Japanese Jive: Wacky and Wonderful Products From Japan

Caroline McKeldin

Japanese pop culture has always borrowed liberally from its American counterpart—and often with hilarious results. The author went on a shopping spree and turned up a whole bunch of stuff no American would want to eat or drink. So we are best to be merry about what they call their stuff. A cigarette called “Hope”? Condoms packaged by blood type? “Cow Brand” beauty soap?
It’s all here, along with many more products whose names and applications should force thinking Americans to ask the hard question: What have we inflicted of ourselves on the international Elsewhere? Japanese Jive will surely cause sleepless nights for anyone trying to answer that one. SH

Publisher: Weatherhill
Paperback: 80 pages

Japanese Street Slang

Peter Constantine

Taken as a companion piece to Japanese Jive, this volume gives the English-speaking person a little too much cultural ammunition on the next trip to Tokyo. Insults, parts of anatomy and hipsterisms are explained in terms of each word’s history, its region of origin, context (how the expression for “coitus interruptus” differs from the command “stop fucking me!”), and sociologically (who actually says this stuff). Each expression is accompanied by a little essay that should shed further light on not just the word but at whose dinner party one should not say it. A fine, sleazy little read. SH

Publisher: Weatherhill
Paperback: 216 pages

John Coltrane

Bill Cole

Cole’s biography of this influential jazz giant has many things going for it, even though Coltrane’s poetry, which pops up throughout the book, is not one of them. The author writes from the perspective of a music professor, and as such provides the clearest musical portrait offered on Trane to date (short of Andrew White’s books of transcribed Coltrane solos). Fortunately, Cole does not get so bogged down in the technical arena as to make this book unappealing to the non-musician reader. In fact, John Coltrane stands out in its effort to illuminate the science of jazz improvisation for the non-playing reader in plain English. Cole’s appreciation for Trane’s later (free music) period steers the book in a more “spiritual” direction—something most other students of this subject don’t do. This is a mixed blessing. The more traditional triumphs of Trane’s canon (“Giant Steps,” “Moment’s Notice”) come off as somewhat belittled for their “Western” (non-African) harmonic content, whereas Ascension and other later records are held up as the “real” work. What stands as the most significant of Trane is work is a matter for each listener to take up with his or her own ears, and should not be printed as gospel. And Cole’s thoughtless, off-handed critiques of such players as Bill Evans and Billy Higgins should never have been printed, period. Yet, in John Coltrane the reader is given much to contemplate, and Cole’s interviews with other musicians do much to reveal the concerns of a musician in the heat of the moment. SH

Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 272 pages

Music Is My Mistress

Edward Kennedy (Duke) Ellington

“Duke” Ellington was as distinctive a personality off the bandstand as on. His refinement, dignity and musical statesmanship were much of what marked him as one of America’s most celebrated composers. Less an autobiography than a freewheeling memoir, this is one of the most entertaining books about jazz that one is likely to find. Those looking for Ellington to make a definitive introspective statement will be disappointed—this is a thick book of great storytelling. Ellington comes off like a benevolent king viewing his domain. He holds forth on subjects nonmusical and musical, and his recollections of his sidemen are as often personal as professional. He speaks at length about peers such as Chick Webb and Count Basie, and is frequently touching in his summations of his closest associates—his words about Billy Strayhorn verge on poetry. Ellington was one of the most eloquent men ever to make a living in mostly instrumental music. SH

Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 525 pages

The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists

Philip Furia

Although rock lyrics (especially those by Dylan, Lennon and Morrissey) are subject to endless analysis, second-guessing and assignments of cultural importance, the truly astonishing lyrical craftsmanship of Tin Pan Alley in the early part of this century has been given short shrift. Lyricists such as Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Fields, and especially Johnny Mercer contributed bodies of work that not only influenced but also captured a certain corner of Americana as it has too rarely been explored before or since. While the author occasionally gets a mite technical for the average reader (who cares about how syllables were split in “Too Marvelous for Words”?), books that look seriously into the craft of Tin Pan Alley lyricists are far too few, and books this well-informed always have a place in the music aficionado’s library. SH

Publisher: Oxford University
Paperback: 336 pages

Let the Good Times Roll: Prostitution and the U.S. Military in Asia

Saundra Pollock Sturdevant and Brenda Stoltzfus

This book is an account of prostitution overseas during times of United States military occupation. It is not the words of educated, privileged American intellectuals who like to pat themselves on the back for championing the oppressed, nor is it the angered writings of American women who have suffered mistreatment in the workplace. Instead, these are the words of women enslaved—often at a very early age—into the world’s oldest and often most terrible profession. And their matter-of-fact approach to telling these first-person horror stories creates a terrifying portrait of how American men behave when nobody’s around to punish them for being cruel. While women don’t have it so great in the U.S. of A., at least here, somebody is looking. This is what happens when nobody is looking, and is a jarring portrait of man’s inhumanity to women. Illustrated with lots of pictures, as if the text isn’t enough. Powerful beyond anything that can be said in a short synopsis. SH

Publisher: New Press
Paperback: 352 pages