PRINT December 1984


The 60s Without Apology, Telex Iran, Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Wired

JUDY JACKLIN, JOHN BELUSHI’S WIDOW, chose Bob Woodward, a writer without a sense of humor, to memorialize her husband, who had his moments. Woodward found a few good stories, such as how Columbia turned the Belushi/Dan Aykroyd vehicle Neighbors, one of the great turkeys of our time, into a marginal money-maker; it’s not enough to make your day. A man who refuses to speculate, charting the disintegration of a man who refused to think, Woodward can testify only to the meticulousness of his research; the reader is left to ask the questions—or rather, dulled by the legal-archives research to the point of finding the story of how Columbia made money off Neighbors fascinating, to conclude that Belushi wasn’t worth a book. This stinking tale needs a writer with a sense of smell; it begs for a trash sensibility, for the trash Freudianism of Peter Swales or the trash poetry of Kathy Acker, and they have other work to do. Woodward takes the assignment seriously because he takes his journalistic standards seriously, but he doesn’t understand that Belushi rode the always questionable joke of the Blues Brothers into an industry without caring that what began as a tame parody of racism became the genuine item. Why bother with a writer who won’t say this took place because he can’t find two independent sources to corroborate what can never be a fact?

Bob Woodward, Wired: The Short Life And Fast Times Of John Belushi (New York: Simon & Schuster), 461 pp., 50 black and white photographs.


THE GREAT VIRTUE OF THIS oversized book—Frenchman Peress’ pictures from 1979 to 1980—is its orchestration of a country cracking apart in revolution. The sense that all things are possible is patent, and so, given the foreboding on the faces of Peress’ subjects and the viewer’s own hindsight, is the sense that all things are forbidden. The spookiest photos are perhaps those of images of women, images now banned (to display them could bring the death penalty): a poster of a woman’s face in a bus window, an amusement-park mural of a satyr carrying off his prey. Almost every living woman seen here is veiled by the chador; with amazing force, these erotic images suggest not freedom to be exercised but sin to be wiped out. Gholam-Hossein Saedi’s afterword claims that the “Shah’s regime . . . was merely a beautiful carpet spread over a swamp teeming with unknown worms and insects”; he means the fanatics of the revolution. Following Peress’ pictures, this seems like class bias. Revolutionary Iran is evil, but its evil is its own, not that of the CIA, which installed the Shah’s regime in 1953. The history revolutionary Iran is making is evil, but it is real history, and so, all fragments and subjective/commercial choices (I’ve got to shoot that, Peress says; can my agency sell it?), is this book.

Caveat: My book fell apart when I opened it.

Gilles Peress, Telex Iran: In The Name Of Revolution, essay by Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi (Millerton, NY: Aperture), 112 pp., 100 black and white photographs.


THIS STRANGE BOOK DEALS with obscure, not-quite-country and not-quite-r&b artists who saw pop music as a source of ready cash but gained no more than expressionist or formalist satisfaction. Aside from Tosches the only writers to approach these performers (the Treniers, Amos Milburn, Roy Hall, Hardrock Gunter, 23 more) have been British pedants concerned most of all with the color of the label on the original issue of their first records. Tosches is more concerned with what god they might have followed—Baal, Beelzebub, this or that Canaanite fertility deity. His syntax is always perfect, and that love of grammar gives tension to his altogether Gnostic themes: what did the singers know that you don’t, and what must you give up to know what they knew? The first thing you must give up is the certainty that by giving up everything you will find out anything. The book casts spells, but Tosches god is a Trickster; by and large, the music doesn’t make his case. It’s thin, hesitant, genre: Roy Hall wrote and sang “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” but only to call forth Jerry Lee Lewis. The final truth of Unsung Heroes is not that everything you know is wrong—the case Tosches wants to make—but that the mysteries of cultural practice are bottomless.

Nick Tosches, Unsung Heroes Of Rock ’N’ Roll: The Birth Of Rock ’N’ Roll In The Dark And Wild Years Before Elvis (New York: Scribner’s), 245 pp., occasional photographs, chronology, discography.


THIS BOOK MEANS TO COUNTER the dismissal of the ’60s now implicit in almost all mainstream American political and cultural discourse. Neither that project nor a definition of “the ’60s” as “merely the name we give to a disruption of late-capitalist ideological and political hegemony . . . of the bourgeois dream of unproblematic production . . . of the end of history” need apology. But this segmented grab bag (here’s the feminist, here’s the rock writer, here’s the black writer) does. A project needs a point of view; an anthology needs an editor, not four. When worthiness replaces judgment (all too ’60s, I can’t help saying), the results are such atrocities as an endless ramble by Flo Kennedy (who is beyond apology), or a 30-page treatise on French Maoism—the ultimate ’60s pseudomovement. (Its principal issue, the “New Philosophers,” was an international joke that ranks with the Pet Rock.) In this context, Jameson’s essay, “Periodizing the 60s,” comes off as a masterpiece—it may be the only bit of original thinking here. Arriving in tandem with the 20th anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, to which Without Apology contains only a few random references, the book is pathetic. Read Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1969), Emmett Grogan’s Ringolevio (1972), and Seymour Martin Lipset and Sheldon Wolin’s The Berkeley Student Revolt (1965) instead.

The 60s Without Apology, eds. Sohnya Sayres, Anders Stephanson, Stanley Aronowitz, and Fredric Jameson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota/SocialText), 391 pp., 30 black and white illustrations.


Greil Marcus contributes regularly to Artforum.