Paul Campos


William Ian Miller, Humiliation: And Other Essays on Honor, Social Discomfort, and Violence. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993. Pp. xii, 270. $25.00.

Recently, I was given a curious gift: a compact disc, entitled Golden Throats: The Great Celebrity Sing-Off, that contains a compilation of bad cover versions of famous rock and pop songs. These are not ordinary bad cover versions, however-e.g., Frank Sinatra crooning "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," or Tony Bennet belting out an unctuous version of "Moondance." These cover versions defeat the resources of English critical prose. They are indescribably bad. Imagine Mr. French himself, Sebastian Cabot, "singing" Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe," or a geriatric and apparently demented Mae West shrieking her way through "Twist and Shout." Picture, if you can, Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise violating every conceivable artistic prime directive via his interpretations of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" or - a personal favorite - "Mr. Tambourine Man."

Golden Throats, which was put together by some evil genius at the invaluable Rhino Records (2225 Colorado Blvd., Santa Monica, CA), has become an after-dinner party favorite among those of my friends who share a certain perverse sense of humor. But why do we delight in these quite literally incredible performances? Answering this sort of question is a central concern of William Ian Miller's remarkable and fascinating book, Humiliation.