Synopses & Reviews
How an underground idea shaped American culture, from sex and music to race, fashion, drugs, commerce and the national rites of rebellion.
Hip: The History is the story of an American obsession. Derived from the Wolof word hepi or hipi ("to see," or "to open one's eyes"), which came to America with West African Slaves, hip is the dance between black and white or insider and outsider that gives America its unique flavor and rhythm. It has created fortunes, destroyed lives and shaped the way millions of us talk, dress, dance, make love or see ourselves in the mirror. Everyone knows what hip is.
This is the story of how we got here. Hip: The History draws the connections between Walt Whitman and Richard Hell, or Raymond Chandler and Snoop Dogg. It slinks among the pimps, hustlers, outlaws, junkies, scoundrels, white negroes, Beats, geeks, beboppers and other hipsters who crash the American experiment, and without whom we might all be listening to show tunes.
Along the way, Hip: The History looks at hip's quest for authenticity, which binds millions of us together in a paradoxical desire to be different. Because, as George Clinton said, "You can't fake the funk."
"What is hip? Leland has researched contemporary answers to that question for Spin, Details and the New York Times, and now probes deeper for a rigorous historical analysis that goes beyond the usual hot spots of the Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance, encompassing colonial plantations, animation studios, pulp magazine racks and the latest hipster hangouts. The story of hip is largely the story of American race relations, and Leland addresses the ways whites and blacks have interpreted and imitated one another from many angles, as assuredly perceptive when he analyzes Al Jolson's blackface persona as he is exploring the dynamic between bop jazz and Beat Generation writers. Refusing to either champion or condemn 'the white boy who stole the blues,' Leland presents readers with an accessible model of complex social forces. The breadth and sophistication of his argument is admirable, but it wouldn't be as convincing without his engaging tone, which shuns condescension to invite readers into a genial conversation Leland even jokes about how the nature of hipness might date his book. Leland needn't worry: though hip will always be a matter of perception, few will be able to read this eclectic history without agreeing it's on to something. 49 b&w photos. Agent, Paul Bresnick. (Oct. 5) Forecast: With national radio interviews (including NPR) and author appearances, Leland's chronicle should reach all those who dig pop culture studies, whether they're fans of Miles Davis or the White Stripes." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The New York Times John Leland offers an incisive, entertaining look at this peculiarly American cultural notion." Elle
"Although books on individual aspects of hip have appeared before, Leland may be the first to look at the big, complex picture. This absorbing analysis is highly recommended." Library Journal
"What is hip? If you have to ask, ask John Leland." Joe Levy, Rolling Stone
"[Leland] takes a sweeping, analytical look at...what it means to be keenly aware of the next big thing." Time Out New York
"Hip: The History is the definitive work on the subject." Paper Magazine
"[A] thoroughgoing, research-intensive analysis of that uniquely American anti-establishment posture known as hip....Intriguing, bracing stuff...[it] abounds with ...joyful little provocations and nuggets of concentrated thought." David Kamp,
New York Times Book Review
Hip is the story of the evolution of American popular culture over the 20th century to its current position as the world's cultural touchstone. Art throughout.
About the Author
John Leland is a reporter for the New York Times and former editor in chief of Details, and he was an original columnist at SPIN magazine. Robert Christgau of the Village Voice called him "the best American postmod critic (the best new American rock critic period)," and Chuck D of Public Enemy said the nasty parts of the song "Bring the Noise" were written about him. He lives in Manhattan's East Village with his wife, Risa, and son, Jordan.