Announcing My Music, My War from Lisa Gilman

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The Listening Habits of U.S. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

A study of music in the everyday lives of U.S. troops and combat veterans.

“A gifted interviewer, Lisa Gilman goes beyond stereotypes of the wounded American soldier by painting a complex and nuanced emotional portrait of contemporary soldiers’ lives, ones which the media rarely allow us to see and hear.”
—Jonathan Ritter, coeditor of Music in the Post-9/11 World

A study of music in the everyday lives of U.S. troops and combat veterans.

During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, technological developments in music listening enabled troops to carry vast amounts of music with them, and allowed them to easily acquire new music. Digital music files allow for easy sharing, with fellow troops as well as with friends and loved ones far away. This ethnographic study examines U.S. troops’ musical-listening habits during and after war, and the accompanying fear, domination, violence, isolation, pain, and loss that troops experienced. My Music, My War is a moving ethnographic account of what war was like for those most intimately involved. It shows how individuals survive in the messy webs of conflicting thoughts and emotions that are intricately part of the moment-to-moment and day-to-day phenomenon of war, and the pervasive memories in its aftermath. It gives fresh insight into musical listening as it relates to social dynamics, gender, community formation, memory, trauma, and politics.

Visit our Spotify page for a related playlist:

gilman mymusicmywar

Lisa Gilman is an associate professor in the Department of English and Folklore Program at the University of Oregon. She is the author of The Dance of Politics: Performance, Gender, and Democratization in Malawi and director of the film Grounds for Resistance: Stories of War, Sacrifice, and Good Coffee. Her articles have appeared in Folklore, Popular Music, and Journal of American Folklore.


My Music, My War makes an original contribution to current studies on music and war, with its nuanced discussion of how music listening is used to define, and at times resist, gendered norms and rhetorics of hyper-masculinity, as well as the complex roles that music plays in veterans’ reintegration into civilian life.”  —Kip Pegley, coeditor of Music, Politics, and Violence


Music Culture Series


240 pp., 6 x 9”

Unjacketed Cloth, $80.00 x



Paper, $26.95



eBook, $21.99 Y


Announcing Words of Our Mouth, Meditations of Our Heart from Kenneth Bilby

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Celebrating the legendary studio musicians of Jamaican popular music through personal photographs and interviews

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While singers, producers, and studio owners have become international icons, many of the musicians who were essential to shaping the sound of Jamaican music have remained anonymous. Words of Our Mouth, Meditations of Our Heart: Pioneering Musicians of Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae, and Dancehall, complete with 98 color photographs, is the first book devoted to the studio musicians who were central to Jamaica’s popular music explosion. Bilby delves into the full spectrum of Jamaican music, from traditional and folk genres, such as Mento, Poco, and Buru, to the popular urban styles of ska, rocksteady, and reggae. Photographic portraits and interview excerpts (with such musical pioneers as Prince Buster, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and many of Bob Marley’s early musical collaborators) provide new insights into the birth of Jamaican popular music in the recording studios of Kingston, Jamaica in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The book illustrates how players of “traditional” Jamaican music and lesser-known singers have made fundamental and wide-ranging contributions to the music. Appendices include a recommended listening list, a bibliography of interviews and field recordings, and a glossary of terms.

Kenneth Bilby is an ethnomusicologist, writer, and lifelong student of Jamaican music. He is the former director of research at the Center for Black Research at Columbia College Chicago and currently a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution. Author of True-Born Maroons and coauthor of Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, his collection of field recordings of Jamaican traditional music is one of the largest in the world.

“Bilby celebrates his roots in Jamaica in this magnificent book through beautiful photographs and interviews with musicians. Bilby unveils the backstory of Jamaican music, and his work will be cherished by all who love Jamaican music.”
—William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues

“Bilby doesn’t just tell the story that’s never been told—delivering an homage to the heroes who helped shape Jamaican music—he lets these heroes tell the story in their own words, writing their own chapter in history.”
—Baz Dreisinger, producer and writer of Black & Blue: Legends of the Hip-Hop Cop and Rhyme & Punishment

“An essential work of Jamaican musical scholarship. The interviews are engrossing on multiple levels. Our understanding of the black musics of the New World would have fewer gaps in it if there were more of the kind of thorough oral history that Bilby does here. He proves himself to be not merely a good collector but a good listener.”
—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead

Enjoy some musical examples!

