All Graphite and Glitter: ‘Down the Rhodes: The Fender Rhodes Story’

By Michael Grasso

Earlier this year, while on a YouTube nostalgia tear through NBA highlights from the late ’70s and early ’80s, I made the following observation on Twitter after watching a live performance of Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Let It Flow (For ‘Dr J.’)” set to vintage hoops footage: “The sound of my early childhood is ineluctably a Fender Rhodes electric piano”…

Where Magic Meets Technology: Peter Bebergal’s ‘Strange Frequencies’

By Michael Grasso

I remember vividly the rich variety of books that I was surrounded by in childhood that talked about the history of magic, or then-current trends in paranormal research, or how investigators were searching for the signs of the afterlife on magnetic audio tape. If you grew up in the ’70s and ’80s like me, and loved books like these, then go out and get yourself a copy of Peter Bebergal’s Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural

Squaring the Circle: An American Becomes One of the ‘Children of the Stones’

By Michael Grasso

I’m not likely to add much to the thousands upon thousands of words penned over the past decade or so on how formative an experience watching Children of the Stones (1977) as a kid was. Now considered one of the signal works forming the foundation of the British folk horror and hauntological aesthetics, the series is a brilliant melding of folk memory and technological aspiration, of magic and science, of tradition and progress, done in that ineffable way that only the British seem able to express satisfactorily…

“You Owe Me Awe”: Culture, Class, and the New South in Thomas Harris’s ‘Red Dragon’

By Michael Grasso

Thomas Harris’s sophomore novel Red Dragon (1981) introduced the world to iconic serial killer and cultured cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and arguably set the gold standard for all serial killer fiction to follow. But Harris’s novel is more than just a taut true crime thriller that first popularized the archetype of the serial killer profiler. It is also a methodical, deliberate exploration of the class anxieties…

“Going At Ghosts With Science”: ‘Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale’

By Michael Grasso

Legend of 20th century science fiction Nigel Kneale (1922-2006) would likely bristle to be described as such. Andy Murray’s terrific biography, Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale, readily conveys Kneale’s sometime ambivalence at being pigeonholed as a genre writer. But the full parade of Kneale’s fascinating life gives perspective to the inseparability of the mundane and the fantastic…

“The Devil Had Worshipers Long Before Lenin”: The Occult Spy Novels of E. Howard Hunt

By Michael Grasso

In his series of “Peter Ward” novels, published by various paperback houses (Signet, Dell, and Fawcett) between 1965 and 1971, Hunt conjures an agent with a pedigree strikingly similar to his own: Ivy League-educated (at Brown), possessing both a mysterious past involving disastrous CIA ops gone wrong and a burning desire to see himself accepted by the clandestine Washington D.C. power structure…

Deserts, Screens, and Empty Smiles: The Vast Wastelands of Jean Baudrillard’s ‘America’

By Michael Grasso

In the early 1980s, French philosopher, media theorist, and cultural scholar Jean Baudrillard visited the United States several times, taking in the vastness of the continent-spanning nation, from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach. In 1986, his account of these trips, America, was published in France. Two years later, the book came to the US in a translated edition. In the work, Baudrillard ruminates upon Mormons and breakdancers, fitness nuts and canned laughter on television, on all of the sources of beauty and horror of American culture and society in the 1980s…