financially secure and respected by his peers, but still traveling the grueling road of one-night stands.

This respectful account of Orbison's life and hard times shows -- as have other reports of rock musicians' lives -- the high toll of being a performer. Failure means poverty, frustration, playing cheap dives -- and a battered ego. Success means money, getting ripped off, working larger halls, drugs, self-indulgence -- and a battered ego. Orbison, judging from this book, was neither more nor less able to handle it all than others have been, abusing his body by chain smoking (even after triple by-pass surgery), addicted to amphetamines and motorcycles, oblivious to the needs of his family and possessed of an unattractive tendency to take full credit for work that had been created with the help of others.

He is credited with being the singer who introduced emotion to rock and roll, a kind of white blues about the pain of love that contrasted with the doo-wah crush of puppy love and dance craze ditties that topped the charts in the '50s when he was starting out. (Although his first hit was called "Ooby Dooby," it was not what he did best and he later referred to it as his most embarrassing record.)

Orbison and Pat Boone attended North Texas State College at the same time (although Orbison dropped out after only one semester), one of the many items of rock trivia Amburn includes. And Orbison and Buddy Holly grew up 90 miles from each other and watched each other's early teenage shows and listened to each other's radio programs. Waylon Jennings, another local boy, recalled an evening when the three future stars hung out together. What did they do? They went to the bus station in Lubbock, Texas, "and we had a quarter and Sonny {Curtis, another budding musician} put it in the jukebox and we played Chet Atkins, and that's about all we had was a quarter and we snuck into a Sonny James, Jim Reeves Show."

The book is full of minutiae like this, but much of it will be of interest only to true rock aficionados. The detail, about who played what lick on which guitar in a particular recording session, or which towns Orbison played during a particular tour, is loving and scrupulous but Amburn makes too few efforts to bring it all together. Orbison comes across, ultimately, as a fairly shallow person, and it may be that his life story did not inspire the writer to analyze the development of his music within the context of the times, or to describe more poetically the people from which he came and to whom he appealed.

Certainly the dark parts of Orbison's life -- his un-handsome looks and terrible eyesight, the death of his wife at age 25 in a motorcycle crash, the deaths of his two older sons in a fire that destroyed his custom-built house a few years later, his virtual abandonment of his third son after that, not to mention descending from the heights of stardom to the ignominy of playing a Van-a-Rama convention before fewer than 100 fans -- would seem the stuff of stirring melodrama. But Amburn's dry recounting somehow lacks the one thing Orbison brought most vividly to rock and roll.



Bob Hope's Comedy History of The United States

By Bob Hope, with Melville Shavelson

Putnam. 315 pp. $19.95

ONE THING you can say about Bob Hope: He's the environmentalist of comedians. He recycles all his jokes. In his latest book, Don't Shoot, It's Only Me, he skips and quips through his years of entertaining troops and others, a rolling stone gathering gloss.

This is the sort of book you might have in a beach house or a guest room -- something to pick up for 15 minutes, put down, and never remember that you hadn't finished. Since Hope, by his own account, has employed more joke writers than Methuselah had years (one of them helped him with this book), and since he has been at it since 1923, statistically speaking the chances are good that many of his stories will seem fresh.

The problem is that jokes, like songs and plays, are not meant to be read. They're meant to be heard, embroidered with the lift of an eyebrow, a deft pause, a tone of voice. Reading them, one gets the impression of a guy who not only won't shut up, but who keeps cracking jokes in order to avoid telling you anything real about himself. One has to admire him -- for his indefatigability if nothing else -- but, at 80-plus, one rather hopes Hope might produce something a little more reflective, or at least attempt a style that would allow the reader to think his anecdotes bear some resemblance to the truth.

But the closest he gets to self-revelation is in the last paragraph, when he says "People ask me why I don't retire and go fishing. I have one answer that sums it all up.

"Fish don't applaud."

Megan Rosenfeld is a staff writer for the Style section of The Washington Post.