Drums of Defiance: Maroon Music from the Earliest Free Black Communities of
Jamaica. (CD) Smithsonian/Folkways. 1992. [1970s–1990s]

Example of Nyabinghi drumming

Mento version of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”, performed by The Jolly Boys

Alerth Bedasse & Chin’s Calypso Sextet perform “Industrial Fair”

Cedric “Im” Brooks and the Divine Light. From Mento to Reggae to Third World
Music. (CD) VP. 2008. [1973]

Studio One Ska—The Skatalites “Beardsman Ska”

Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae. (CD) Mollselekta. 2009. [2000s]

The Harder They Come (Deluxe Edition). (2-CD box set). Hip-O. 2003. [1960s and 1970s]

Publication date: May 10, 2016
256 pp., 7 x 10”
Paper, $29.95 x
eBook, $23.99 Y

Celebrating International Women’s Day

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Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day! A great way to commemorate a day—and womens’ history month—is to read a book written by or about a woman. Here are just a few of our favorite books by or about our favorite females.

Williams - Prudence R-150-3In its new paperback edition, Connecticut state senator Donald E. Williams’s Prudence Crandall: The Fight for Equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education is a necessity to read. Crandall was a Connecticut school teacher dedicated to the education of African-American girls who ignited a firestorm of controversy when she opened Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color, in Canterbury. The town’s residents retaliated—Crandall couldn’t find anyone willing to supply her with goods necessary for running the school, and even the school’s well water was poisoned. Crandall herself faced ridicule all over town, was arrested, and yet did not close the school until her girls’ safety was threatened. Williams tells of Crandall’s push for justice and how her struggles helped to set legal precedent. He explains the relationship between three trials brought against Crandall, for her violation of Connecticut’s “Black Law,” and other notable legal cases: the Amistad case, the Dred Scott decision, and Brown v. Board of Education. Williams also discusses how Crandall v. State impacts our modern interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.



Basinger - Womans-R-72-3 In A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960, Jeanine Basinger highlights the incredibly contradictory messages sent to female moviegoers—films about women’s lives constantly displayed both conformity and righteous freedom. Where women’s film has often been dismissed as another instrument in female oppression, Basinger brings an understanding of both film and women’s lives to parse out the complexities in films sometimes dismissed as “sheer trash.” Films from across genres, from melodramas to westerns to musicals, are examined under Basinger’s discerning eye for traces of subversive rebellion against the “proper” idealized role of women. As the New York Times Book Review said, “Ms. basinger analyzes Hollywood’s view with affectionate wit and verve…Her book is a timely reminder that female rebellion didn’t start with Thelma and Louise.”



Reed - Weird R-300-9 In humorous, ironic prose, acclaimed Science Fiction writer Kit Reed explores women’s lives and feminist issues in the twenty stories inside Weird Women, Wired Women. Spanning across the years of the women’s movement to more contemporary years in American history, Reed’s writing in Weird Women, Wired Women deals in her usual darkly comic speculative fiction at its best. Reed uses her expertise in science fiction to further cast a subversive spell over these depictions of predominantly-believed women’s roles. The collection of short stories with provocative, clever titles such as “The Bride of Bigfoot” and “Mommy Nearest” takes worn-out suburban subjects and gives them a fresh coat of paint—if that paint is moving, eerie, sharp social criticism, that is.



0819565474Inside American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language, readers can find indispensably valuable poetry and prose from women’s points of view. Each section of the book is devoted to a single poet and contains new poems; a brief “statement of poetics” by the poet herself in which she explores the forces—personal, aesthetic, political—informing her creative work; a critical essay on the poet’s work; a biographical statement; and a bibliography listing works by and about the poet. With highly acclaimed poets selected-among them Rae Armantrout, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Jorie Graham, Barbara Guest, Susan Howe, and Harryette Mullen—this collection forces us to redefine lyric poetry. Underscoring the dynamic give and take between poets and the culture at large, this anthology is indispensable for anyone interested in poetry, gender and the creative process.



McGee_Some_R_72_2Women and jazz have been intricately involved with one another since the genre’s conception, but so often the men of jazz stole the spotlight away from the many acclaimed ladies. Some Liked It Hot looks at all-girl bands and jazz women from the 1920s through the 1950s and how they fit into the nascent mass culture, particularly film and television. G.A. Foster from Choice says, “A remarkable book in every respect. Although one can find several other books on this topic, this study stands above the rest for its accuracy, scholarly discipline, thoroughness of research, and detailed analysis… A stunning achievement. Essential.”



