Music and Popular Culture

Popular Music Scholarship II: Goths are protesting – or maybe they just like black a lot….

Decadence, weltschmerz, vampirism – Goth’s got something for everyone….

Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, one of – if not THE – archetypal Goth band… (image courtesy

For this week’s look at the scholarly essay collection on popular music, The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest, we’re going to look at the rise of Goth music – and, tangentially, the rise (and maintenance) of Goth “lifestyle”: at least the  superficial elements (dress, dancing, etc.). Kimberly Jackson’s interesting essay, “Gothic music and the decadent individual” explores the origins of Goth as a musical movement and, as the authors in this collection are wont to do, looks for ties between Goth and its antecedent musical forms that seem to suggest how Goth is a form of protest music.

One of the things that makes this particular discussion interesting is that Jackson sets the context by positioning the Goth movement as a decadent art form. This allows her to discuss Nietzsche and his opposition to decadence in art – and, more importantly (at least for her discussion), this allows her introduce Richard Wagner as an archetype of “decadent art” – and  to suggest that Nietzsche’s reasons for his opposition to the music of Richard Wagner are the same reasons for critical opposition to both seminal Goth rock bands such as Joy Division, Bauhaus, and The Cure and their inheritors. In both cases the opposition comes from those (who then are implicated as Nietzscheans – I’m trying to avoid violating Godwin’s Law here, but I’m not sure I can) who want to “resist” (which might involve “cleaning up” – i.e., eliminating – um, yeah, now you’re thinking about those ultimate Nietzscheans) decadence in its various forms. The problem, of course, as Jackson notes, is that, like Wagner’s music, Goth rock has attractions that make it more likely to survive than its critics. Continue reading


Popular Music Scholarship I: Metal is protest music?

Is metal music really the musical outgrowth of sixties’ protest?

The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest, ed. Ian Peddie (image courtesy Ashgate Publishing)

The latest book I’ve just completed from my 2014 reading list is an anthology of scholarly essays edited by Ian Peddie called The  Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest. It’s been a longish read, mainly because I’ve read each essay carefully (like the good scholarly reader I am) all the while trying to think of a way to write about such an olio of pieces. It finally occurred to me that the best way to write about such an interesting group of scholarly essays about rock, reggae, and hip hop would be for S&R’s weekly feature, Tuesday TunesDay. So over the next several weeks I’ll be posting essays on most if not all of the essays from this interesting book.

To begin, a couple of general comments about this volume. In the late 1980’s-early 1990’s colleague Sam Smith and I did a number of scholarly presentations at conferences and elsewhere that took scholarly approaches to rock music. One of the frustrations we encountered was the poverty of insightful scholarly writing about rock music by authors who actually understood rock music. Of course there were a couple of exceptions – one in particular that I appreciated was Simon Frith’s Art Into Pop, an excellent exploration of how the English “art college” system proved an incubator for many of the major figures of ’60s rock music such as John Lennon, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Pete Townshend. This volume is at least on a par with Frith’s now-classic monograph. The writers here “get” rock, reggae, punk, hip hop – and so their scholarly approaches have, to use a well-loved term in pop music discussions, authenticity.

A second important element about The Resisting Muse is that it takes a “big tent” approach – i.e., it covers a wide range of popular music in relation to its elements of protest. It does this in an era where the music business has been siloed to the advantage of, well, no one except perhaps hard core fans of specific sub-genres.

So to the discussion of this week’s article: “Communities of resistance: heavy metal as a reinvention of social technology.” Continue reading


Born to be Wild: Steppenwolf’s first album still fresh, 46 years on

Amazingly, Steppenwolf’s classic, bluesy debut still holds up.

by Patrick Vecchio

I’ve got my iTunes on shuffle, and a couple of minutes ago the song “The Pusher,” from the first Steppenwolf album, came up. It’s a Hoyt Axton song, but nonetheless, it’s a reminder that Steppenwolf’s debut album is a rock classic.

