TV-a-Go-Go: by Jake Austen, 369 pp., $18.95 By Todd Taylor

Apr 02, 2007

For those of you who have been living under a rock (instead of living under the divine auspices of THE Rock, which is, like, a completely different thing), Jake Austen is pretty much the coolest guy on the planet. If you’ve ever read Jake’s magazine, Roctober, i reckon you know what i’m talking about: He’ll put out, say, a Redd Foxx tribute issue that’s designed like an old issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland, or a Sammy Davis Jr. tribute issue that looks like an old MRR, and these issues won’t be little, superficial things—like, “ha ha, it looks like Maximum RockNRoll but it’s got Sammy Davis Jr. on the cover, isn’t that rich?”—they will have PAGE after PAGE after PAGE of discographies and histories and in-depth articles about their subjects. Children’s records? Jake’s the authority. Monkeys in rock? Jake’s the man. Black folks in the punk scene? Jake compiled the friggin’ database. Jake Austen, seemingly, knows everything about anything even vaguely music related, and the more offbeat and obscure it is, the more he appears to know, giving him the appearance, to me, of being almost superhuman (i always envision his home as being some sort of an underground bunker, kind of like the basement at the MRR House, but with about six television monitors, eight turntables, four computers and a microfilm machine all going constantly, with Jake sitting in a chair, slamming Diet Coke™ and flipping switches frantically, attempting to ABSORB MORE KNOWLEGE while he finishes his sandwich. But, of course, this has yet to be proven). Therefore, if Jake Austen—producer of the Chic-a-Go-Go cable access dance party show, lest we forget—writes a book about Rock on TV, i tend to assume that he knows what he’s talking about, and that said book is THE definitive book on the subject TFN. That said, however, while i can definitely see TV-a-Go-Go—which is broken into ten separate essays on dance shows, fake TV bands, punk rock on TV, etc.—becoming required reading for various college-level mass media/popular culture classes for years to come, i don’t see it entirely succeeding as a self-contained icon of popular culture itself, mainly because of the format. While the book serves as an excellent overview of rock on TV from, as advertised, “American Bandstand to American Idol,” the black and white, sparsely illustrated format fails to satisfy the reader’s desire to see lots and lots of images of bands on TV that reading a book about lots and lots of bands on TV can’t help but provoke. Essentially, what i’m saying is that, at some point in time, somebody’s gonna basically do TV-a-Go-Go with a much larger budget, they’re gonna put in half the information, a third of the insight, and twenty times the pictures and people are gonna eat it up—and that’s not good nor bad, it’s just the way the world works. People are gonna want less of a textbook and more of a coffee table book; that’s just inherent in the subject matter. But, that said, TV-a-Go-Go is a fine and informative read, with Jake’s insights into the social significance of Soul Train and other black dance shows particularly eye-opening. I wish him the best of luck (and the highest of budgets) for future offerings. –Rev. Nørb (Chicago Review Press, 814 N. Franklin, Chicago IL 60610)

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