Ralph Lemon coming to Wesleyan University 2/25/16

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As part of the World of Arts in the Heart of Connecticut series hosted by the Wesleyan University Center for the Arts, Ralph Lemon will appear at Wesleyan’s Ring Family Performing Arts Hall on February 25, 2016. His presentation, Ceremonies Out of the Air, touches upon both his new and old work in relation to an imagined South.

As a choreographer, writer, director, and conceptualist, Ralph Lemon is a dynamic voice, canonizing what is African American literature and history through his in-depth research and presentation of traditionally African American culture through dance, art, and memoir. In his latest book, Come home Charley Patton, Lemon examines and imagines the South through memoir, documenting the Civil Rights era and contemporary southern culture through his journal entries. Sketches and photographs are included, capturing the haunting sites of lynchings, Civil Rights protests, and meetings between Lemon and the descendants of musicians and activists. A few images from the book, documenting Lemon’s travels, are included below:

one of the bedrooms in Mose Toliver's home

One of the bedrooms in Mose Toliver’s home. Mose Toliver was a folk artist whose art can be found in the Rosa Parks Museum.

a framed image of Elvi Presley in Mrs. Kent's house in Memphis, TN

A framed image of Elvis Presley in Mrs. Helen Kent’s house in Memphis, TN.

Helen Kent in her living room

Helen Kent, the daughter of Frank Stokes, an African American blues musician, in her living room.

in memory of the many protests and marches of Birmingham, AL, Lemon captures an image of a hose, a common weapon to deter peaceful protestors

In memory of the many protests and marches of Birmingham, AL, Lemon captures an image of a hose, a common weapon to deter peaceful protestors.

Consider shopping local this holiday season!

We reached out to our local independent booksellers to find out what fun events they have planned for Small Business Saturday, Cyber (or CIDER) Monday, and the rest of the holiday season. If you shop for the holidays, please consider ordering or purchasing gifts from local retailers. You might also consider giving a book from a small press or university press. Wesleyan has number of books that would make great gifts, some are included here.


Bank Square Books
53 W. Main St
Mystic, CT 06355
Day-long celebration with local authors: James R. Benn, L.M. Browning, Sarah MacLean, Ruth Crocker, Ann Haywood Leal, Susan Kietzman, David K. Leff, Adam Shaughnessy, and Robert Steele.

Breakwater Books
81 Whitfield St
Guilford, CT 06437
Book signing with Mary Sharnick, Orla’s Canvas, 12–2PM

Hickory Stick Bookshop
2 Green Hill Rd.
Washington, CT 06794
Book signing with Marilyn Singer, Tallulah’s Tap Shoes, 2PM

Mystic Seaport Museum Store
75 Greenmanville Ave
Mystic, CT 06355
Book signing with Roger C. Taylor, L. Francis Herreshoff: Yacht Designer,  3pm

*November 30th* CIDER MONDAY

Breakwater Books
81 Whitfield St
Guilford, CT 06437
Join us on “Cider Monday” (our version Cyber Monday) & enjoy warm cider and snacks as you do your holiday shopping. Leave your computer and shop in a local bookstore where real people can help you with your selections. Enjoy an old fashioned shopping experience! (View more events here.)

Hickory Stick Bookshop
2 Green Hill Rd.
Washington, CT 06794
Enjoy a cup of cider and a snack as you have an old-fashioned holiday shopping experience in a real bookstore with real people to help you. We promise our “servers” won’t crash, but instead will offer recommendations that will help you with your selections. We’ll even wrap your gifts!

Additional Events

Bank Square Books
53 W. Main St
Mystic, CT 06355
December 1 – Mystic Stroll, businesses in Mystic stay open late for holiday shoppers! That night, we will host cookbook author Ellen Stimson for a cookie contest and cookie swap. More info here.

Breakwater Books
81 Whitfield St
Guilford, CT 06437
December 3 – E-List’s annual Girls Night Out Guilford, 5PM. Meet at Whitfields, to start with a 1/2 price glass of wine! More info here.

Broad Street Books
45 Broad St
Middletown, CT 06457
December 19 – Scooby Doo books and read by Santa
Broad Street Books is also a one of the sponsors of Middletown’s Holiday on Main Street.

Burgundy Books
1285 Boston Post Rd
Westbrook, CT 06498
November 21 – Luncheon with Carl Safina, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, 12PM
December 15 – Book signing with Susannah Cahalan, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness,  12:30PM

Harbor Books
146 Main St
Old Saybrook, CT 06475
December 4 – Old Saybrook’s Winter Stroll, stop by at our table for a free novelty bookmark!