I might be partial because the album’s single, the still-rockin’ “Born to be Wild,” was the song that turned me on to rock ‘n’ roll—1968, it was, when I was 14. Before then, I spent my LP money on Bill Cosby comedy discs. My idea of good music was albums by Mason Williams—blame it on “Classical Gas.” And because I’m obsessive-compulsive, I had to have every Cosby disc and every Williams disc. I haven’t listened to Cosby since Steppenwolf grabbed my ears and launched me into the rock galaxy, but the Williams music I’ve revisited—once—is cringeworthy. The Steppenwolf album, though: That’s another story. Continue reading

CATEGORY: MusicPopularCulture

Dave Davies’ Kink: rock star same as he ever was…

“There is part of that little boy that has remained with me…. He’s always there to remind me of the endless possibilities that exist in the world, all that life has to offer….” – Dave Davies

Kink by Dave Davies (image courtesy Goodreads)

I bought Dave Davies’ “autobiography,” (it’s really a highly discursive memoir with plenty of digressions) Kink, about a year ago at my favorite used book store. I’d just read a couple of rock books, including a lovely memoir about meeting John and Yoko at the height of their “bed-in for peace” period and earlier I’d waded through a typical “rock bio” book about the Rolling Stones: you know the type, lots of pictures, very little reported that a serious fan wouldn’t already know – or know more about than the author.

Prior to taking up this yearly quest to write essays about all the books I read in a particular year (and, in the process, getting myself lots of recommendations from friends and pleas from fellow writers for book inclusions), I’d read a number of rock biographies and autobiographies, including biographies of The Beatles, Elvis, and Bob Dylan and the recent autobiographies of Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. In the queue for this year I have Dylan’s memoir, Pattie Boyd’s book about her marriages to George Harrison and Eric Clapton, and Pete Townshend’s autobiography.

I dig rock and roll music, as the song says…. Continue reading

Doco: Joshua Booth, Trevor Booth, Dave Burkart

Doco’s Freeway Camping Life: political, personal, progressive

Trevor and Joshua Booth’s music has always been political. On their most recent CD they make clear that progressive values begin at home.


Doco: Joshua Booth, Trevor Booth, Dave Burkart

Doco: Joshua Booth, Trevor Booth, Dave Burkart

We have a long, proud tradition of politically active, strongly progressive musicians in the US. Woody Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary. Dylan. The Beatles. Punk in general. Green Day’s American Idiot was an iconic classic straight out of the box. And that’s barely a start. Once upon a time, if you were a serious artist, anti-establishment values were more or less a prerequisite. Then came the Reagan years, which laid the groundwork for the corporate takeover of music with the neutering of the FCC and the Public Interest standard. The assimilation was completed during the Bush II years, when all of a sudden you had Clear Channel staging pro-war rallies. Continue reading

Dir En Grey: Japanese Metal from Hell (Saturday Video Roundup)

Godzilla ain’t the only hardcore badass from Japan.

I’m not the Japan expert around here – that distinction falls to blogger, poet, photographer and Japanophile extraordinare Dan Ryan – so I won’t pretend that I know anything about J-Pop. It just felt like a nice day to do something a little different for SVR, and I’ve been thinking about Dir En Grey for the past couple of days.

They’ve been around for a number of years and seem to have evolved through some changes (both musical and visual), so you can surf YouTube and find a range of styles – everything from a sort of melodic Metal that we might associate with, say, Queensryche, to moments that, more than anything, remind me of Tool, to hell on Earth horror Metal that would scare the piss out of Lordi, to straight-up Nu Metal. I’m not so much into the weasels-ripped-my-throat-out brand of singing, but hey, you might like it.

So let’s get our J-Metal on, shall we? We’ll start with “The Final.”

Continue reading

The best CDs of 2013 that I didn’t get around to until 2014, part 3

Hot Nun, Veronica Falls and Fish released wonderful CDs last year that belong on my top albums of the year list.

As noted some time back, there are always CDs I don’t get around to during the year in which they’re released, and with the great ones I accordingly fail to include them in my year-end mentions. I’ve already done a couple of rounds of catch-up/mea culpas, and it’s time now for part 3.

First off, I actually had the Hot Nun disc in hand and just never got to it. Bad Sammy. Hot Nun is the latest project from Jeff Shelton of The Well Wishers, and I have long admired his no-nonsense brand of straight-on, guitar-driven Power Pop. Well, Hot Nun is like that, only moreso.

Apologies for my slackness, and I’ll be adding this to the ever-updating best of 2013 page and playlist. Continue reading

Popular Music

The many lives of Charles Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”: a great song lives forever

Some songs take on a life of their own.

