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The Rebel Café

Hardback
, 336 pages

35 b&w photos, 2 maps

ISBN:
9781421426334
November 2018
$54.95

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The Rebel Café

Sex, Race, and Politics in Cold War America’s Nightclub Underground

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The art and antics of rebellious figures in 1950s American nightlife—from the Beat Generation to eccentric jazz musicians and comedians—have long fascinated fans and scholars alike. In The Rebel Café, Stephen R. Duncan flips the frame, focusing on the New York and San Francisco bars, nightclubs, and coffeehouses from which these cultural icons emerged. Duncan shows that the sexy, smoky sites of bohemian Greenwich Village and North Beach offered not just entertainment but doorways to a new sociopolitical consciousness.

This book is a collective biography of the places that harbored beatniks, blabbermouths, hipsters, playboys, and partisans who altered the shape of postwar liberal politics and culture. Throughout this period, Duncan argues, nightspots were crucial—albeit informal—institutions of the American democratic public sphere. Amid the Red Scare’s repressive politics, the urban underground of New York and San Francisco acted as both a fallout shelter for left-wingers and a laboratory for social experimentation.

Touching on literary figures from Norman Mailer and Amiri Baraka to Susan Sontag as well as performers ranging from Dave Brubeck to Maya Angelou to Lenny Bruce, The Rebel Café profiles hot spots such as the Village Vanguard, the hungry i, the Black Cat Cafe, and the White Horse Tavern. Ultimately, the book provides a deeper view of 1950s America, not simply as the black-and-white precursor to the Technicolor flamboyance of the sixties but as a rich period of artistic expression and identity formation that blended cultural production and politics.

Stephen R. Duncan is an assistant professor of history at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York.

"I read this book with great admiration. Once and for all, Duncan consigns the thesis of the monolithic conformism of 1950s America to the dustbin of history. No other historian has analyzed so well, so sensibly, and so thoroughly the politics and aesthetics of this generation of artists, intellectuals, and activists across its numerous gender, sexual, and racial divisions."

"Duncan makes the compelling argument that the 'nightclub underground' represented a clear counter-public in the cities of San Francisco and New York. An excellent book."

"An indispensable guide to the unique cultural moment when a bicoastal group of underground rebels broke with the past and planted the seeds of the open, ironic, and transgressive American culture of the twenty-first century. If you want to know how we got from there to here, this is the book."

"By vividly reconstructing the creative, communal, and liberating spaces that North Beach and Greenwich Village nightspots afforded a broad range of midcentury dissenters and nonconformists, Duncan's nuanced and highly original study provides us with a new appreciation for the distinct geographies and social networks that helped sustain bohemian culture in America."

"Stephen Duncan offers a palpable sense of place and space as he tours the salon-like taverns and basement clubs of mid-twentieth-century Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s North Beach—proof that a period of astonishing creativity from the late 1940s to early 1960s possessed a cultural character all its own."

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