Hickory Stick Bookshop
2 Green Hill Rd.
Washington, CT 06794
December 5 – Donna Marie Merritt, We Walk Together, 2PM
December 6 – Jack Chaucer, Nikki Blue: Source of Trouble

Mystic Seaport Museum Store
75 Greenmanville Ave
Mystic, CT 06355
December 5 – Book signing with Carlo DeVito, Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex: The Complete Illustrated Edition, 1PM
December 6 – Book signing with Paul S. Krantz, Riding the Wild Ocean, 2pm

R.J. Julia Booksellers
768 Boston Post Rd
Madison, CT 06443
December 2 – Book signing with Ellen Stimpson, An Old Fashioned Christmas, 7PM
December 3 – Teens Talk Books Holiday Party, 6PM
December 6 – Santa Letter Writing Workshop, 12PM–1:30PM
December 18 – Voices In The Bookstore, local authors read their work, 6PM
December 20 – The Grinch Story Time, 10:30AM

Gift Ideas from Wesleyan University Press

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Announcing Radicalism and Music from Jonathan Pieslak

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A comparative study of the music cultures of four radical groups

Radicalism and Music offers a convincing argument for music’s transformational impact on the radicalization, reinforcement, and motivational techniques of violent political activists. It makes a case for the careful examination of music’s roles in radical cultures, roles that have serious impacts, as evidenced by the actions of the Frankfurt Airport shooter Arid Uka, Sikh Temple murderer Wade Page, white supremacist Matthew Hale, and animal-rights activist Walter Bond, among others. Such cases bring up difficult questions about how those involved in radical groups can be stirred to feel or act under the influence of music.

Radicalism and Music is based on interviews, email correspondence, concerts, and videos. As a “sound strategy,” music is exploited to its fullest potential as a tool for recruiting and retaining members by members of al-Qa’ida, the Hammerskin Nation, Christian Identity, Kids in Ministry International, Earth First!, and Vegan Straight Edge. But, as the book points out, the coercive use of music is not isolated to radical cultures, but in political propaganda, sporting events, and popular music as well. Ultimately, Radicalism and Music shows how music affects us through our emotions, and how it triggers violence and enables hateful ideology.


JONATHAN PIESLAK is an associate professor at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He is the author of Sound Targets: American Soldiers and Music in the Iraq War.

Listen to interviews with the author here:
To the Best of Our Knowledge
WAMC’s The Academic Minute
The Mike Huckabee Show

Radicalism and Music is a compelling read, rigorously researched and accessible to the interested reader. Pieslak is to be commended for his neutral approach: he comes across as intellectually intimate with his subjects without being committed to their respective agenda or passing judgment.”
—Nelly Lahoud, author of The Jihadis’ Path to Self-Destruction

Radicalism and Music is a well-argued foil to the notion that music is a universal language that brings people together. The subtheme of music and its relationship to the Internet provides important groundwork for thinking of music as a particular ‘information technology’ without divorcing it from its ritual function.”
—Benjamin J. Harbert, coeditor of The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity

 “Pieslak’s work reveals uses of music that are questionable and discomforting and thus rarely studied. By skillfully comparing music’s role in a range of extremist cultures, Pieslak remaps the bounds of human musicality, showing how music’s social and emotional power can inspire violence as much as community, cultivate hatred as much as beauty.”
–Daniel Cavicchi, author of Listening and Longing: Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum

320 pp., 8 illus., 6 x 9”
Unjacketed Cloth, $85 x
Paper, $27.95
eBook, $21.99 Y

#tbt: The Hidden Musicians revisited

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January 11th–12th, 2016, Open University in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom will hold a conference surrounding The Hidden Musicians by Ruth Finnegan, who is a music professor at the university. More information about this event can be found at here.

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The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town, was originally published in 1989, but was reprinted by the Wesleyan University Press in 2007. The book is comprised of various studies by Professor Finnegan who studied the practices of amateur musicians and music ensembles in the small English town of Milton Keynes. She studied the differences and distinctions between what makes a band ‘professional’ or ‘amateur’, seen through the lens of professional and candid photographs taken at rehearsals and musical events, as seen below.


 above: The eighty-year-old Wolverton Town and British Rail Band. The current members in their band uniform.


Above: An informal photograph of the Woburn Sands Band shortly after competing in the National Brass Band Finals, showing the age range typical of many music groups (here 11 to 70).


The book also explores the different genres of music made in the town, comparing the different rock bands, musical theatre ensembles, and variations of marching bands and community bands in the town. Through this, Finnegan creates a new methodology of studying music and how music is made and performed as seen throughout the book’s illustrations and its resonance within the musical academia of Open University.

