Singled Out

By James DiGiovanna

BEFORE LOUNGE-CHIC hit, I used to pick up early '60s "bachelor pad" albums for 50 cents a pop at garage sales on Long Island. Unfortunately, not having a record player or foreknowledge of their coming vogue, I'd throw away the vinyl and use the album covers as wallpaper.

To stretch a metaphor, this book reminds me of those empty album covers: It captures the color and imagery of the late '50s/early '60s "swinging" lifestyle, but it's easy to see that something important is missing.

Books Since the owl of Minerva has already flown on this retro trend, the book could easily have had some reflective moments, perhaps some insights on the shallowness, loneliness and repression that must have lain beneath the happy-go-lucky facade of the mid-century skirt chaser. Instead, it's merely a set of laundry lists of the various categories of products a cocktail-party bachelor must have owned. With beautiful design by Susan Hochbaum, the book pops with pictures of album covers, book covers, furniture, "gag items" and assorted accessories from the age of Technicolor. But the text merely enumerates these items and stresses their necessity, smoothly gliding over their meaning.

Of course, there's the usual talk of rebellion against earlier norms (specifically, the '50s family man) and against a perceived "establishment," but nothing seems to tie the various products and assumed attitudes of the "American bachelor" together. There's no critical moment, only a general enthusiasm for a lost style of being a privileged ne'er-do-well who had the same acquisitive attitude towards clothes, cocktails, women and record albums.

The book is a quick and not unpleasant read, and the collection of products photographed here would be impressive if it weren't for the fact that we've now grown weary of this stuff, having seen it in dozens of retro-chic bars, on shelves and walls at the homes of trendy collectors, and even in a major Hollywood production (Austin Powers). Still, perhaps the simultaneous appearance of a book and movie capitalizing on the same style will provide the tombstone necessary to put this revenant to rest. TW

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