Tonight, 300 public television stations will unleash a coast-to-coast replay of the classic Motown 25 special from 1983. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, reunions of Diana Ross and the Supremes and label-mates Smokey Robinson and the Miracles—trust us, children, it was a big deal at the time.

georgeUIP publishes Where Did Our Love Go?, Nelson George’s equally classic look at Motown’s rise and rise and fall. The New York Daily News called it “a can’t-put-down study of Berry Gordy and Motown.” Unlike other hype that often finds its way onto a publisher’s blog, this is one hundred percent accurate. Where Did Our Love Go? is an irresistible journey into the iconic record label’s art as well as its business matters, with a trove of behind-the-scenes 411 on the personalities of performers and creators, the music industry sausage factory of the Sixties and Seventies, the genesis of the many classic songs primed to run through your head as soon as we type a title, and—what the heck—juice on everyone from Gordy on down. The story is epic. The music is beloved. The guy writing the tale is great.

In fact, rather than use this post as an opportunity to share our thoughts on a few Motown classics, let’s turn the bandwidth over to Nelson George. Earworm warning ahead:

“My Guy,” by Mary Wells
“My Guy,” a perky love song propelled by a loping, bouncing beat that featured another delightful Smokey lyric (“Like a stamp to a letter, a bird to a feather, we stick together”), was a monster hit, bringing Wells a taste of international acclaim that would prove quite irresistible. Backed by the Earl Van Dyke Band, Wells was the first Motown act to travel to England and she did it in high style, touring with Beatles. She was treated like a queen, as John, Paul, George, and Ringo sang her praises to the English press. When Well’s record went to number one in England as well (it was the first Tamla-Motown single to accomplish that overseas), many observers traced its acceptance directly to the Beatles’ aggressive advocacy of Wells, and of Motown in general.

“Tracks of My Tears,” by the Miracles
Of course, of his countless great songs, Smokey’s masterpiece is “The Tracks of My Tears,” a song so compelling, so beautiful, so resilient, that even Linda Ronstadt’s wooden interpretation couldn’t ruin it. As Smokey recalls, “I had that track for a while, but I really couldn’t think of anything to fit it because it’s such an odd musical progression. Finally, one day the chorus came to me. No one had ever said ‘tracks of my tears.’ The whole thought of tears was you wipe them away so no one could tell you’ve been crying. To say that I can’t even wipe them away because they’ve left these tracks, you know, I thought it was a good idea.”

“Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” by Stevie Wonder
At fifteen, Stevie’s voice had developed an aggressive, masculine edge. His vibrato now belonged to him, no longer to the whims of nature, and he used it to rip through a dance track at breakneck speed. Stevie contributed substantially to the rhythm arrangement, and as a result received his first songwriting credit. Stevie’s ability to fuse different styles into a pleasing, commercially viable whole was foreshadowed on “Uptight”—he credited its driving tempo not to any R&B act, but to the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Stevie had toured with the Stones in 1964 and was impressed with how audiences had responded to their driving beat.

“You’re All I Need,” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
On “You’re All I Need” (number one soul in August 1968) Tammi is great again, but here Marvin matches her note for note. The record begins quietly, building majestically with Marvin, Tammi, [Valerie] Simpson, and [Nick] Ashford harmonizing on the title over a repeating four-note bass pattern. Gaye opens the song softly; there is a quiver in Tammi’s voice as she comes in on the second verse. With each line their singing grows more abandoned as the music swells and falls and swells underneath them. The feeling is almost operatic, and the record is a landmark, as good as anything else created by Motown.

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” by Gladys Knight and the Pips
In contrast to the beige sounds of Ross and Levi Stubbs, Gladys performed best when her church roots were given free rein: the Pips weren’t placed on the Soul label by mistake. The key record, of course, was “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a great, churning, tambourine-driven call-and-response song into which producer Norman Whitfield let Knight and company have considerable creative input because of his respect for the group. According to Knight, Whitfield allowed them to craft the song’s brilliant vocal arrangement.