Outside of Milton Keynes, amateur bands and musicians like those of the small English town, have continued to flourish throughout the years upon the same premises of being communal, casual, and organized by camaraderie. In the Wesleyan University Press office, our director, Suzanna Tamminen, below, spends her lunch hour practicing her tuba for her community band.

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Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins

Photo by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Van Vechten Trust
and the Carl Van Vechten Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature,
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Janet Collins (1917–2003) was a renowned dancer, painter, and the first African-American soloist ballerina to appear on the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. It took her many years of resolve, facing the blatant racism that existed in the dance community (as it did elsewhere in the United States), to achieve the status of prima ballerina at the Met. In fact, at age 15 she was offered a position with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with the caveat that she would “paint her face white.” Collins declined. But she did not give up.

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Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins, recipient of the Marfield Prize,
the National Award for Arts Writing, and now available in paperback.
The first two chapters are comprised of Collins’s unfinished autobiography.

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The black dancing body was welcome on American and European stages of the mid-twentieth century, but usually only in forms of popular entertainment that perpetuated African-American stereotypes: the comic, the streetwise, and the exotic primitive. These stereotypical characters were found in minstrel shows and vaudeville, as well as on Broadway and in Hollywood movies. Pioneers like Edna Guy, Hemsley Winfield, and Katherine Dunham paved the way for African-American dancers in the arena of Modern dance, but the world of ballet remained closed, its movement vocabulary deemed too refined for black performers. In addition to the stereotypes of being too raw, too sensual, and too primal, blacks also had to contend with an irrational judgment of their physiques. White dance directors and choreographers deemed the black dancing physique as incompatible with ballet’s technical and aesthetic demands, assuming that they somehow lacked the grace and precision necessary to succeed in ballet.

Night’s Dancer tells the story of Janet Collins, who helped to pave the way for positive change in the dance world. She remains an inspiration today, due to her artistry, courage, and perseverance. Biographer Yaël Tamar Lewin, who is also a dancer, does not shy away from the darker corners of her life. Lewin discusses Collins’s battle with depression, the sterilization she underwent as a young woman, and the hard-hitting rejection she faced because of her skin color. Lewin does not merely focus on Collins’s long struggle to break the race barrier. Drawing on extensive research as well as interviews with Collins, her family, friends, and colleagues, Lewin chronicles her life as a well-rounded and accomplished artist, a true pioneer in her choreographic work. Collins fused styles, topics, and music in new ways. She also was a talented painter.

Wesleyan University Press is not alone in recognizing the talents and achievements of Janet Collins. She is also the subject of Dancing in the Light: The Janet Collins Story, a new short animated film narrated by Chris Rock and produced by Karyn Parsons for Sweet Blackberry. Carmen de Lavallade, an accomplished dancer, choreographer, and Yale University professor, is working on a feature film about her talented cousin. De Lavallade is collaborating with actress/producer Roberta Haynes and writer Jenny Callicott on the film, Prima: The Janet Collins StoryTheir website explains: “So many events in today’s news remind us that it is increasingly important to remember the struggles of the civil rights movement.” And asks: “[W]hy is it that Janet Collins’ amazing accomplishment of becoming the first black prima ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera a story that remains untold?”

Collins’s story is still very relevant. In her memoir, Misty Copeland (now principal dancer at American Ballet Theater) noted that “[t]here were many people who seemed not to want to see black ballerinas, who thought that our very presence made ballet less authentic, less romantic, less true. The bitter truth is I felt that I wasn’t being fully accepted because I was black, that leaders of the company just didn’t see me starring in more classical roles, despite my elegant line and flow.” Collins was among a small, dedicated group of black dancers who helped pave a difficult road for talents such as Copeland.

Janet Collins has been widely recognized as one of the finest dancers in America. Her artistic and personal influences continue to shape the dance world today, not only due to her perseverance, but also due to her great talent and creativity as a dancer and artist.

Photo credits, all found in Night’s Dancer: 1 & 2: Collins in Spirituals. Photo @ Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 3: Painting of a young girl by Collins. Courtesy of the estate of Janet Collins. 4: Painting of a woman with magnolias by Collins. Courtesy of the estate of Janet Collins. 5: Collins with Hanya Holm, Don Redlick, and Elizabeth Harris, 1961. Photo by Bob McIntyre. Courtesy of Don Redlich. 6: Collins surrounded by her art. Betty Udesen/The Seattle Times. Featured image: Photo by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Van Vechten Trust and the Carl Van Vechten Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

#tbt: Old Leather Man


Today’s Throwback Thursday selection is from our 2008 book The Old Leather Man.

