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January 2, 2008

Book Notes - C.H. Dalton ("A Practical Guide to Racism")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Under the guise of blowhard professor C.H. Dalton, Daily Show writer Sam Means has written A Practical Guide to Racism. Satire is difficult to write and often even harder (for me) to read, but A Practical Guide to Racism's approach to its subject (making every race a target of criticism, often hilariously), ultimately pointing out how ridiculous racial biases are.

Some will miss the point and simply be offended, but I think most people will find the book incredibly funny... Jon Stewart said of the book:

“As everyone knows, there’s only one thing that can end racism: laughter. Or fire. This book is a ready source of both. Read it with someone you hate.”

In his own words, here is C.H. Dalton's Book Notes essay for his book, A Practical Guide to Racism:

Growing up, music wasn’t allowed in my home – my mother believed that it led to dementia and onanism. But I would often sneak “below stairs” to observe the singing and dancing of our minority servants. These vivacious, fecund Catholics made a deep impression on me with their jigs and their reels, and music has been a part of my life ever since.

Each chapter of A Practical Guide to Racism is devoted to one of the nine modern races, and I have here selected what I think would be an appropriate accompaniment for the perusal of this, my latest scholarly work.


“Mexican Hat Dance” - Traditional

Hispanics are known for their passionate, millinery-based dancing. I feel that this song captures the subtlety of the Mexican race without oversimplifying their proud cultural heritage.


“I Am I Said” - Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond is one of the greatest Hebrew songsmiths, and “I Am I Said” finds him at the height of his lyrical powers. “‘I am,’ I said/ To no one there/ And no one heard at all/ Not even the chair.” Gorgeous.


“Don’t Give Up On Us” - David Soul

This is probably Hutch’s finest outing, but it’s so hard to pick just one song from his back catalog. I think this song says a lot about the plight of whites in this country, and all they have had to deal with – reverse racism, white slavery, eczema. But, as Soul sings, “don’t give up on us, baby.”

Indians (and Injuns)

“Norwegian Wood” - The Beatles

“Running Bear” - Johnny Preston (w/ The Big Bopper)

“Norwegian Wood” is an excellent example of traditional music from the Indian subcontinent, but don’t worry – there are also lyrics in English and a guitar part that doubles the sitar, so it’s not as scary as you might think.

“Running Bear,” which was written by the Big Bopper just so he could do the “oonga oonga” part in the background, is a touching story of love between two Injuns. It also teaches us about Injun culture and naming practices, and it’s a great way to liven up a sock hop with a little ethnic flavor.


“Ain’t That A Shame” - Pat Boone

This song was originally recorded by Fats Domino, and is an excellent example of African-American “soul” music, but Pat Boone’s cover is much more sonorous and easy to listen to.


“Turning Japanese” - Skankin’ Pickle

What a horrifying thought! The idea that a camera could turn someone into an Asian person! Terrible! (And yes, I know it wasn’t originally performed by a ska band, but I like the dancing cartoon pickle.)


“Under The Sea” - Sebastian (w/ other sea creatures)

This song, sung by a small, French crab, is the most accurate portrayal I have found of undersea life amongst the Merpeople (Mermen and Mermaids). And the idea of using shells as percussion instruments is inspired.


Sheik Yerbouti - Frank Zappa

Much like the Arab peoples, this album is extremely crude. This Sheik fellow can’t stop singing about sexual intercourse and bodily functions. And I’m not sure I approve of the facial hair, either.


“Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” - Cher

The title really says it all, doesn’t it?

C.H. Dalton and A Practical Guide to Racism links:

the author's website
the book's website
the book's page at its publisher
an excerpt from the book
the author's video lectures

Entertainment Weekly profile
Village Voice review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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