“What’s Going On,” by Marvin Gaye
At first, Marvin Gaye didn’t want to record “What’s Going On.” “We begged him for about a month to do the tune,” [co-writer Al] Cleveland recalls. “He hadn’t had a record out in a year and a half, and he wasn’t doing too good financially. As a result he was not into a good frame of mind.” Marvin kept the [demo] tape while Cleveland, planning to relocate permanently to the West Coast to be close to Motown’s new headquarters, traveled out to Los Angeles. While he was away, Marvin cut “What’s Going On,” and the record’s timely message of social protest, plus Marvin’s inspiring vocal performance, made it the most powerful record of 1971.

FarrellCSJames T. Farrell’s childhood coincided with a period in history when “real” Americans considered the Irish colorful—and usually undesirable—exotics. His omnibus novel Studs Lonigan and collection Chicago Stories reflected the Irish-American experience of a generation of people who worked themselves to exhaustion, and death, to attain the kind of economic plenty necessary to win social acceptance.

Written in the bitter throes of the Depression, Studs Lonigan shares with many other novels of the time the ambition of being a Grand Statement, on capitalism, the myth of the American Dream, and the spiritual poverty at the heart of both. The System destroys all, in Farrell’s worldview; hard work, initiative, even luck, falter before that unconquerable truth. To illustrate the point, he invents a vivid protagonist with all the pluck and moxie and charm you could want, and destroys him.

Though increasingly obscure today, Farrell for decades enjoyed the admiration of Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, and other big hitters on the literary scene. Admirers celebrated him as a master of realism. Critics and academics pointed to his brilliant use of stream-of-consciousness and his place within Modernism. Studs Lonigan, meanwhile, shared a top shelf with novels like The Grapes of Wrath and the U.S.A. Trilogy. Farrell’s name flew around the room whenever people argued about the next Nobelist in literature.

Yet his left-wing supporters fled when he proved insufficiently devoted to the cause. His working class sympathies never earned him praise from the right. (Time magazine famously called him the worst writer in America. Farrell took it as a compliment.) Though he published 42 books, and wrote ten more by his own count, Farrell never again achieved his 1930s acclaim, nor that elusive Nobel.

Farrell was old school. He wrote twenty hours at a time, with lead pencils on paper. That habit continued even into his sixties. “They asked me to teach a creative writing class once,” he irascibly told Roger Ebert. “I said it was a fraud, nobody could be taught to write, but I would do it under two conditions. First, that I could do all the writing; second, that I could seduce all the girls.”

What about the boys?

“They could imitate their teacher.”

Often remembered as an Irish crime story, Studs Lonigan was very much a social novel, to its author and to its avid readers at mid-century. In the introduction to the UIP edition of the Lonigan Trilogy, Charles Fanning quotes Farrell:

The story of Studs Lonigan was conceived as the story of the education of a normal American boy in this period. The important institutions in the education of Studs Lonigan were the home and the family, the church, the school, and the playground. These institutions broke down and did not service their function. The streets became a potent educative factor in the boy’s life. In time, the pool room becomes an important institution in his life. [Farrell saw Studs as] “neither a tough nor a gangster nor really a hard guy. He has as many good impulses as normal human beings have. In time, because of defeat, of frustration, of a total situation characterized by spiritual poverty, these good impulses are expressed more and more in the stream of his reverie. Here we find the source of Studs’s constant dream of himself.

Perez RosarioF14Vanessa Pérez Rosario is an associate professor of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and the editor of Hispanic Caribbean Literature of Migration: Narratives of Displacement. She recently answered some questions about her book Becoming Julia de Burgos.

Q: How do you conceive of Julia de Burgos’s work as split into “two parts?”

Vanessa Pérez Rosario: We can think of Burgos’s writing in Puerto Rico and her writing and legacy abroad as two parts that speak to each other. One of the things that is most interesting about her is that she continues to explore the themes she wrote about while in Puerto Rico, greater freedoms for women, affirmation of blackness, and exile, from abroad. These themes take on new dimensions in her work from abroad. In the book, I track her migratory routes from Puerto Rico to Cuba and then New York, where she lived for over 10 years. Her migrations contribute to the challenge of telling her story, but it is also what makes her compelling and current. Continue reading

From the University of Illinois job listing:

The University of Illinois seeks candidates for the position of Director, University of Illinois Press. Nearing its 100th year of scholarly publishing, the University of Illinois Press enjoys a reputation as one of the top university presses in the country, producing the very best scholarly research and reflection by writers from all over the world. The Illinois Press publishes about 100 new books per year as well as over 30 periodicals, and increasingly publishes in an electronic format. Particular strengths include American history, African American studies, women’s studies, music, film studies, communications, Lincoln studies, Chicago studies, and sport history.