I first learned about the Old Leather Man around 15 years ago, when I worked for Arcadia Publishing. One day, after joining the staff here at Wesleyan, I was pleasantly surprised to see a proposal for an entire book on the subject. That book, The Old Leather Man: Historical Accounts of a Connecticut and New York Legend, has gone on to become one of our best-selling regional books. First published in 2008, it has maintained a steady stream of interest. The book and its author, Dan W. DeLuca, were recently the subject of a feature article, by Jon Campbell, in The Village VoiceIt is wonderful to see Yann Legendre’s phantom-like interpretation of the mystery man gracing the cover of The Voice. It is not often that we see regional history and regional books receiving this kind of coverage!


The Old Leather Man, featured in The Village Voice. Our book, the newspaper, and some memorabilia are seen here.

Eddie Vedder, of Pearl Jam fame, happens to be a fan of the mystery man, and our book. Vedder wrote of our book on his band’s website. He said: “While this book offers up his life and times in the most complete manner possible, the mystery of Leather Man remains intact. It’s also interesting to note the parallels between the Leather Man and Chris McCandless who we got to know through Into the Wild.”

The spirit embodied by the Leather Man is universal. As Vedder pointed out, the desire to drop out of society and roam the world freely remains strong in our modern times. Who hasn’t day-dreamed about leaving it all behind and walking off into the woods?

from Connecticut Valley Advertiser, Saturday, December 27, 1873

The veritable “Old Leather Man” paid our village another visit last week. It has long been a query who he is, where he comes from, and where he stays nights. With the juveniles, the latter query is the most important, and for their gratification, more particularly we can inform them that his home is in a cave, in what is known as Elijah’s ledges, in the west part of the town of Westbrook. In this lonely place he makes a home when he wanders this way. The cave is small and does not compare very favorably, either in size or gorgeousness, with the famous “Cave of the Winds” at Moodus. This queer specimen of humanity, clothed in leather, is indeed a curiosity. He is very reticent, only conversing when necessity compels it in soliciting food. It is not known where he came from, but it is generally supposed that he escaped from some Dime Novel.

Not everyone was happy about visits from Old Leathery and his kind.

from Bristol Press, Thursday, August 26, 1875

Tramp, Tramp, Tramp

There would appear to be no immediate prospect of abatement of the tramp nuisance. Rather, the tramp seems to have become ubiquitous and the growth of his order is only equaled by its capacity for villainy and “general cussedness.” The few mild measures taken in some sections for the suppression of this dangerous class have proved wholly inoperative, thus far. How long the community at large will continue to bear the inflictions before resorting to a more vigorous and wholesome treatment is difficult to determine. From the way in which people permit themselves to be imposed upon and cowed into acquiescence with all that these rascals insolently demand, we should judge that this is a sort of tramps’ millennium and is to be of indefinite duration. At any rate the tramps are increasing and with their multiplication, robbery, incendiarism, intimidation, rape and murder in like ratio become more and more common.

This tramp nuisance will continue just so long as people submit to it and no longer. The remedy is within reach. It is a simple remedy, easily applied. It may appear to some to be harsh, but if people would be rid of the evil, they must first make up their minds that harsh measures are the only ones that can be made effective. In the first place, stop feeding tramps. Secondly, let every man, woman and youth learn how to use a revolver and have one or more of these useful articles in every house, especially if in an isolated situation. Then whenever a tramp appears, peremptorily refuse him food or shelter and escort him off the premises at the muzzle of a cocked revolver and if he isn’t easily scared and attempts force, shoot.

A trusty weapon in every house and a disposition to use it on very slight provocation, will do more to squelch this abomination than any other means possible to use. And when people drop their squeamishness and sickly philanthropy and all other classes of criminals with that promptness and fidelity which is possible only by taking the law into their own hands, the moral atmosphere will improve wonderfully and life, property and virtue will be properly respected.

Yet others took pity on this lost soul, and were happy to feed him.

from Connecticut Valley Advertiser, Saturday, December 4, 1875

The old veteran leather man passed through this place on Thursday last, and as usual, he stopped at the house of W. B. Starkey, on South Blood street, and partook of hot coffee, cake, pie, etc., as he has done for the past twenty years. He makes his trips every six weeks. He is always on time and never fails.

