THE COCKTAIL: The Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche by Joseph Lanza

THE COCKTAIL: The Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche

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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.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1995
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: St. Martin's