Candidates, here is the swell group you will lead.

Blurb. It sounds like an onomatopoeia for a noise made by infant humans. In publishing, though, the blurb—i.e. a quote on the cover praising the book—figures mightily in the marketing process. Why? Because over a century of mass market advertising has taught us that a testimonial from the knowledgeable, or better yet the famous, will convince the American consumer to buy anything. No judgment: who among us can resist buying a Seagram’s Wine Cooler or going into paralyzing credit card debt when the prospect is thrown at us by a celebrity?

Bread Sculpture 1In the academic publishing business, the famous/knowledgeable divide often comes into play. The Grail of the endorsement trade, its Starbucks-for-Life card, is the Celebrity Blurber, for the reasons mentioned above. Knowledgeable, while perhaps less sexy, is easier to find. Even an obscure field of study attracts its share of scholars. These experts offer a reliable pool of “blurbers,” to use the insider jargon, that a marketing department can contact for a project. Topics with mainstream appeal, not surprisingly, provide more options: established authors and that handful of intellectuals actually familiar to a segment of the public.

Like canines and jilted lovers, we in the publishing game are pleased with any praise whatsoever. When a blurber comes back at us with a comment like, “An absolutely essential re-evaluation of [academic topic] that also guarantees weight loss,” it makes our jobs very easy, assuming we spell all the words correctly.

We acquire blurbs in a number of ways, but three methods predominate: (1) taking praise from reports submitted by scholars and other experts who reviewed the book in manuscript form; (2) contacting names on a list of potential blurbers supplied by the author; (3) doing research ourselves on potential endorsers and emailing/calling those people. All work. All fail. It’s up to the individual we solicit. Often their personal workload, or their relationship with the author, determines whether or not they help.

As an author, you can get a head start by sucking up to famous academics while still an undergrad. Read the professor’s book. Take her/his independent study section. By all means, ask her/him to be your faculty adviser when you move on to graduate school. If you do admirable work, particularly as a researcher for one of her/his projects, she/he will remember you, and not in the same way she/he will remember you if you burn down their lab.

I know. It sounds venal. It sounds shallow. It sounds anti-intellectual. It is, frankly, all of these things. But the world runs on rules that, while absurd, are also beyond challenge. The UIP just wants to help you navigate these ridiculous seas.

At some point in your studies, you’ll realize you want to enter Academia. Why not? It’s a proud tradition and in the unlikely event you get tenure you’ll probably get health and dental, and that’s not happening with a lot of jobs these days. Therefore, you may need to put out a book at some point—publish or perish, etc. Why not guarantee its success by cultivating a professional network?

And if you want to aim higher, say a residency on NPR or a part in a Matrix film, we can only go back to the beginning of this post: the more famous the blurber, the better. Become friends with a notable person or persons. Even a well-known racehorse is fine. Better yet, become relatives. As long as the person pretends to have read the book, they don’t have to actually open it. No kidding. We can’t afford a department that verifies that sort of thing. So, if your only famous cousin is a dumb celebrity or racehorse, you’re still golden.

inarrituOn Oscar night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed Alejandro González Iñárritu the Best Director award for his unlikely hit Birdman. The film also won Best Picture. Birdman‘s film industry triumph capped a fifteen-year rise that began when Iñárritu hit the zeitgeist with his 2000 feature film Amores Perros and continued with 21 Grams, Babel, and Biutiful.

In a rare English-language consideration of the Mexican auteur, Celestino Deleyto and Maria del Mar Azcona delve into Iñárritu’s celebrated oeuvre. The book includes a revealing interview that allows the director to discuss theme, technique, and approach to story at length, as with Iñárritu’s oft-mentioned and distinctive use of the handheld camera:

Deleyto and Azcona: Why does handheld camera predominate in your films?

Iñárritu: Handheld camera is very often accused of being an artificial element, but I always defend its potential when used in the right way. I think that the handheld camera is the closest you can get to the way the human being experiences the world. We see through a handheld camera. When I move around, I don’t dolly or crane. Like the tripod, those are antinatural ways of experiencing the world.

