Martin Torgoff has been a contributing editor at Interview and a producer for CNN "World Beat." He is a documentary filmmaker and the author of several books, including the bestselling Elvis: We Love You Tender and American Fool: The Roots and Improbable Rise of John Cougar Mellencamp, which won an ASCAP Deems Taylor award. He lives in New York City with his wife and son.
Torgoff (American Fool) presents a history of the production, distribution, and use of heroin, LSD, marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs in America since World War II, told principally from the perspective of drug users. The book opens with the marijuana users and heroin addicts of the 1940s Bebop jazz scene and the nascent Beat generation. We see Charlie "Bird" Parker playing hot jazz and killing himself with heroin, and Jack Kerouac and the Beats smoking pot and taking amphetamines. Then, in the early 1960s, marijuana begins its rise into the mainstream, while Timothy Leary touts LSD as a cure-all consciousness expander. Throughout, Torgoff includes interviews with marijuana farmers in California, heroin junkies and cocaine snorters in New York, and members of the gay drug scene in San Francisco. He juxtaposes the reasons users give for their habitsAartistic expression, social rebellion, alternative medicineAagainst the wasted lives, mental problems, and massive social costs of drug abuse. He is convincing in his argument that postwar America cannot be understood without examining the role drugs have played in American music, politics, and social relations. This book would be a useful supplement in any course on American history or culture since 1945 and can be appreciated by lay readers as well. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.ADuncan Stewart, Univ. of Iowa Libs., Iowa City Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Torgoff challenges what he calls America's "cultural amnesia" about recreational drug use during the last half-century, staking out a rhetorical middle ground that acknowledges both the pervasive cultural influence and the costs of overindulgence. The problem with his panoramic account is its focus on celebrities, especially among the creative classes, whose stories have already been told. That makes for a series of often stunning images Charlie Parker in the grip of heroin addiction, Wavy Gravy confronting Charles Manson, John Belushi snorting cocaine on live TV especially given Torgoff's skills as an interviewer (and the good fortune of getting to talk with key figures like Herbert Huncke and Timothy Leary before their deaths), but at the expense of discovering what happened once various drugs made their way to ordinary folks in the suburbs. Torgoff (who won an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for American Fool, about John Cougar Mellencamp) does touch on that by opening with his own early drug use on '60s Long Island and closing with a poignant encounter with an aged homeless junkie, and the book could have used more stories like that. The discussion of the government's "war on drugs" is somewhat scattershot; though detailed on President Carter's flirtation with relaxing the laws and the militancy of the "Just Say No" era, there's nothing about Nixon's policies a particularly stunning omission since the DEA was created during his administration. Torgoff creates compelling juxtapositions, and he's not afraid to ask difficult questions, but he hasn't truly broken new ground. Agent, Russell Galen. (May 13) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
"An exuberant chronicle of ecstatic inebriation, delusional utopianism, wretched excess and chastened nostalgia for lost highs." -- The New York Times Book Review "Sprawling, high-spirited....[Torgoff's] ambitious chronicle packs considerable punch as an antidote to official policies based on 'myths, fears, exaggerations, and lies.'" -- Martin A. Lee, Los Angeles Times "As pleasantly and richly intoxicating as a double hit of Humboldt County, California's finest....Torgoff ranges widely in documenting the profound influence of drugs on postwar America." -- Nick Gillespie, The Washington Post Book World