Books by Joseph Lanza

Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Gravity, that awesome, ubiquitous presence, is too often reduced here to a springboard for launching a handful of fevered conjectures. ``Gravity schmavity,'' as the ad folk behind Wonderbra might have it. But the force never relents: Unhook that undergarment, and gravity goes to work. It tucks you into your chair, shapes your tears, keeps the universe from splintering outward. The strength of attraction is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the objects—and, as the author notes, ``down is the only direction.'' Lanza (The Cocktail, 1995, etc.) starts out pleasingly enough, detailing the history of elevators (early ones were thought of as thrill rides for the strong-hearted) and the influence of gravity on the crafting of furniture, such as the Eames Chair, with its ``base so slim it seemed to lift derriäres from the ground.'' He ponders Salvador Dal°'s dystopia as a deep-seated gravity aversion; tackles everyday kitchen vexations, such as how toast, knocked off a counter, will ``always rotate at an angular velocity of 180 degrees and hence, never has a desirable landing'' (namely, it will indeed always land buttered side down). But Lanza is also happy to delve willy-nilly into suspect terrain: ``The rollercoaster's fusion of manly mechanical with the matronly organic gives it an androgynous edge.'' How's that? He concocts a forced pas-de-deux of distant cousins General Norman Schwarzkopf and Anton Schwarzkopf, a designer of roller coasters, and their ``separate but parallel gravity wars.'' Consider this a paradigm of antigravity: a brief incandescence of entertainment followed by notions so light they melt—vapidly, forgettably—into thin air. (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 15, 1995

The meaning of mixed drinks, served by pop culture historian Lanza with a twist when it might better have been offered neat. Lanza (Elevator Music, 1994, etc.) must work almost as an archaeologist, since his sources are largely myths and artifacts; the derivation of ``cocktail'' is shrouded in mystery, and Lanza has unearthed half a dozen different creation stories for the martini. He traces cocktail culture from the illicit glamour of Prohibition to the '30s, ``when Martinis first emerged as the supreme sign of urban elegance,'' on to the Cold War cocktail party and the decadent modern era of `` `girl drinks'—those elaborate concoctions that flout all pretense at good taste and embrace prolonged adolescence.'' Along the way he provides a few insights into the ritual of drinking, the allure of the cocktail lounge, cinematic boozing, and the charms of cocktail crooners and chanteuses, with a particularly sensitive analysis of the memorable Julie London. For example, Lanza points out that cocktail lounge designers anticipated by decades the ``altered-state environment'' associated with LSD, and that Hollywood Production Code moralism was seldom imposed on alcohol consumption. Despite occasional illuminating passages, unfortunately, the book's ingredients get muddled and its message diluted; throughout, it confuses the impact of the cocktail with that of drinking per se. Lanza's breezy style makes for a fast read but can be as cloying as a Brandy Alexander. In trying to posit the cocktail as a symbol of sophistication, he ignores the destructive power that led to Prohibition and to the contemporary 12-step culture. Like a drunken spree: not without its pleasures, but sloppy and apt to lead to misunderstandings. (15 b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 21, 1994

Philosophy and history of American background music by pop- culture historian Lanza (Fragile Geometry, 1991—not reviewed). Lanza focuses on a variety of different types of what he calls ``moodsong,'' from commercial Muzak through the sugary strings of Mantovani and the purling choruses of Ray Coniff on to '80s ``new age'' sounds. He is unabashed in his admiration for all of these styles, asserting that they are ``in many respects, aesthetically superior to all other musical forms.'' He traces the history of so- called ``functional music'' to the work of avant-garde artists of the early 20th century such as Erik Satie, who sought to wed art with the innovations of the machine age, and early heroes include Muzak's inventor/originator, General George Owen Squier, who studied the effect of music on productivity and mood. Lanza is most interesting in analyzing the psychology of Muzak programming, showing how the company developed a schedule based on the time of day, so that, for example, ``the breakfast hours offered cheery sunrise melodies and caffeinated rhythms.'' The book's midsection is a listener's guide to the golden age of easy listening, with descriptions of cocktail-conductor Jackie Gleason, the bubbly champagne music of Lawrence Welk, and the swooning voices of the Anita Kerr singers. In closing, Lanza addresses philosophical issues in Muzak; the possible evil effects of background music; the phenomena of '70s ``lite'' music and ``metarock''; and the adaptation of rock songs to the Muzak aesthetic. Still, however mightily he may argue that ``elevator essentially a distillation of the happiness that modern technology has promised,'' Lanza fails to convince that the ``easy listening'' creators were really more than schlockmeisters with a commercial bent. (Eight pages of b&w photos—not seen) Read full book review >