Saturday, April 19, 2014
SOUL TRAIN: THE HIPPEST TRIP IN AMERICA BY NELSON GEORGE- A BOOK REVIEW
The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style by Nelson George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train the Evolution of Culture & Style by Nelson George is a 2014 William Morrow publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
This book is like a companion book for the highest rated VH1 rock documentary by the same name. In honor of Black History Month the documentary explored the humble beginnings of Soul Train all the way to the end of the show and sadly the death of Don Cornelius. This is a very good documentary and if you ever have a chance to locate it I do recommend you watch it.
This book compliments everything we saw in the documentary with interviews and photos and aims the focus more on the show itself and the dancers in particular. This was a great angle to explore. Instead of rehashing the history of the 1970's and giving us technical details of business transactions, this book zeroes in on the entertainment value of the show and the massive impact it had on clothing, hair styles , dance trends, marketing geared toward blacks and opening doors for many to cross over into careers of their own.
As a child I was not allowed to stay up past a certain time so it wasn't until I was in my teens that I had the chance to watch Soul Train. I got in on the tail end of the great soul and funk music of the seventies but the disco transition was nearly complete. I didn't watch the show all that often. It came on Saturday afternoons and if I happened to be home at that time of day and thought about it I would tune in. Now all these years later I really wish I had paid more attention.
I read a book not all that long ago all about Soul Train and that book was nearly encyclopedic, extremely well documented and researched. At that time I got on the internet and began looking through videos for Soul Train and ended up spending hours watching the old clips from various eras of time.
The Nelson George book I am reviewing here, listed certain dancers and controversies that had me going back and looking up specific details and videos. Rosie Perez and Jody Whatley are some of the more recognizable names. Again ,I have found myself enjoying the performances and the line dances once more. While not filled with a detailed list of performers and dancers or anything along those lines, this book highlights the points that pop culture will remember the most. There are many quotes and interview excerpts from the people on the show and from Don Cornelius himself.
Don Cornelius is still somewhat of an enigma. He wanted Soul Train to show blacks in a positive light and made a diligent effort to keep the show clean. He frowned on provocative clothes and certain dance moves that could be considered suggestive. He was a very disciplined man, serious, private, perhaps a little aloof. He suffered with many health issues and it is very sad that his life ended in such a way.
The influence Don and Soul Train had on pop culture and the impact it had in opening doors for black performers to cross over into mainstream in immeasurable. It angered and saddened me to know that performers poked fun at Don in his later years and parodied Soul Train in an unflattering way. If it were not for the vision and tenacity of Don Cornelius I don't know how long it would have taken for black performers to break out into television, movies, and have their music universally recognized. Surely, a little respect is due and I do hope that the show can be rebooted in order to touch a whole new generation of people.
A fun book that gives us a point of view unique to the dancers and the impact the show had on their lives and continues to have for many. I had a lot of fun reading it and now I am off to look through more videos to go along with this review when I post it on my blog. This one gets 4 stars.