Lanza, Joseph 1955–
Lanza, Joseph 1955–
PERSONAL: Born December 12, 1955, in Rochester, NY. Education: State University of New York at Albany, B.A., 1977; Georgetown University, M.A., 1978. Hobbies and other interests: Riding rollercoasters, studying theme parks, swimming, and old movies.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Chicago Review Press, 814 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610.
CAREER: Writer. Executive producer of CD set Music for TV Dinners. Consultant and contributor to Time Life Music.
MEMBER: National Writers Union.
Fragile Geometry: The Films, Philosophy, and Misadventures of Nicolas Roeg, PAJ Publications (New York, NY), 1989.
Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.
The Cocktail: The Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Gravity: Tilted Perspectives on Rocketships, Rollercoasters, Earthquakes, and Angel Food, Picador USA (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Dennis Penna) Russ Columbo and the Crooner Mystique, Feral House (Los Angeles, CA), 2002.
Vanilla Pop: Sweet Sounds from Frankie Avalong to ABBA, Chicago Review Press (Chicago, IL), 2005.
Contributor to The Cartoon Music Book. Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire and Pulse!
SIDELIGHTS: Joseph Lanza is best known for his criticism and histories of rather off-beat subjects. In 1989, he published Fragile Geometry: The Films, Philosophy, and Misadventures of Nicolas Roeg, a study of the director of such complex and provocative motion pictures as Walkabout, Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Eureka. Lanza followed Fragile Geometry with Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong. In this work he provides a chronicle of background music back to the eighteenth century, when it was, according to Lanza, written by such composers as Antonio Vivaldi. Among the twentieth-century figures featured in Elevator Music are such avant-garde composers as Paul Hindemith and Erik Satie, mainstream entertainers ranging from the soft-spoken Lawrence Welk to the flamboyant Liberace, and the less famous but significantly innovative George Owen Squier, who established the company now known as Muzak. In addition to considering the contributions of these and other figures, Lanza notes the extent to which background music has pervaded our culture, and he reports on such music's impressive success within the recording business. David Browne, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called Elevator Music "one of the few pop-history books that won't put you to sleep—not to mention the only one that dares to probe the very real connections between shopping-mall music and Devo." New York Times Book Review contributor Irwin Chusid noted: "In Elevator Music, Joseph Lanza argues convincingly that mood music should be seriously studied."
Lanza is also the author of The Cocktail: The Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche. In this book, he traces the history and social significance of the cocktail, appraising such hard-alcohol concoctions as the martini and the manhattan for their social relevance and their changing status in twentieth-century American culture. He contends that the appeal of mixed drinks rose during the Prohibition period and that the drinks grew in popularity after World War II as a consequence of cultural changes, including the appearance of fashion-conscious individuals devoted to trends in music and clothes. "A fascinating study of the cocktail and its impact on politics, movies, popular songs and social interaction," according to Digby Diehl in Playboy. New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt observed that the influence accorded mixed drinks in The Cocktail "is bound to be tantamount to sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
In Gravity: Tilted Perspectives on Rocketships, Rollercoasters, Earthquakes, and Angel Food, Lanza offers a "bizarre exploration of popular culture" during the last half of the twentieth century, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The subject matter and organization of the book is loosely connected and idiosyncratic, taking in a discussion of rollercoasters as male and female entities, artist Salvador Dali, and women's underwear. Margot Miffin, a writer for Entertainment Weekly, found some of the author's ideas "provocative," but also dismissed some of Lanza's writing as "hot air."
Lanza collaborated with Dennis Penna to create Russ Columbo and the Crooner Mystique, "a fascinating glimpse" into the world of music and film in the early twentieth century, according to Library Journal contributor Barry Zaslow. Russ Columbo was a promising young crooner, who was once considered a rival to Bing Crosby. Penna and Lanza recount his life in Hollywood and his death from an apparently accidental shooting. Booklist reviewer Mike Tribby approved of the authors' "ethereal style" and predicted that fans of mystery and old movie lore would "absolutely love" the book.
Lanza once told CA: "With real life growing more fantastic, the term 'fiction' is becoming redundant. There is a growing market for books that write about persons and events as if they are part of a dream, with the authors caught in the dream they are narrating. Essays and biographies are taking on all of the embellishments and exaggerations once accorded short stories and novels. I like to call this approach 'speculative nonfiction,' so long as it does not resort to libel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2003, Mike Tribby, review of Russ Columbo and the Crooner Mystique, p. 963.
Entertainment Weekly, March 11, 1994, David Browne, review of Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong, pp. 52-53; September 5, 1997, Margot Miffin, review of Gravity: Tilted Perspectives on Rocketships, Rollercoasters, Earthquakes, and Angel Food, p. 70.
Guardian (London, England), December 18, 1997, Tim Radford, review of Gravity, p. 11.
Library Journal, March 15, 2003, Barry Zaslow, review of Russ Columbo and the Crooner Mystique, p. 86.
London Review of Books, July 6, 1995, review of Elevator Music, pp. 3-6.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 1, 1994, review of Elevator Music, p. 6; December 14, 1997, review of Gravity, p. 8.
New York Times, November 23, 1995, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Cocktail: The Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche, p. C18.
New York Times Book Review, February 27, 1994, Irwin Chusid, review of Elevator Music, p. 26.
Playboy, November, 1995, Digby Diehl, review of The Cocktail, p. 35.
Publishers Weekly, July 7, 1997, review of Gravity, p. 61.
Times Literary Supplement, July 14, 1995, Wilfrid Mellers, review of Elevator Music, pp. 6-7.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, April, 1994, review of Elevator Music, p. 5.