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John Leland

Hip: The History (Harper Collins)

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Anyone can spot hip. Lou Reed: hip. Kim Gordon: hip. Miles Davis: überhip. But poet Walt Whitman? In Hip: The History, author John Leland establishes a framework for hip that encompasses music, art, politics, clothing, drugs and literature. And he asserts that Whitman was America's first hipster and that Leaves of Grass was the "founding hipster manifesto." Leland contends that hip took root when the first black slaves arrived in America in 1619. Out of necessity, the slaves were forced to invent a sort of doublespeak in order to communicate. This way of speaking eventually contributed to blues, jazz, jive and now rap. Inevitably, whites wanted in on the secret and decided to, in Leland's words, "steal the blues." Culprits include Mark Twain, Elvis Presley and Eminem, among others. Leland doesn't forgot hipster women either. He devotes an entire chapter to rebels such as Dorothy Parker and Patti Smith. Hip is a delight for any pop-culture enthusiast. But you'd better pick it up while it's still hip to do so.

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