The handheld camera is the way to see the world as the character is experiencing it. I’m not against those other techniques, but the handheld camera seems more natural to me. When I design a scene with Rodrigo Prieto, with whom I’ve been working for more than eighteen years, I tell him what part of each shot I’m interested in. We talk about the scene, we place the actors in the scene, and then we subordinate the camera to all those elements. The camera is there to enhance what I want to show at that specific moment. From the angle to the type of lens, everything is subordinated to the content of the scene and the feeling I want to convey. We talk about that until the camera becomes a narrative tool capable of creating different feelings, like uncertainty or peace. It points at what I, as a spectator, should half see—it suggests, it narrates.

We’ve also used it in Biutiful. In this film, it’s a special handheld camera because we use it according to the needs of the character. It creates different sensations depending on the moment. This is something that I couldn’t have done in any of my other films. It becomes organic. Some people accuse the handheld camera of being manipulative. They say, leave the frame and allow the spectators to see what they want to see. This is what Jim Jarmusch does. I like the way he uses the camera, but not for my films. There’s no free will in my case. I want to tell the story the way I want to tell it.

pernotLaurent Pernot is the executive vice chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago. Pernot came to the U.S. as a Chicago-area foreign-exchange student in 1988 and caught ’89 Cubs playoff fever. He answered some questions about his book Before the Ivy: The Cubs’ Golden Age in Pre-Wrigley Chicago.

Q: The Cubs have suffered through 100 years of frustration at Wrigley Field. Would anyone have expected they’d be cellar dwellers before they moved to the North side park?

Laurent Pernot: The “Cubs”—I use quotes because they didn’t go by that name consistently until 1907—had some glorious decades before they moved to Wrigley Field. Three great teams in the 1870s, 1880s and the first decade of the 20th Century won nearly a dozen pennants and two World Series. That said, a fan in the 1910s who thought the Cubs were invincible would have suffered from amnesia: the team was a perennial also-ran in the 1890s and at the turn of the 20th Century, to the point that L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz who lived near West Side Grounds, wrote an 1896 poem about the team meeting its doom. Still, to me, the main lesson for today’s fans is one of hope: in 1901, the team had what was then its worst season to date, compiling a .381 record. By 1906, the Cubs were in the first of their four world series in five years, of which they won the 1907 and 1908 editions. So the Cubs could be on pace to win it all by 2018 on the heels of their dismal .377 season in 2012.

Q: The current Wrigleyville renovation has been controversial. Were there controversies in the club’s old neighborhood on the West side?

Pernot: Around the time the Cubs went to four World Series between 1906 and 1910 on the West Side, they were in court with the rooftops, whom they accused of stealing their product. The resulting ruling really hurt both sides, but the Cubs eventually got the last word by erecting a huge billboard that blocked the view from most rooftops. The team also was embroiled in the controversy in the 1890s over playing on the Christian Sabbath. Ever the buck-chaser, Al Spalding moved to capitalize on Sunday games when popular sentiment shifted in favor of it, but that didn’t keep the whole team from being arrested after Observants found a sympathetic judge. Continue reading

9780252079146Pitchers and catchers continue to report to their Grapefruit and Cactus League destinations. Back in the snowy east, an uneasy leviathan stirs from its winter slumber. Months of singing a song of Ice and Fire, mostly ice, segues into the lilt of “Sweet Caroline” as Red Sox Nation comes to life.

Passionate, incurably tribal, often defensive, the vast Medias Rojas diaspora boomed in the aftermath of the team’s 2004 World Series triumph. The Nation maintains as the Carmines have enjoyed a period of frequent contention that now seems to have settled into a cycle of boom (odd-number years) and bust (even-numbered years). A perfect combination, really, as it gives Sox fans the elation we all crave and the misery they seem to need.

