Points is pleased to feature Martin Torgoff discussing his new book, Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs (De Capo, 2017).
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
My last book, Can’t Find My Way Home: America In the Stoned Age, told the story of how the use of illicit drugs went from the underground to the mainstream, and how that changed the cultural landscape of America. This book tells the story of the underground itself–how drug use entered the DNA of our popular culture in the first place.
What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
The central role that race plays in the origins and evolution of drug law, drug prohibition, but especially drug culture. During this period the underground use of drugs becomes an important part of the development of an alternative vision and pursuit of freedom—a truly multicultural and interracial nexus of American experience.
Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?
Following the major jazz protagonists—Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean—through the phenomenon of heroin during the 1940s and 1950s, and the differences in their stories. It was also interesting to crosscut their stories with the principal characters of the Beat Generation, and show how both jazz and the use of drugs shaped their breakthrough works. Another really interesting aspect was telling the story of Ruby Rosano, the heroin-addicted prostitute who used drugs with Billie Holiday.
Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?
BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?
An audio version of the book already exists, narrated by a fellow named Roger Wayne, who does a terrific job. But alas, my fantasy was always to have something that I’d written narrated by Maya Angelou, and that will never come to pass…