Sadly, the man who seemingly had no name died a rather painful death from cancer of the mouth.

from Evening News, Friday, January 25, 1889

The Leather Man in Redding

The Leather Man was in Redding and called early in the morning at the residence of Dr. J. H. Benedict, where he asked for a breakfast. He was readily recognized by Mrs. Benedict from his leather clothing, and she invited him into the kitchen. As Mrs. Benedict can speak French she soon learned his wants, which were simply coffee, and she furnished him with all he desired. He drank the full of two large bowls, into each of which he put a teacupful of sugar.

He explained that he was unable to partake of solid food on account of his cancer, which prevented chewing. He conversed for a short time with Mrs. Benedict in French, until she asked him of his antecedents and then he became suddenly and stubbornly silent and spoke in his broken English.

His cancer is rapidly eating away his life. The right cheek is entirely gone, including a portion of the lower lip. He would not allow Dr. Benedict to dress it or Mrs. Benedict to do anything for his comfort, save to give him the coffee and a bottle of milk.

He now seems very shaky and is evidently drawing near his end. It seems as if the Humane Society should look after him, and care for him, even if it was necessary to do so by force, or else some day he will be found a corpse in some out of the way place, the victim of a-craze, want, neglect and exposure.


In the end, the Leather Man died alone. His death was reported in the Hartford Times, on Monday evening, March 25, 1889. The headline read:

“The Old Leather Man” Gone
a great sufferer from cancer






At Left: The Old Leather Man, photographer and location unknown. Courtesy of the Plymouth Historical Soicety.



#tbt: Tricia’s Rose’s Black Noise

Rose - BlackR-72-3

This week’s Throwback Thursday post, the final post for our Black History Month series, features one of Wesleyan University Press’ best-selling titles, Tricia Rose’s Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Rose’s book is one among many published by Wesleyan on African American music and musicians. Other books include Monument Eternal: The Music of Alice Coltrane, by Franya J. Berkman, on the life and work of Alice Coltrane as a composer, improviser, and guru; the classic text Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in African American Music, by Christopher Small, who explored the origins, nature, and function of music in human life; and Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity, by Paul Austerlitz, who provides a scholarly argument to support the theory of a wide-reaching jazz consciousness—an aesthetic of inclusiveness—considering jazz within the African diaspora and in varying transnational scenes, from Finland to the Dominican Republic.

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In Black Noise, Rose grapples with the lyrics, music, cultures, themes, and styles of rap music, and discusses the most salient issues and debates that surround it. She writes, “Rap music brings together a tangle of some of the most complex social, cultural, and political issues in contemporary American society. Rap’s contradictory articulations are not signs of absent intellectual clarity; they are a common feature of community and popular cultural dialogues that always offer more than one cultural, social, or political viewpoint. These unusually abundant polyvocal conversations seem irrational when they are severed from the social contexts where everyday struggles over resources, pleasure, and meanings take place.”

In the following excerpt, Rose discusses the deep political implications present in rap music:

Rap music is, in many ways, a hidden transcript. Among other things, it uses cloaked speech and disguised cultural codes to comment on and challenge aspects of current power inequalities. Not all rap transcripts directly critique all forms of domination; nonetheless, a large and significant element in rap’s discursive territory is engaged in symbolic and ideological warfare with institutions and groups that symbolically, ideo­logically, and materially oppress African Americans. In this way, rap music is a contemporary stage for the theater of the powerless. On this stage, rappers act out inversions of status hierarchies, tell alterna­tive stories of contact with police and the education process, and draw portraits of contact with dominant groups in which the hidden tran­script inverts/subverts the public, dominant transcript. Often rendering a nagging critique of various manifestations of power via jokes, stories, gestures, and song, rap’s social commentary enacts ideological insubor­dination.

In contemporary America, where most popular culture is electroni­cally mass-mediated, hidden or resistant popular transcripts arc readily absorbed into the public domain and subject to incorporation and in­validation. Cultural expressions of discontent are no longer protected by the insulated social sites that have historically encouraged the re­finement of resistive transcripts. Mass-mediated cultural production, particularly when it contradicts and subverts dominant ideological posi­tions, is under increased scrutiny and is especially vulnerable to incorpo­ration. Yet, at the same time, these mass-mediated and mass-distributed alternative codes and camouflaged meanings are also made vastly more accessible to oppressed and sympathetic groups around the world and contribute to developing cultural bridges among such groups. More­ over, attacks on institutional power rendered in these contexts have a special capacity to destabilize the appearance of unanimity among powerholders by openly challenging public transcripts and cultivating the contradictions between commodity interests, (“Docs it sell? Well, sell it, then.”)and the desire for social control (“We can’t let them say that.”) Rap’s resistive transcripts arc articulated and acted out in both hidden and public domains, making them highly visible, yet difficult to contain and confine. So, for example, even though Public Enemy know pouring it on in metaphor is nothing new, what makes them “prophets of rage with a difference” is their ability to retain the mass-mediated spotlight on the popular cultural stage and at the same time function as a voice of social critique and criticism. The frontier between public and hidden transcripts is a zone of constant struggle between dominant and subordinate groups. Although electronic mass media and corporate consolidation have heavily weighted the battle in favor of the powerful, contestations and new strategies of resistance are vocal and contentious. The fact that the powerful often win does not mean that a war isn’t going on.

