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The Birth (and Death) of the Cool Hardcover – November 1, 2009


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The Birth (and Death) of the Cool + The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture (Portable Stanford Book Series)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Speck Press; First Edition edition (November 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933108312
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933108315
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,199,673 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

We're through being cool, Devo announced back in 1981, and Gioia contends that the rest of America has slowly caught up. Describing cool as a set of beliefs, values, and behavior patterns rooted in the personal and musical styles of Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young and Miles Davis (with a healthy dose of Bugs Bunny), Gioia argues that while their ironic detachment once held sway, earnestness has made its way back on top. His narrative history of cool hits intriguing touchstones, such as Lee Strasberg and Frank Sinatra, while a time line appendix provides even more cultural referents—for the new sincerity as well, culminating with the arrival of Susan Boyle and Twitter. At times his explanations for how trendy loses out to homespun can be reductive, as when he offers the boom in motivational self-help books for teen readers as evidence of a postcool generation. Sometimes it's downright confusing: anime and manga are presented as quintessentially uncool with only the barest of explanations. Gioia's conversational tone breezes through such rough patches, however, and though one might welcome more historical context for the long-running tension between cool and uncool as coexisting movements in American culture, he's at least zeroed in on a major shift in the balance between the two. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

We're through being cool, Devo announced back in 1981, and Gioia contends that the rest of America has slowly caught up. Describing cool as a set of beliefs, values, and behavior patterns rooted in the personal and musical styles of Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young and Miles Davis (with a healthy dose of Bugs Bunny), Gioia argues that while their ironic detachment once held sway, earnestness has made its way back on top. His narrative history of cool hits intriguing touchstones, such as Lee Strasberg and Frank Sinatra, while a time line appendix provides even more cultural referents--for the new sincerity as well, culminating with the arrival of Susan Boyle and Twitter. At times his explanations for how trendy loses out to homespun can be reductive, as when he offers the boom in motivational self-help books for teen readers as evidence of a postcool generation. Sometimes it's downright confusing: anime and manga are presented as quintessentially uncool with only the barest of explanations. Gioia's conversational tone breezes through such rough patches, however, and though one might welcome more historical context for the long-running tension between cool and uncool as coexisting movements in American culture, he's at least zeroed in on a major shift in the balance between the two. (Nov.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --Publisher's Weekly

Like Dim Sum for the intellectually curious and literary-minded, Gioia's chronicle of the birth and death of cool samples a variety of genres and disciplines. In the end, the reader has not consumed great portions from any literary group, yet he finds himself gratified. Part Jazz history, part African American history, part Sociological and Marketing text, this work defies easy classification. It is a must-read for marketing and sociology "philes" that no music historian, particularly a Jazz Historian, should be without. One might expect this work, coming from the author and musician who penned such notable works as Delta Blues and The History of Jazz, to delve into the cool world of Jazz. And it does. Far from an expose on the cool, cool world of Jazz and the hip musicians who personified it, however, this book is an in-depth study of cool and its influence on society. The cool, as Gioia explains, was a psychological attitude, cultural phenomenon, and worldview which is relatively new to society. In fact, it was only decades-old, yet is already dead. Commoditized, co-opted by the corporate machine, cool became merely a marketing tool. The current postcool Zeitgeist rejects materialism and sees coolness as superficial, even suspicious. And, as Gioia writes, the death of cool has come with a price: society is angrier. One only needs to listen to talk radio or read Internet blogs for evidence that we have lost our cool. Like everything else, this postcool era will pass one day. But Gioia says the cool will never return. --ForeWord Reviews (November/December 2009) by Robert L. Brandon Jr.

We're through being cool, Devo announced back in 1981, and Gioia contends that the rest of America has slowly caught up. Describing cool as a set of beliefs, values, and behavior patterns rooted in the personal and musical styles of Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young and Miles Davis (with a healthy dose of Bugs Bunny), Gioia argues that while their ironic detachment once held sway, earnestness has made its way back on top. His narrative history of cool hits intriguing touchstones, such as Lee Strasberg and Frank Sinatra, while a time line appendix provides even more cultural referents--for the new sincerity as well, culminating with the arrival of Susan Boyle and Twitter. At times his explanations for how trendy loses out to homespun can be reductive, as when he offers the boom in motivational self-help books for teen readers as evidence of a postcool generation. Sometimes it's downright confusing: anime and manga are presented as quintessentially uncool with only the barest of explanations. Gioia's conversational tone breezes through such rough patches, however, and though one might welcome more historical context for the long-running tension between cool and uncool as coexisting movements in American culture, he's at least zeroed in on a major shift in the balance between the two. (Nov.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --Publisher's Weekly

Ted Gioia... has written an extended essay on a phenomenon that draws on his own field of expertise. And he has hit upon the one essential point: He writes that the cool "eventually boiled down to how one was perceived by others. Coolness, even more than beauty, is inevitably in the eye of the beholder." This is a remarkable insight into all of modernity, not just "the cool." --"Cool Gone Cold" in The Weekly Standard, 11/29/09 by Ann Marlowe

A sign of the worth of Gioia's book is that it is hard to summarize...Gioia has an extremely interesting thesis and, if he is correct, the impact of these changes will be very substantial in the entertainment industry, mass marketing, and consumer behavior. Time will tell whether Gioia's argument will bear out, until then it is well worth reading and keeping in mind. --Jazz Reviews by John Schu on 12/01/09

Cool is dead. For those of us who missed the funeral, Ted Gioia offers a probing eulogy, reminding us of the cool we once knew-that intangible tangle of image and irony, artifice and fashion. --Paste Magazine by Marti Buckley Kilpatrick