What lies at the core of this contemporary sports phenomenon and, possibly, the greatest manifestation of mass psychosis since the Dancing Plague of 1518? The answer, like all matters of anthropology, requires long form study. Fortunately, the UIP is there for you. Edited by David A. Nathan, Rooting for the Home Team ponders the mysteries of why and how communities build a sense of collective identity around their teams. Amy Bass, for example, fearlessly delves into the massive psychological construct that is Red Sox Nation:

After the Red Sox dominated the American League from 1912 through 1918, the championship drought that followed, as well as the furious rivalry with the Yankees, created a subculture based on the torment of not winning. Red Sox fans created a symbolic culture beyond hats, tying together a disparate geographical region with the imagined identity that came from the burden of being a Red Sox fan and, perhaps in a more codified manner, the burden of not being a Yankee fan: Red Sox fans defined themselves by what they were not—champions. “It’s bad enough we haven’t won since 1918,” says one fan. “It’s worse that they’ve won twenty-six times since then. Much worse. It’s New York. Goddamned New York.” The end result, Red Sox pitching great Dennis Eckersley once said, is “the ultimate manic-depressive fan base.”

Baseball cards once provided a beloved adjunct to the National Pastime, one that really formed a brick in that ivy-covered wall we call the Zeitgeist. In those bygone days, the young and young at heart emptied the piggy bank in anticipation of the arrival of their cardboard heroes at local stores.

Once vivid with primary colors and fantastic facial hair, and retailing for a quarter per pack, Topps baseball cards now mostly cater to adult speculators and the heirs to oil fortunes and sell for many dollars per pack. True, these days you can find a Jayson Werth card that sings Buddy Bell’s 1946 classic “Shaving Cream,” and that wasn’t happening in 1974. But, alas, baseball cards no longer link together a generation of Americans, no longer allow us to sit with a stranger at a bar or (shudder) wedding reception and laughingly pass the time with questions like, “Do you remember that card where Glenn Hubbard was wearing a python?

burkIn his UIP book Marvin Miller: Baseball Revolutionary, Robert F. Burk tells how Miller, the still-new Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, gave downtrodden players not only a chance to receive more than peanuts on payday, but helped them exploit marketing bonanzas that added real bank to their take.

That money meant something to players doomed to labor under the Reserve Clause. With Miller representing the players, Topps soon found itself facing a new business model:

Now Miller urged his rank-and-file, including those with expiring individual Topps contracts, to implement a union-wide boycott. For those with longstanding relationships with the card company it meant the potential loss of up to $600 over the next five years. But if the players were willing to show to Joel Shorin the “muscle” behind their position, they could garner much more. Trusting in their leader, en masse they rejected signing new deals.

The union’s boycott was not its only means of putting the squeeze on Topps. Ever since the successful bottle-cap deal with Coke, Miller had pursued similar opportunities. Exploiting a loophole within Topps’ monopolistic contracts, Miller struck competing deals with “non-confectionary” companies, including one with Kellogg’s for 3-D player likenesses and a Milk Duds agreement to display player pictures on candy boxes. Administering this spate of new group agreements, handling individual player complaints against abuse by the licensing companies, and combating pirated merchandise, however, proved too time-consuming for Miller to balance with his many other duties. Accordingly, he contracted out the handling of similar future deals to a professional marketing agency, the Weston Merchandising Corporation.

It was now time to turn the screws tighter on Topps to force a more-generous licensing pact. The pressure from the union’s boycott of individual contracts took all season to bear fruit, but the company finally caved. Serious bargaining commenced in September, and after one last delay triggered by the heart-attack death of Joel Shorin’s attorney, the deal was done. Beginning in 1969, each Association member would receive a yearly check of $250, plus an 8% royalty on Topps’ cumulative card-sale revenue up to $4 million and 10% for its returns above that figure. In the first year alone the new pact generated the union $320,000—over $500 per member—compared to the $100 per player from the earlier Coca-Cola deal. Even more significant for the rank-and-files’ future prospects, the contract included provisions that gave players the right to grant other companies use of their likenesses within specified size parameters. By the late 1980’s, the union’s share of the combined earnings of five different card companies would reach an astounding $50 million.

GrowS14Congratulations to Nathaniel Grow.

Grow’s UIP book Baseball on Trial: The Origin of Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption is the winner of the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History/Biography for 2014.

The Prize is awarded to “the best university press book in American legal history or biography that is accessible to the educated general public, rooted in sound scholarship, and with themes that touch upon matters of general concern to the American public, past or present.”

Baseball on Trial has also gained acclaim from baseball historians as well as the legal history field.  The book was a finalist for the Seymour Medal, awarded by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), 2015.