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set-closer, “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” really does take me, and keep me, “back in that place.” An announcement breaks my reverie. “Despite rumors we fell a little bit short,” somebody onstage is saying, “we have broken the record!” The crowd explodes in a chorus of hoots and hollers with hundreds of guitars thrust skyward. All that remains is the actual playing of the late Waylon Jennings’ “Back to the Basics of Love” that’s become known as the “Luckenbach Song.” It comes an hour later than the scheduled 2 p.m., but nobody seems to mind. Roger Creager, coaxing the army of pickers to strum the lead off G chord, informs us we’ll have to play for five minutes to break the record. We go him one better, playing for almost io minutes. Looking around at sweatsoaked, smiling facesofficially the world’s largest guitar armyI sing along with exhilaration: “Out in Luckenbach, Texas, ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain.” As Lafave leads us in our second record-smashing tune, “This Land Is Your Land,” I realize that for one afternoon, in a special place some call the “center of the known universe,” 1,868 Texans showed each other and the world that music and a shared sense of community can triumph over our selfimposed boundaries and the world’s relentless march to madness. Robert McCorkle has written about Texas music, people and places for 35 years. He picks his guitar in the Hill Country. REVIEW Discounting America BY C.B. EVANS Reading Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, I felt alternately smug and guilty. I get my cheap fix in thrift stores, not big boxes or outlet malls, and I gladly pay top prices for the convenience and pleasure of shopping at my local hardware store. But I get a special thrill from the dollar store, where I buy socks and wrapping paper and sponges, and I’ve long enjoyed combing department-store clearance racks with my mom and aunt. Yes, the allure of a low price tag can and does obscure other considerations. I know most consumer products are made by underpaid workers in overseas factories, but it never occurred to me how that influences the quality of our goods and my own wages. The oven mitt I impulsively picked up at the dollar store last month may have cost me a buck, but what was the cost to the workers who made it? How long before the fabric wears thin? Do bargain sundries really make up for middle-class wage stagnation? Shell is a Boston University journalism professor known for her expos of the obesity industry Here she reveals the dizzying connections between price and poverty, using statistics, historical accounts, and scientific and sociological explanations. She spent two years doing research, traveling to Sweden, the birthplace of IKEA, and Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture By Ellen Ruppel Shell Penguin Press 320 pages, $25.95 China, “factory to the world.” For its catchy title and relatively few pages \(232, Cheap is a weighty book. Though it often feels a bit too cram-jammed with insights and analyses \(several chapters could be Cheap successfully illustrates the fraught practice of buying and selling cheap goods. Shell tells the reader right away she is a devotee of cheap, someone who in the not-so-distant past found bargain goods irresistible. In fact, a pair of cheap, uncomfortable, Chinese-made boots triggered her investigative instinct. Her drive to understand our cultural obsession with low-cost stuff, as well as the economic system that supports it, is impressive. For starters, she points out that Americans fear inflation deeply and constantly suspect they’re paying too much. While cheap goods were at one time stigmatized \(in the early part of the loth century, “shopkeepers who advertised low prices … were derided as somewhere along the way Americans came to accept or ignore the trade-offs and demand affordability. Prices of most consumer goods downward for decades. Discounters like Wal-Mart cut prices on the things we buy most frequently and in recent years have been hailed as sentries against inflation. University of Chicago economist Christian Broda argues that discounting actually levels the playing field between rich and poor because the poor shop more frequently in discount superstores and the rich spend more on goods less SEPTEMBER 18, 2009 TEXASOBSERVER.ORG 27