A longtime journalist takes a cultural deep dive into the history and contemporary re-emergence of Mexico’s second-most-famous elixir.
In an industry dominated by agribusiness and liquor wholesalers, the locally cultivated, small-batch character of mezcal is something special. In this debut work of nonfiction, Greene takes his time to narrate the tale, employing journalistic instincts and a keen talent for capturing people’s stories. This is quickly apparent as he shares a drink with two immigrants in his Santa Fe home. “It doesn’t matter if their local hooch tastes good or bad, or if anyone likes it,” he writes. “The drink is a reflection of who they are—and that’s something to be proud of.” From there, Greene describes his evolution from drinking worm-laden mezcal in college to discovering the subtle burn, smokiness, and richness of the nectar cultivated in Mexico’s Oaxaca region, where he spent nine months in 2011. There are a variety of voices represented here, ranging from the artisan producers who use alchemy to craft their wares to two young entrepreneurs hoping to build their fortunes on mezcal in the United States. Greene also incorporates bits of regional history, from the inhabitants’ Zapotec origins to the coming of the Spanish around the 15th century. The author touches on the swinging days of psychedelic tourism that inspired the likes of William Burroughs and Malcolm Lowry, among others. Greene also deftly mixes chemistry and poetry, taking care to reflect on the refining of mezcal as an art as much as a science. Alongside clear but focused descriptions of making mezcal, the author describes it as “drinkable folk art.” Finally, Greene asks pointed questions as he ponders “Columbusing” and the schism between the way mezcal is portrayed and its authentic, indigenous roots.
A rich, inclusive portrait of one of the world’s great drinks.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)