Rappers are constantly taking dominant discursive fragments and throwing them into relief, destabilizing hegemonic discourses and at­tempting to legitimate counter hegemonic interpretations. Rap’s con­testations are part of a polyvocal black cultural discourse engaged in discursive “wars of position” within and against dominant discourses. As foot soldiers in this “war of position,” rappers employ a multifaceted strategy. These wars of position are not staged debate team dialogues; they are crucial battles in the retention, establishment, or legitimation of real social power. Institutional muscle is accompanied by social ideas that legitimate it. Keeping these social ideas current and transparent is a constant process that sometimes involves making concessions and ad­justments. As Lipsitz points out, dominant groups “must make their triumphs appear legitimate and necessary in the eyes of the vanquished. That legitimation is hard work. It requires concession to aggrieved populations…it runs the risk of unraveling when lived experiences conflict with legitimizing ideologies. As Hall observes, it is almost as if the ideological dogcatchers have to be sent out every morning to round up the ideological strays, only to be confronted by a new group of loose mutts the next day.” Dominant groups must not only retain legitimacy via a war of maneuver to control capital and institutions, but also they must prevail in a war of position to control the discursive and ideological terrain that legitimates such institutional control. In some cases, dis­cursive inversions and the contexts within which they are disseminated directly threaten the institutional base, the sites in which Gramsci’s wars of maneuver are waged.

In contemporary popular culture, rappers have been vocal and un­ruly stray dogs. Rap music, more than any other contemporary form of black cultural expression, articulates the chasm between black urban lived experience and dominant, “legitimate” (e.g., neoliberal) ideolo­gies regarding equal opportunity and racial inequality. As new ideologi­ al fissures and points of contradiction develop, new mutts bark and growl, and new dogcatchers are dispatched. This metaphor is particu­larly appropriate for rappers, many of whom take up d-Og as part of their nametag (e.g., Snoop Doggy Dog, Tim Dog, and Ed O.G. and the Bull­ dogs). Paris, a San Francisco-based rapper whose nickname is P-dog, directs his neo-Black Panther position specifically at ideological fissures and points of contradiction:

P-dog commin’ up, I’m straight low
Pro-black and it ain’t no joke
Commin’ straight from the mob that broke shit last time,
Now I’m back with a brand new sick rhyme.
So, black, check time and tempo
Revolution ain’t never been simple

Submerged in winding, dark, low, bass lines, “The Devil Made Me Do It” locates Paris’s anger as a response to white colonialism and positions him as a “low” (read underground) voice backed up by a street mob whose commitment is explicitly pro-black and nationalist. A self­ proclaimed supporter of the revived and revised Oakland-based Black Panther movement, Paris (whose logo is also a black panther) locates himself as a direct descendent of the black panther “mob that broke shit last time” but who offers a revised text for the nineties. Paris’s opening line, “this is a warning” and subsequent assertion, “So don’t ask next time I start this, the devil made me do it,” along with his direct address to blacks “so, black, check time and tempo,” suggest a double address both to his extended street mob and to those whom he feels are respon­sible for his rage. “Check time and tempo” is another double play. Paris, a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI) is referring to the familiar NOI cry, “Do you know what time it is? It’s nation time!” and the “time and tempo” based nature of his electronic, digital musical production. Later, he makes more explicit the link he forges between his divinely inspired digitally coded music and the military style of NOI programs:

P-dog with a gift from heaven, tempo 116.7
Keeps you locked in time with the program
When I get wild I’ll pile on dope jams.

Speaking to and about dominant powers and offering a commitment to military mob-style revolutionary force, P-dog seems destined to draw the attention of Hall’s ideological dogcatchers. Although revolution has never been simple, it seems clear to Paris that not only will it be televised, it will have a soundtrack, too.

Tricia Rose is Professor of American Studies at University of California at Santa Cruz. She is also the author of Longing to Tell: Black Women Talk about Sexuality and Intimacy.