Gioia's conversational and informative style makes the pages fly by as a Chet Baker solo. --Jazz Weekly by George W. Harris

[Gioia's] perceptions and insights about jazz, the actual "birth of the cool" (as a mind-set as well as a point of view about musicianship) are flawless. His chapters on Beiderbecke, Young and Davis are what reviewers like to call lapidary; they are jewel-like, particularly the pages about Miles playing with Charlie Parker in the early New York days. The prose is so strong, simple and evocative that it brings the reader almost to tears with longing. What wonderful nights! What insanely terrific music! What a marvelously enchanted meeting of minds and sensibilities! The book is worth much more than its price for these three chapters alone. --The Washington Post by Carolyn See on December 18, 2009

Going over the history of cool and where society may be heading next, Ted Gioia gives readers a fascinating read of cool. "The Birth and Death of the Cool" is a choice pick for any cultural studies collection. --The Midwest Book Review, Library Bookwatch by James A. Cox

It will force you to think about making connections you haven't made before. --statesman.com on 1/9/10 by Carolyn See

Ted [Gioia] is right up there with Gene Less, Doug Ramsey, Nat Hentoff and a host of others who have taught us so much about Jazz over the years and enriched our listening experience with their unique insights and knowledge about the music and its makers. --Jazz Profiles Blog by Steve Cerra

More About the Author

Ted Gioia is a pianist, critic and music historian. The Dallas Morning News has called him "one of the outstanding music historians in America." Two of Gioia's works have been named notable books of the year by the New York Times, and three others have been honored with the ASCAP-Deems Taylor award. In addition, Gioia was one of the founders of the jazz studies program at Stanford and formerly served as editor-in-chief of www.jazz.com, a major music web portal.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By William Johnston VINE VOICE on April 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Gioia has written a thought-provoking volume in which he suggests that the era of cool is over and has been replaced by postcool, a concept that he defines as a shift in popular culture from cool's supposed superficiality and ironic detachment to the supposed placement of value on authenticity, straight-forwardness and sincerity. While this makes for a nice, fun read, Gioia's book fails on a number of crucial points.

In the first place he traces the concept of cool to jazz musicians, the earliest being Bix Beiderbecke. As a personal hero of mine I fully support the notion of Bix's coolness, however, Gioia completely ignores the numerous examples of cool that exist prior to Bix gracing the Earth. Among the first to spring to mind is Oscar Wilde and those referred to collectively as dandies (a decidedly uncool word despite what it defines). Wilde even received modern-style media attention for his antics, which Gioia uses as an indicator of cool, whereas Bix had to wait long after his death to get any attention outside of jazz circles. He also ignores the large number of French writers who certainly qualify for cool: Baudelaire and Rimbaud being prime examples. Gioia then moves on to Lester Young and Miles Davis as further embodiments of cool. I would be hard pressed to find anyone who would disagree with him here.

Gioia details the tragic meeting between Beats and Capitalism. He discusses Jack Kerouac and crew and describes their influence on the nation's youth. He then reports on the reactions of the uncool (parents, the media, etc.) to this movement.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. Hawkins on February 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ted Gioia presents an enjoyably written argument that covers the rise of the cool, the apex of cool, and the ultimate decline into a post-cool situation from which traditional notions of cool will never return. The result is an interesting conceit -- much of it well researched, sourced, and argued -- but ultimately one that is too reductive and simplistic to be entirely effective.

Gioia's pinpointing Bix Beiderbecke as a progenitor of the cool aesthetic is nicely done (as is the subsequent segue he builds into into Lester Young's and then Miles Davis' respective personae), and his case for jazz and the notion of signifying serving as the unconscious role model for the Cool aesthetic is tremendously well noted. Additionally, his analysis of the origins and ambiguity of the word "Cool" itself is an exceptionally fun read.

However, he loses ground as he moves out of jazz -- clearly his comfort zone -- into the popular cultures of the 1970s onward. Arguing that the post-cool age moved honesty and a lack of irony out of the fringe sounds clever, but his argument requires some serious visual blinders to the point of being academically dishonest. For starters, this thesis means ignoring the entire (decidedly non-ironic) folk movement revival of the 1960s, and either tacitly viewing Woodstock as an anomaly, or just ignoring its existence as a cultural benchmark. From the modern era, Gioia fails to point out the fact that a band such as The Strokes - embodiments of his described cool aesthetic - are routinely voted the most influential band of the past decade (more generally, Gioia apparently has either never heard of hipsters, underestimates their impact and importance to current social trends, and/or is ignoring them in favor of his overall argument).
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mark Oestreicher on March 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
the birth (and death) of the cool offers a history of the rise of the concept of 'cool' (mostly through jazz; but, eventually, permeating modern culture), then suggest current realities showing it's demise. the suggestion is that the concept of cool -- aloof and above -- has gone by the wayside in our culture both by being watered down and co-opted, as well as by replacement values, like earnestness and authenticity. the author is a jazz historian, so much of the story is told through that lens -- but this makes sense since the concept of cool was born in that context. more interesting to me than the actual rise and fall of this youth-oriented cultural construct was viewing this as a case study for how values rise and fall within youth culture, and how those values -- particularly once they're simultaneously embraced by wider culture and by marketers -- dissipate and are replaced by new (or old) values. worth a read for anyone interested in the evolution of cultural values. i was constantly, during reading, thinking about how youth culture has become the dominant culture in america (and most of the developed world). the transitory values held by youth culture get amalgamated into mainstream culture, lose their purity (if that word can be used) and lose steam; by then, youth culture has moved on, and culture at large starts to look to youth for what's next.
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