IN THE aftermath of the Second World War, the United States of America emerged as the world’s economic powerhouse.

Generous government support for education and home loans coupled with a booming economy ensured an explosion in post-war consumer culture, the birth of the teenager and the beginning of life as we know it – in stereoscopic sound and Kodachromatic colour.

And, the sleek hi-fi console in a well-appointed mid-century all-American living room might have had a stack of vinyl from musicians like Frank Sinatra or Patti Page. However, by the middle of the decade the musical landscape skipped a groove as stars like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and ultimate heartthrob Elvis Presley swept to the toppermost of the poppermost with ‘the Devil’s music’.

Focusing on teen life, young love and rebellion against society, while introducing showmanship like never before, rock ‘n’ roll took the nation by storm and changed popular culture forever – from what we wear to what we eat, the TV we watch and the music we enjoy.

But, as we’re hangin’ in a bookstore, what of that decade’s literature? The 1950s saw the emergence of leading literary lights like JD Salinger and Jack Kerouac – ground-breaking authors whose works challenged the status quo and championed the seismic social shifts to come.

Authors Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder perfectly encapsulate the ethos of this evocative era in their entertaining 12x12” tome – entitled Designed For Hi-Fi Living. And, a gang of Oxford movers and shakers have taken the unique opportunity to join them to (re)live the American Dream today. Guys and dolls in bobby socks and Brylcreem take a leaf from the liner notes, transforming Blackwell’s Norrington Room into a scene straight from Grease for one night only.

In the dimly-lit basement bar, hepcats rocked around the clock to the sounds of The Rockin’ Rhythms while sippin’ on the best Tom Collins in town. Meanwhile, the local literati huddled in Poetry Corner devouring the Beats’ best stream-of-consciousness verses with a too-cool-for-school soda float. Wherever this night took you it was Happy Days indeed.

If you want to do the time-warp again and revisit yet another defining decade in US culture, hop along to Ashmolean Museum’s latest blockbuster exhibition. With incredible loans from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, America’s Cool Modernism brings together iconic pieces to reveal this fascinating aspect of interwar painting, design and photography.

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