The Objects of Everyday Life in a Literary Spotlight Manhole Covers and Gas Stations Take Center Stage in a Spate of University-Press Books That Celebrate the Commonplace

By Mary Warner Marien. Mary Warner Marien, who writes from LaFayette, N. Y., teaches fine arts . | The Christian Science Monitor, October 7, 1994 | Go to article overview

The Objects of Everyday Life in a Literary Spotlight Manhole Covers and Gas Stations Take Center Stage in a Spate of University-Press Books That Celebrate the Commonplace


Mary Warner Marien. Mary Warner Marien, who writes from LaFayette, N. Y., teaches fine arts ., The Christian Science Monitor


AS SEEN ON TV: THE VISUAL CULTURE OF EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE 1950s By Karal Ann Marling; Harvard University Press 328 pp., $24.95 HIGH LONESOME: THE AMERICAN CULTURE OF COUNTRY MUSIC By Cecelia Tichi; University of North Carolina Press 318 pp., $39.95 (including CD) THE VOICES THAT ARE GONE: THEMES IN 19TH-CENTURY AMERICAN POPULAR SONG By Jon W. Finson; Oxford University Press 336 pp., $39.95 THINKING IN JAZZ: THE INFINITE ART OF IMPROVISATION By Paul F. Berliner; University of Chicago Press 883 pp., $85 cloth $29.95 paper EXTENDED PLAY: SOUNDING OFF FROM JOHN CAGE TO DR. FUNKENSTEIN By John Corbett; Duke University Press 342 pp., $17.95 paper SWING CHANGES: BIG-BAND JAZZ IN NEW DEAL AMERICA By David W. Stowe; Harvard University Press 299 pp., $29.95 MANHOLE COVERS Text by Mimi Melnick Photographs by Robert A. Melnick; MIT Press, 272 pp., $39.95 THE GAS STATION IN AMERICA By John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle; Johns Hopkins University Press 272 pp., $32.95 LIVING DOWNTOWN: THE HISTORY OF RESIDENTIAL HOTELS IN THE UNITED STATES By Paul Groth; University of California Press 401 pp., $35 RAILROAD POSTCARDS IN THE AGE OF STEAM By H. Roger Grant; University of Iowa Press 208 pp., $29.95 FOURTEEN FAMILIES IN PUEBLO POTTERY By Rick Dillingham; University of New Mexico Press 289 pp., $75 cloth $37.50 paper AMERICAN INDIAN PARFLECHE: A TRADITION OF ABSTRACT PAINTING By Gaylord Torrence; University of Washington Press/Des Moines Art Center 272 pp., $60 cloth $35 paper DUCK CALLS OF ILLINOIS 1863-1963 By Robert D. Christensen; Northern Illinois University Press 190 pp., $65

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. …

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