Bill Lichtenstein’s lively, comprehensive history of radio station WBCN, “WBCN and the American Revolution: How a Radio Station Defined Politics, Counterculture, and Rock and Roll” (MIT) begins in the taut moment before the countercultural revolution had reached Boston from the West Coast, and takes off showing how the station eschewed the fake cheer of Top 40 and played the music, and spoke the words, that were driving the energy of the young people in the city. Lichtenstein was in 9th grade when he got a job answering calls for the Listener Line. It left him with “a keen sense of belief in the power of media — especially radio — to create and fuel political, social, and cultural change” as well as “give voice to those who didn’t have one.” Lichtenstein writes of the Boston Tea Party, calling it “the first rock hall on the East Coast,” stage to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead, among others, and the trippy, drugged-up music scene. The station moves from dingy digs to the top of the Prudential Building, signaling the way its growing popularity meant entry into exactly the sleek corporate world it had so vehemently rejected. Loaded with archival photos of concerts, rock stars, and radio celebs, the book is a portrait of the city, a moment, its music, and a radio station that helped define it all. It’s also accompanied by a documentary directed by Lichtenstein airing on WGBH.
A new perspective
“America is a nation of immigrants” goes the feel-good refrain, the embodiment of the American ideal, meant to be balm against xenophobia, meant to remind citizens that everyone came from elsewhere at some point. But, as award-winning author and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argues in her smart and convincing book “Not ‘A Nation of Immigrants’: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion” (Beacon), that phrase obscures more than it reveals, oversimplifying history at the expense of Indigenous and enslaved peoples. The rhetoric ignores the genocide and slavery that the nation was founded on and it “continues to mask the settler-colonial violence that established and maintained the United States and turned immigrants into settlers.” Dunbar-Ortiz interrogates the rise of this mentality in the mid-20th century, and shines light on much more complicated, and indeed horrific, truths. She examines the history of slavery; of European immigrants considered “not quite white”; of the border with Mexico; of Irish immigration as a result of English colonization of Ireland; and in doing, she demands we rethink the history of the United States.
Verses of aging
The parentheses of death loom in Vermont-based poet John Skoyles’s seventh collection, “Yes and No” (Carnegie Melon University), and mirrors ask more questions than they answer. The reflections give a both/and, gray-area, once-was sense of passing time. “The old dog’s lost / his hearing,” he writes, and the old dog isn’t the only one. Here a man confronts “the tail end of virility” and “the freight / of a former self.” And doing so requires also mingling with ghosts and loves from the past, intimate encounters and relationships that live in the mind with the heat of aliveness. “How quickly / common things spark / a roll call of those who / have entered that gated district / called the underworld.” There is a vulnerable focus on what’s coming, and what’s already come. “I lived in the past, so the present / was my future,” he writes. These are poems of a heart beating still, of the seductive edge of the bridge, and those moments “in that standoff / where the past and future / cross swords — / a glinting moment / called the wishful present.”
“White on White” by Aysegül Savas (Riverhead)
“Beasts of a Little Land” by Juhea Kim (Ecco)
“Medusa’s Ankles” by A. S. Byatt (Knopf)
Pick of the week
Yu-Mei Balasingamchow at Papercuts Bookshop in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, recommends “The Memory Police” by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Vintage): “A woman writer lives in a town where things unexpectedly disappear — and the Memory Police make sure they stay forgotten. People who try to remember are taken away, so to protect her editor, she hides him in her house. Sparsely written but so haunting, as everyone struggles to hold on to what holds meaning in their lives.”