Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review:The Suffering And Celebration Of Life In America

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There was a time, before the advent of “Reality TV”, when people could be shocked. A time when serial killers were the subject of true crime novels and punk rock songs, not a series on MSNBC. A time when GG Allin got arrested for things that now barely qualify as a wild Saturday night on “The Jersey Shore”. A time when sideshow acts offered real magic, more amazing than the magic of CGI.

Shane and Amy Bugbee came of artistic age in those years, in the twilight of pre-digital media. Shane's exploits earned him a place in the pantheon of shock artists of the era that includes Allin, Jim Rose, Jim Goad, Lydia Lunch and Boyd Rice, and he was profiled in the book Art That Kills: A PanoramicPortrait of Aesthetic Terrorism.

As that movement fell victim to what Douglas Rushkoff now describes as “PresentShock”, The Bugbees set a new course, and boldly departed on a classic cross-country American road trip. Like the adventures of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity, or Capt. America and Billy before them, the Bugbees trip was unscripted, and took them deep into what is left of “genuine” America. The Suffering And Celebration Of Life InAmerica is the account of that trip.

An early essay from the book, How To Use $180 And Social Media To Travel The Country For A Year, appeared in OBSOLETE! #2. The book itself is a sprawling 532 page collection of stories, interviews and correspondences, laid out in a graphics packed style that harkens back to a zine aesthetic. The book's narrative is strung together with diary entries, depicting the struggles of life on the road, odd jobs, sleeping in the van and working out of Kinko's office centers. But the real meat of the book is the interviews. It could be called “Life on the Z List”, and the subjects are given their Warholian fifteen minutes of fame, sometimes kindly, sometimes not. From struggling artists and writers to the founders of the Baltimore Scifi Convention, the son of the founder of the Universal Life Church, members of an Austin Black Metal band, ranchers, strippers and a rum maker- it's a cross section of outsiders and blue-collar visionaries that remind us that it's time to turn off the mobile device and check back in with our own local oddballs and characters. Despite an occasional spiteful tone and some personal axe-grinding, there is a sweet, pure heart to the book- the Bugbees love the little guy. They may not always like them personally, but they know that the lone kooks and outsiders with big dreams are what make life interesting and “keep it real” in the era of “Reality TV”.

The Bugbees are making the book available for free (donations gratefully accepted, of course), one section each week, at their website http://www.usaodd.com/, along with a good bit of video from the trip. The online samples give a good taste, but it is the kind of book that is fun to leave lying around, to flip through and discover new bits. It's a good reminder of how truly interactive a paper book can be.
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