By Mary Warner Marien. Mary Warner Marien, who writes from LaFayette, N. Y., teaches fine arts .
The Christian Science Monitor
FROM duck calls to downtown dwellings, country tunes to cookbooks, the sights, sounds, and experiences of ordinary life are recounted in a wide array of university-press books this fall.
Karal Ann Marling's As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s amusingly appraises popular culture of the past. Marling highlights the impact of television's first influential decade. From Mamie Eisenhower's apparel to the aesthetics of food advertising and cookbooks, she demonstrates the extent to which Americans began to measure their personal lives against what was seen on television.
Similarly, Cecelia Tichi investigates popular music as a significant cultural indicator. High Lonesome: The American Culture of Country Music and its accompanying compact disc present an appreciative yet critical analysis of country music and its centrality to life in the last decade of the 20th century. Tichi argues that these songs are not simply rural ballads. Country music reflects the complexities of home life and interpersonal relationships in such a way that it reverberates with the dilemmas of the metropolitan and suburban present.
Integrating current events with personal experience is an old formula for popular music. In The Voices That Are Gone: Themes in 19th-Century American Popular Song, Jon W. Finson retraces the significance of old standards like "The Sidewalks of New York" (1894) and unfamiliar tunes like "Girls, Get a Home of Your Own" (1866) in the context of American social customs and history. He outlines how the growing music industry responded to events like the abolition of slavery and confrontations with native Americans. Chapters on courtship and love give way to less predictable subjects like popular views of technology and the experience of multi-ethnic society.
Although improvisation is at the heart of much popular music, spontaneous creativity is more readily associated with jazz. Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, by Paul F. Berliner, examines how, in the mistaken assumption that they are championing jazz, fans sometimes overlook the process that gives the music its remarkable improvisational character.
After having conducted hundreds of hours worth of interviews with jazz musicians, Berliner concludes that a unique and supportive jazz community has informally established forms of mentoring that encourage young musicians to acquire a large storehouse of historical knowledge. …