Hip : The History

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 1/12/2010
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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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." Book jacket.

Author Biography

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

Table of Contents

Preface: Getting Hip 1(3)
Introduction: What Is Hip? Superficial Reflections on America 4(219)
1 In the Beginning There Was Rhythm: Slavery, Minstrelsy and the Blues
2 The O.G:s: Emerson, Thoreau, Melville and Whitman
3 My Black/White Roots: Jazz, the Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance
4 Would a Hipster Hit a Lady? Pulp Fiction, Film Noir and Gangsta Rap
5 The Golden Age of Hip, Part 1: Bebop, Cool Jazz and the Cold War
6 The Golden Age of Hip, Part 2: The Beats
7 The Tricksters: Signifying Monkeys and Other Hip Engines of Progress
8 Hip Has Three Fingers: The Miseducation of Bugs Bunny
9 The World Is a Ghetto: Blacks, Jews and Blues
10 Criminally Hip: Outlaws, Gangsters, Players, Hustlers 223(16)
11 Where the Ladies At? Rebel Girls, Riot Grrrls and the Revenge on the Mother 239(21)
12 Behind the Music: The Drug Connection 260(22)
13 "It's Like Punk Rock, But a Car": Hip Sells Out 282(28)
14 Do Geeks Dream of HTML Sheep? A Digressive Journey Through Digital Hip 310(29)
15 Everybody's Hip: Superficial Reflections on the White Caucasian 339(18)
Notes 357(30)
Photo Credits 387(2)
Index 389


Hip: The History

Chapter One

In the Beginning There Was Rhythm
Slavery, Minstrelsy and the Blues

Do you know what a nerd is? A nerd is a human being withoutenough Africa in him or her ... You know why music was the centerof our lives for such a long time? Because it was a way of allowingAfrica in. -- Brian Eno

Toward the end of 1619, John Rolfe, the first tobacco grower of Virginia,noted the arrival of a new import to the British colonies. Rolfe(1585–1622) is best known as the husband of Pocahontas, and it was hisexperiments with growing tobacco that saved the Jamestown settlementfrom ruin. The incoming cargo he noted on this day would change thecourse of tobacco and the colonies as a whole. "About the last of August,"he wrote, "came a Dutch man of war that sold us twenty Negroes."

These slaves, likely looted from a Spanish ship or one of the Spanishcolonies to the south, were not the first African slaves in North America.The Spanish explorers Pánfilo de Narváez, Menendéz de Avilés and Coronadohad all brought slaves into what is now Florida and New Mexico.Yetthe 20 Africans who were brought ashore at modern-day Hampton, Virginia,then carried upriver for sale in Jamestown, formally marked the beginning of what would be 246 years of America's "peculiar institution" ofslavery. Five years after their arrival, a 1624 census of Virginia recordedthe presence of 22 blacks. Before the country banned new imports in1808, leaving still the illegal market, around 600,000 to 650,000 Africanswere brought to the states in bondage; by 1860, on the eve of the CivilWar, there were almost 4 million slaves in the United States, out of a totalpopulation of 31 million.

A pressing question in the evolution of hip is, why here? Why did hipas we know it, and as it is emulated around the world, arise as a distinctlyAmerican phenomenon? Many of its signature elements existed amongthe bohemians of the Left Bank in Paris -- or, for that matter, among thoseof Bohemia, now a part of the Czech Republic. The European capitalsembraced the romance of scruff at least as early as Henri Murger's 1840sliterary sketches, Scènes de la vie die bohème, or Giacomo Puccini's 1896opera based on the sketches, La Bohème. Yet it is impossible to imagineEurope producing the blues or the Beats, the Harlem Renaissance or theFactory. What distinguished the United States is both simple and, in itsramifications, maddeningly, insolubly complex. That difference is thepresence of Africans, and the coexistence of two very different populationsin a new country with undefined boundaries.Without the Africans,there is no hip.

To be finer about it, there is no hip without African Americans andEuropean Americans, inventing new identities for themselves as Americansin each other's orbit. These first-generation arrivals, black and white,and their second-, third- and fourth-generation heirs, learned to beAmericans together. As a self-conscious idea, America took shape acrossan improvised chasm of race. Some of the most passionate argumentsover slavery were economic rather than moral: Adam Smith argued thatit undermined the free market for labor; defenders countered that the peculiarinstitution was more humane than the "wage slavery" of northernfactories. But on a practical level, people on both sides of the divideneeded strategies for negotiating the conundrum that held them apart,interdependent but radically segregated.

These strategies are hip's formative processes.While we often think ofhip as springing whole into the world in the 1920s or 1950s, its roots goback at least another century. Hipster language, stance and irony begin not in the cool poses of the modern city but on the antebellum plantation,in the interplay of these two populations. For all their difference instanding, the black and white foreigners taught each other how to talk,eat, sing, worship and celebrate, each side learning as it was being learned.Customs passed back and forth. Though history texts talk of Africans becomingEuropeanized, or of Europeans stealing the blues, the ways thetwo populations dealt with each other were more complicated than that.Such borrowing is never indiscriminate, nor the copying exact. Like digitalsamplers, the borrowers pick and choose what works for them, andshape it to their own ends; the final product comments on both its originsand its manipulations.

This produced the feedback loop of hip, which centuries later gives uswhite kids sporting doo rags. Against the larger story of racial oppressionand animosity, there was also one of creative interplay. The two populationshad something to take from each other. In the decades bracketingthe Civil War, when a maturing America began to stage stories about itself,it created two idioms that reflected exactly this unresolved vortex.The first is the blackface minstrel show, which surfaced in the 1820s and 1830s and is considered America's first popular culture. The second is theblues, which appeared toward the end of the century. These two forms,nurtured on American soil, are the twined root stems of hip. We liveamong their branches to this day.

If hip is a story of synthesis in the context of division, its origins lie inthe unique structure of slavery in America, which pushed the two populationstogether. In the massive sugar plantations of Brazil and theCaribbean, which accounted for the majority of the transatlantic slavetrade, slaves lived in overwhelmingly black worlds. Owners ran theseplantations from a distance, working their slaves to death in the tropicalclimes and then importing huge waves of replacements. African culturesand languages, constantly replenished by new arrivals, survived relativelyundiluted, and do to this day. In North America, by contrast, until the inventionof the cotton gin in 1793 spurred the growth of big plantations,most farms were small and required few slaves. Owners worked the land,often without overseers between them and the slaves ...

Hip: The History. Copyright © by John Leland. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Hip the History: The History by John Leland
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