And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl: The Jewish Past as Told by the Records We Have Loved and Lost
By Roger Bennett & Josh Kun | Crown | 240 pages | $24.95
Bennett and Kun, who came of age musically as ’80s teenagers, here pursue the “lost” history of their ancestors through vinyl collected from the ’50s through the advent of CDs. But it goes back even further than vinyl to the cantorial “pop” stars of the ’20s and ’30s and Al Jolson’s jazz singer — “a history of Jewish life in America not found in newsreels, history books, or organizational archives.” So Bacharach, Manilow, and Streisand are here — but in the context of Met opera star Jan Peerce’s Cantorial Masterpieces, Irving Fields’s Bagels and Bongos, a million filthy comedy albums by Jewish comedians other than Lenny Bruce, and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s somber spoken-word What Is a Jew? For every Jewish folk singer you may have heard of (Theodore Bikel, whose early career established Elektra Records), there’s a name lost to time (folk star Gadi Elon). There’s “Jewish music” sung in Yiddish or Hebrew, or secular music that just happens to be sung by Jews (Bobby Zimmerman, anyone?), or Jewish music sung by Gentiles (Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites). And absolutely everyone does Fiddler on the Roof, including Cannonball Adderley. Illustrated with scores of kitschy album covers and commentary from the likes of Neil Sedaka, Sandra Bernhard, and Ann Powers, Bennett and Kun have fashioned a parallel history of post-war American pop culture, as profound as it is quease-inducing.
Edited by Filippop Maggia | Skira | 239 pages | $55
The Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki may have a notorious reputation — he favors partially undressed young Japanese women in various stages of bondage — but he’s got the soul of a formalist. Nudes and bondage form only part of the new career retrospective collection Araki Gold but they are the most carefully composed work here. The fact that many of his models are dressed (or undressed) in kimonos, that almost all of them meet the camera with their own preternaturally calm gaze (Araki isn’t turned on by distress), and that their gowns have been carefully color-coordinated with the surroundings, give the photos a sense of quiet, deliberate composition. But Araki’s fascination keeps his subjects subjects instead of objects (and the little rubber dinosaurs and lizards he’s fond of putting in the frame strike a note of whimsy).
Elsewhere there are conventionally “poetic” photos of flowers and some black-and-white shots from 1965 taken in Tokyo’s Ginza district (many without the photographer having first looked through the frame) that suggest a stylized, rushed social realism. It’s the women, though, who receive most of the photographer’s love. My favorite photo is of his current favorite model, Kaomi, shot from the waist up as she stands with her hands behind her head. By printing the photo sideways, Kaomi looks to be floating in the air — and Araki’s loving, deadpan camera treats the scene as if this is just what a muse could reasonably be expected to do.
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