A mixed bag, sometimes entertaining, sometimes arid, but full of useful insights; readers won’t look at Lady Gaga or Nicki...

GOOD BOOTY

LOVE AND SEX, BLACK AND WHITE, BODY AND SOUL IN AMERICAN MUSIC

Forget drugs: sex and rock & roll are where it’s at in this survey of the devil’s music and its carnal dimensions.

NPR music critic Powers (Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America, 2000, etc.) opens on a political note, observing, “America’s erotic drive emerged as inseparable from the fact of its troubled multiculturalism.” Take it as a given that nations have “erotic drives” and that any discussion of “American bodies” requires us to acknowledge “the legacy of gross inequality that begins in the enslavement of Africans.” The author then settles into her occasionally diffuse narrative that connects Congo Square to Beyoncé and bemoans the devolution of Ma Rainey’s bawdy to the pornified, auto-tuned hip-hop of today. Where Powers successfully connects the dots, light bulbs flash: it is fascinating to watch her join the gay subculture of disco to the success of the sisters Labelle, nee the Blue Bells, remade in “a previously unexplored space where glam met funk met soul via strictly female interplay.” (Well, perhaps not strictly female, since, as Powers notes, the designer of Labelle’s outrageously flamboyant costumes went on to invent the costumes of the swaggering cartoon band KISS.) Even where she does not successfully make those connections, as with her notes on the apache (“pronounced A-POSH, not like the Native American tribal name”) dance and its not-so-subtle masochism, which never quite caught on in the larger culture, she ventures interesting theses. Mostly, the author strings together bright tidbits of cultural trivia to reconstruct and deconstruct the kinship of dirty blues and gospel, the shared underage girlfriends of now-iconic British rock stars, and other points of prurient interest.

A mixed bag, sometimes entertaining, sometimes arid, but full of useful insights; readers won’t look at Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj the same way after considering them among the “cartoonish card deck of sexualized female archetypes” that constitutes so much of the present pop scene.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-246369-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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