What is hip? Can a piece of music be hip? Or is hipness primarily a way of engaging with music which recognizes the hip...

What is hip? Can a piece of music be hip? Or is hipness primarily a way of engaging with music which recognizes the hip potential of the music? Or primarily a manner of being, which allows the hip individual to authentically engage with the hip artwork? Whatever the case may be, we know that the hip is meant to be authentic. We know that it is opposed to the square:all that is inauthentic, conformist, and authoritarian. And we know that attempts to understand hipness tend to locate it in the sonorous immediacy of musical experience.

Phil Ford‘s, Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture (Oxford University Press, 2013) uses these attempts to understand hipness as an entry into the altogether more intractable problem of defining hipness itself. Ford traces the hip sensibility from its roots in the African-American subcultures that arose in cities such as New York and Chicago in the aftermath of the Great Migration, through its adoption (or appropriation) by the beat poets of the 1950s and the counterculture movement of the 1960s. In doing so, he marshals a wide array of sources:newspaper columns, jazz improvisations, political posters, liner notes, diaries, and amateur acetate recordings, all grappling — in creative, illuminating, and sometimes painful ways — with the impossibility of capturing the lived experience of hipness.

In the closing chapters of the book, he turns to two specific figures, Norman Mailer (a major writer), and John Benson Brooks (a somewhat peripheral jazz musician), reevaluating their works — and perhaps more importantly, their methods of working — in the light of the hip aesthetics described in the earlier sections of the book.

Further Listening/Viewing/Reading:

John Benson Brooks Trio: Avant Slant

Thomas Frank: The Conquest of Cool

Fruity Pebbles Rap

Rip Torn attacks Norman Mailer with a Hammer

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