Rating: 3 Stars
‘Pulphead’, the second book from John Jeremiah Sullivan, is a collection of essays that range from philosophical musings to whimsical vignettes of Americana.
Sullivan has been a contributing writer to many major American magazines, and I’m guessing his beat was the music scene, since nearly half the essays have to do with music in one form or another – Christian Rock, MTV reality shows, or bios of well-known artistes. When talking about music, he invests his subjects with both passion and erudition. His article on Bunny Livingstone stoked my curiosity and led me on a virtual scavenger hunt for those names and events in history that have hitherto left my interest untouched. In his bio on the late Michael Jackson, he explores both his phenomenal talent and the troubling rumors of his later life. Personally, that piece confirmed what I’ve long secretly suspected – M.J. was a god of music.
In his essays on the chaos following Hurricane Katrina, or the tea-party movement, he combines clear-eyed observations with a wry humor. I was especially entertained by an enlightening glimpse into Benjamin Franklin’s views on universal health care. The only piece that struck an odd note was the catchily titled ‘Violence of the Lambs’, which is a little too amusing to be taken seriously. He stops a tad short of predicting a ‘planet of the apes’ situation as a possible future scenario.
With his eclectic choice of themes, Sullivan throws light on many obscure topics, and renders them fascinating to the extent that one wonders how they could have been obscure for so long.