• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Down and Out in Motown

    You would have to look back to the fall of Rome for a spectacle of urban collapse to rival Detroit over the last sixty years. The city’s population, which brushed the two million mark in 1950, is now barely seven hundred thousand and falling. Depopulation and economic decline have created a desolate landscape of burned-out businesses and busted houses sagging in on themselves around open roofs and vacant windows. Whole districts have reverted to grassland, with a few fortified homesteads and useless fire hydrants to mark where bustling neighborhoods once stood. Looming over the urban prairie

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Where the Sidewalk Ends

    Taken out of context, Mohandas Gandhi’s famous remark of 1921, that “India lives in her villages,” lends itself to multiple interpretations. Gandhi might have meant, as indeed he believed, that the country’s bedrock spirit and the traditions to serve it best resided in its rural heartland. He might have referred to pure demographics; at the time, nearly 90 percent of India’s populace of 251 million was rural. He might also have wished to note, by way of political strategy, that an independent India would emerge only if the nationalist movement escaped from the cities and ventured into the

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    The Address Book

    IN 1983, ARTIST SOPHIE CALLE found an address book on a Paris street. Before returning it, she photocopied its contents, called the people listed, and asked to interview them about the book’s owner, whom she calls Pierre D. “I will try to discover who he is without ever meeting him,” she writes. Calle’s pursuit struck some—including Pierre—as a privacy invasion worthy of public retribution. He threatened to sue Libération, the French newspaper that ran the serialized interviews, and he backed off only when they published nude photos of Calle. She agreed not to publish The Address Book while

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Peeping Ron

    In January of 1965, FBI agents closing in on mobster Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno discovered that the hellion son of an FBI informant code-named T-10 was raising hell alongside Bonanno’s own teenage son. Agents looked to exploit the two boys’ relationship to help break the case—until, that is, J. Edgar Hoover ordered his underlings to instead warn informant T-10 that his son’s mob associations might harm the confidential source’s fledgling political career. The Justice Department never did manage to pin a decent indictment on Joe Bananas. But T-10—and his fledgling political career—did just

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    School of Rock

    The title promises the definitive lowdown. Between these covers, it implies, you will find everything you’ll ever need to know about the dynamics of collaboration, the craft of stage performance and studio recording, the nitty-gritty of the music industry. But you’ll also learn about how music affects us emotionally and what, ultimately, it is for.

    A tall order, you might think, but if anybody is qualified to take a stab, it’s David Byrne. He’s an insider with over forty years’ experience as a practitioner under his guitar strap; he’s also an art-school-educated intellectual capable of taking

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Hot Chocolate City

    Singer and guitarist Chuck Brown invented go-go music in mid-’70s Washington, DC; it was an infectious blend of funk, Latin rhythms, and audience call-and-response that became the sound of African-American DC for decades. By the time of Brown’s death in May at age seventy-five, he had become the undisputed godfather of the genre, and a civic icon, even though go-go never found much of an audience outside the capital city. At Brown’s funeral, DC Council chairman Kwame Brown (no relation) began his eulogy in a defiant tone. “I am go-go,” he declared. “To the media, you better get that right. For

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music

    IF YOU DRIVE ACROSS the US or even anywhere outside the I-95 corridor, you discover that country music dominates the airwaves. New Mexico, Maine, or Montana—regardless of region, the radio twangs in tones redolent of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Country music is without a doubt this country’s music. Its cultural associations—the clothes, attitudes, and politics—also hold sway: Country style’s quixotic combination of the outlandish (rhinestones, tattoos, hard drinkin’, and bolo ties) with that old-time religion generates a paradoxical—but no less enjoyable—frisson. Sin and salvation have been

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    The Last Word

    Mortality, a posthumous collection of Christopher Hitchens’s short essays on living with terminal esophageal cancer—“a distinctly bizarre way of ‘living,’” he emphasizes, “lawyers in the morning and doctors in the afternoon”—is an odd little book, neither fully a cancer memoir nor a meditation on the meanings we attribute to the disease. Though indebted to Audre Lorde’s classic The Cancer Journals and Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor (it’s hard to write about the experience of cancer free of the influence of either, regardless of whether one has read them), Hitchens cites neither. The voices

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Mix Master

    A compelling mixed review is a devilishly difficult thing to write. Raves and pans have obvious, inherent drama, as they get to trumpet great successes or bemoan deplorable failures. But a mixed review must share the less exciting news that something is good, not great—or that, while the work in question mostly misses the target, it is not entirely without interest. Many mixed reviews thus read like so much wishy-washy indecision.

    But the most compelling reviews in Daniel Mendelsohn’s very good new collection of them, Waiting for the Barbarians, are decidedly mixed. Regular readers of the New

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Social Works

    It goes by several names and takes a range of forms, but as with so many protean phenomena, we know it when we see it. Participation-based art, social engagement, social practice: Art that takes relations between people as its medium is currently ascendant, with specialized MFA programs, new social-practice art prizes, and biennials all attesting to its rise. This past spring’s Berlin Biennale, which gave the city’s Occupy activists free rein over an exhibition hall in the Kunst-Werke, is only the latest prominent example. Works like Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave, 2001, a weekend-long

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Magic Realist

    Seven years ago, trying to decide between two book topics, I was spending half my time interviewing magicians and going to magic shows and the other half interviewing shoplifters and going to shoplifting-addiction groups. But then came a moment when I began to wonder whether magic was a good subject for me: I was sitting with a magician—white and middle-aged, like so many are—in a coffee shop on the Upper East Side. When I asked how he had done a card trick in a show I had seen the previous night, he glared at me for a long moment. I thought he was going to leap across the table and cut my

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    American Imperiled

    So much of what we know about actor Henry Fonda derives from the authority of his body on-screen: a long, taut, calibrated instrument, most expressive when restrained—as it nearly always was. A lean six feet one, he had the height and physique of a movie aristocrat, but could play a proletarian or a president. Most of all, he always conveyed that, at heart, he was a homegrown American, Nebraska born, in touch with social proprieties but also with the urge to light out for the territory. He perfected an understated style that might be called precisionist, his performances akin to the sharp lines

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