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Birth Of The Cool

Beat, Bebop, and the American Avant Garde

About The Book

Miles Davis and Juliette Greco, Jackson Pollock and Jack Kerouac, Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan and William Burroughs.
What do all these people have in common? Fame, of course, and undeniable talent. But most of all, they were cool.
Birth of the Cool is a stunningly illustrated, brilliantly written cultural history of the American avant-garde in the 1940s and 1950s -- the decades in which cool was born. From intimate interviews with cool icons like poet Allen Ginsberg, bop saxophonist Jackie McLean, and Living Theatre cofounder Judith Malina, award-winning journalist and poet Lewis MacAdams extracts the essence of cool. Taking us inside the most influential and experimental art movements of the twentieth century -- from the Harlem jazz joints where Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker invented bebop to the back room at Max's Kansas City when Andy Warhol was holding court to backstage at the Newport Folk Festival the night Bob Dylan went electric, from Surrealism to the Black Mountain School to Zen -- MacAdams traces the evolution of cool from the very fringes of society to the mainstream.
Born of World War II, raised on atomic-age paranoia, cast out of the culture by the realities of racism and the insanity of the Cold War, cool is now, perversely, as conventional as you can get. Allen Ginsberg suited up for Gap ads. Volvo appropriated a phrase from Jack Kerouac's On the Road for its TV commercials. How one became the other is a terrific story, and it is presented here in a gorgeous package, rich with the coolest photographs of the black-and-white era from Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, and many others.
Drawing a direct line between Lester Young wearing his pork-pie hat and his crepe-sole shoes staring out his hotel window at Birdland to the author's three-year-old daughter saying "cool" while watching a Scooby-Doo cartoon at the cusp of a new millennium, Birth of the Cool is a cool book about a hot subject...maybe even the coolest book ever.

About The Author

Lewis MacAdams is the author of ten books of poetry, a film documentarian (What Happened to Kerouac?, Eric Bogosian's FunHouse, and the Battle of the Bards), and an award-winning writer for Rolling StoneActuelLos Angeles Times Magazine, and L.A. Weekly, among others.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Free Press (February 5, 2001)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780684813547

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Raves and Reviews

Jann Wenner editor and founder of Rolling Stone I've always been a fan of Lewis MacAdams's writing. He brings the eye and ear of a poet and the heart of a journalist to his work.

Kurt Loder MTV I loved this book, which is so redolent of the periods it covers. The history of hip, from the beginning. Lewis MacAdams connects all the dots -- Monk and Miles, Burroughs and the Beats, Pollock and Sartre and Warhol and Dylan -- in this vivid chronicle of the birth of a new postwar culture, high on art and Zen and heroin, too. The saga of the crazed jazz conguero Chano Pozo is worth the price of purchase alone.

Andrei Codrescu NPR commentator and author of Messiah The elusive quality of "cool" needed a poet to keep it still long enough to glimpse its awesome pervasiveness. For generations of Americans, "cool" has been the alternative to hypocrisy, the creative challenge to boredom, the hallmark of distinction. What began as the search for an attitude of defiance and beauty on the part of some Black musicians became a veritable "cool rush" in the last decades. Lewis MacAdams charts the complex flows of this cultural force from its underground roots to its present ubiquitousness. This is a cool book written by one of America's coolest poets.

Jim Carroll author of The Basketball Diaries This book's a dead-on hit. MacAdams combines a reporter's sense for research with a poet's voice. It's not just the facts he comes up with, but that the facts are so entertaining.

Rubin Martinez author of The Other Side: Notes from the New L.A., Mexico City, and Beyond and associate editor of Pacific News Service Birth of the Cool reads great, and connects dots that somehow have become disconnected over time. From the ethereal breath of jazz players to the inimitable gait of zoot suiters, from beatific bards searching for satori to pop musicians hiding their pain behind the baddest of shades, cool is not just highest sign of American signage; it is the very house of our being. Cool smashes the border between high and low art, cuts across the lines of race and class, provides a link between peoples and places with little in common other than their desire to reimagine themselves through style and create a language for that which cannot be spoken. MacAdams's cool prose -- an epic yet restrained ode -- delivers the aesthetic history of twentieth-century America and prepares us for the cool to come.

Robert Farris Thompson Professor of History of Art at Yale University The Doctor of Cool-ology's text is in and it's witty, informative, and rich -- essential reading for anyone following American popular culture.

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