The Origins of Cool in Postwar America

University of Chicago Press
This book will become available on July 13, 2018. You will not be charged until it is released.

Cool. It was a new word and a new way to be, and in a single generation, it became the supreme compliment of American culture. The Origins of Cool in Postwar America uncovers the hidden history of this concept and its new set of codes that came to define a global attitude and style. As Joel Dinerstein reveals in this dynamic book, cool began as a stylish defiance of racism, a challenge to suppressed sexuality, a philosophy of individual rebellion, and a youthful search for social change.

Through eye-opening portraits of iconic figures, Dinerstein illuminates the cultural connections and artistic innovations among Lester Young, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Jack Kerouac, Albert Camus, Marlon Brando, and James Dean, among others. We eavesdrop on conversations among Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Miles Davis, and on a forgotten debate between Lorraine Hansberry and Norman Mailer over the "white Negro" and black cool. We come to understand how the cool worlds of Beat writers and Method actors emerged from the intersections of film noir, jazz, and existentialism. Out of this mix, Dinerstein sketches nuanced definitions of cool that unite concepts from African-American and Euro-American culture: the stylish stoicism of the ethical rebel loner; the relaxed intensity of the improvising jazz musician; the effortless, physical grace of the Method actor. To be cool is not to be hip and to be hot is definitely not to be cool.

This is the first work to trace the history of cool during the Cold War by exploring the intersections of film noir, jazz, existential literature, Method acting, blues, and rock and roll. Dinerstein reveals that they came together to create something completely new—and that something is cool.
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About the author

Joel Dinerstein was the curator of American Cool, an acclaimed exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and the author of its accompanying catalog. He is also the author of the award-winning Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African-American Culture and Coach: A History of New York Cool. He is a cultural historian and professor of English at Tulane University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jul 13, 2018
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Pages
576
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ISBN
9780226453439
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Language
English
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Genres
History / General
History / United States / 20th Century
Literary Criticism / American / General
Music / Genres & Styles / Jazz
Music / History & Criticism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In any age and any given society, cultural practices reflect the material circumstances of people's everyday lives. According to Joel Dinerstein, it was no different in America between the two World Wars-an era sometimes known as the "machine age"-when innovative forms of music and dance helped a newly urbanized population cope with the increased mechanization of modern life. Grand spectacles such as the Ziegfeld Follies and the movies of Busby Berkeley captured the American ethos of mass production, with chorus girls as the cogs of these fast, flowing pleasure vehicles.

Yet it was African American culture, Dinerstein argues, that ultimately provided the means of aesthetic adaptation to the accelerated tempo of modernity. Drawing on a legacy of engagement with and resistance to technological change, with deep roots in West African dance and music, black artists developed new cultural forms that sought to humanize machines. In "The Ballad of John Henry," the epic toast "Shine," and countless blues songs, African Americans first addressed the challenge of industrialization. Jazz musicians drew on the symbol of the train within this tradition to create a set of train-derived aural motifs and rhythms, harnessing mechanical power to cultural forms. Tap dance and the lindy hop brought machine aesthetics to the human body, while the new rhythm section of big band swing mimicked the industrial soundscape of northern cities. In Dinerstein's view, the capacity of these artistic innovations to replicate the inherent qualities of the machine-speed, power, repetition, flow, precision-helps explain both their enormous popularity and social function in American life.

Ted Gioia's History of Jazz has been universally hailed as a classic--acclaimed by jazz critics and fans around the world. Now Gioia brings his magnificent work completely up-to-date, drawing on the latest research and revisiting virtually every aspect of the music, past and present. Gioia tells the story of jazz as it had never been told before, in a book that brilliantly portrays the legendary jazz players, the breakthrough styles, and the world in which it evolved. Here are the giants of jazz and the great moments of jazz history--Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club, cool jazz greats such as Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie's advocacy of modern jazz in the 1940s, Miles Davis's 1955 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, Ornette Coleman's experiments with atonality, Pat Metheny's visionary extension of jazz-rock fusion, the contemporary sounds of Wynton Marsalis, and the post-modernists of the current day. Gioia provides the reader with lively portraits of these and many other great musicians, intertwined with vibrant commentary on the music they created. He also evokes the many worlds of jazz, taking the reader to the swamp lands of the Mississippi Delta, the bawdy houses of New Orleans, the rent parties of Harlem, the speakeasies of Chicago during the Jazz Age, the after hours spots of corrupt Kansas city, the Cotton Club, the Savoy, and the other locales where the history of jazz was made. And as he traces the spread of this protean form, Gioia provides much insight into the social context in which the music was born.
In any age and any given society, cultural practices reflect the material circumstances of people's everyday lives. According to Joel Dinerstein, it was no different in America between the two World Wars-an era sometimes known as the "machine age"-when innovative forms of music and dance helped a newly urbanized population cope with the increased mechanization of modern life. Grand spectacles such as the Ziegfeld Follies and the movies of Busby Berkeley captured the American ethos of mass production, with chorus girls as the cogs of these fast, flowing pleasure vehicles.

Yet it was African American culture, Dinerstein argues, that ultimately provided the means of aesthetic adaptation to the accelerated tempo of modernity. Drawing on a legacy of engagement with and resistance to technological change, with deep roots in West African dance and music, black artists developed new cultural forms that sought to humanize machines. In "The Ballad of John Henry," the epic toast "Shine," and countless blues songs, African Americans first addressed the challenge of industrialization. Jazz musicians drew on the symbol of the train within this tradition to create a set of train-derived aural motifs and rhythms, harnessing mechanical power to cultural forms. Tap dance and the lindy hop brought machine aesthetics to the human body, while the new rhythm section of big band swing mimicked the industrial soundscape of northern cities. In Dinerstein's view, the capacity of these artistic innovations to replicate the inherent qualities of the machine-speed, power, repetition, flow, precision-helps explain both their enormous popularity and social function in American life.

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