It’s not clear to me—perhaps not to anyone—what turns a tune into a standard. I was reminded of this recently when I finally bought a CD of Jeff’s Beck’s Wired, which includes a remarkable version of Charles Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Mingus wrote this as an elegy to saxophonist Lester Young, who died two months prior to the release of the seminal Mingus album, Mingus Ah Um. The album is a deserved classic, with any number of strong pieces—the opening track, Better Get It in Your Soul, alone would make the album a classic. Continue reading

Music: Bands Sam Loves

What’s your favorite song by [band name here]?

Oh, I love that song.

Music: Bands Sam LovesHow many times have you been talking about music and somebody says hey, what’s your favorite tune by [fill in the blank]? I have no idea how many times I’ve asked or tried to answer that one, but many. Many many.

I thought it might be fun to do a little post where I confront the question head-on … about a lot of bands. And then I’d invite you to play along and tell us what your faves are. So I pulled together a long list of artists. Some are famous, some less famous, some contemporary and some from back in the day. Continue reading

Liveblogging Eurovision 2014

Ah, Eurovision. Or more properly, The Eurovision Song Contest. If you’re a lover of serious music, look away now. On the other hand, if you’re devoted to crass, cheesy, over-wrought and overproduced pop, often in some indecipherable language, occasionally played with accordions and zithers, in frequently bizarre and often distracting costumes, this is the show for you. It’s all part of the grand plan to unify Europe, which more or less works in the middle, although not necessarily on the periphery, as events of the past couple of years have shown. Still, points for trying. And it works here–everyone sings the same crap, but it’s fine.

Britain has never done well here. Which means they usually come in towards the bottom in terms of points. Continue reading


Understanding Nigeria: Boko Haram, joy, corruption, Egusi soup and the racism of #BringBackOurGirls

When Kim Kardashian takes up your cause, you know  you’ve hit rock bottom.

“Hmmm, the website is, excuse me, my Oga at the top knows the website.”

Mr Shem Obafaye, by the grace of political favour, Lagos State Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps — the paramilitary NSCDC — was on the spot on Channels Television’s live breakfast show, Sunrise.

The probing, penetrating, unforgiving investigative journalism continued in the full light of the public gaze. “What is the official website of the NSCDC?”

“My Oga at the top is working on the website and I don’t have them.” Continue reading

Beat the Meetles: Beatles mashup mania (Saturday Video Roundup)

The Beatles have collaborated with some of the world’s most popular artists through the years.

Mashups have become their own art form, and perhaps nobody has been more important to perfecting the genre than The Beatles. Take their famous collaboration with Motley Crue.

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Nick Hornby’s Songbook: the sound of music talking

We all love music; Nick Hornby shows us that some of us can talk about our love for it more lucidly than others…

Songbook by Nick Hornby (image courtesy Goodreads)

I had promised myself I wouldn’t buy any more books until I’d gotten through those on the 2014 reading list (and the updated 2014 reading list) and the soon to be further updated 2014 reading list read. This was my solemn vow, my stern dedication, my forthright resolution.

I have already fallen short of the glory. Vow, dedication, resolution – in pace requiscat, as Mr. Poe once said….

Lea and I had to be in the city (well, our nearest city) for some appointments, both medical and professional a couple of days ago. We had to be there early, and since it’s a two hour drive, that means we had to leave our home in the lovely NC mountains very early. My usual habit is to take along a book or two so that while waiting for appointments I can read and further feed my addiction to beauty and truth. You can guess what happened: leaving at that early hour, I had travel mug of coffee in hand but the other hand, alas, held no book. Continue reading

Let’s camera

A song like “Tokyo Storm Warning” is closer to real life than you think…

You have to suck Tokyo into your lungs and let it rewrite your DNA.

You have to piece together your own reality one combini at a time.

Continue reading

The grimm reality of Matthew Grimm: Saturday Video Roundup

It’s Matt Grimm Day at S&R and we’re celebrating music with a social conscience. Join us?

Matthew GrimmWe love great bands and artists of all stripes around here, but by now it’s probably no secret that we’re champions of the overlooked genius. I don’t know. Maybe I’m projecting because I think more people ought to pay attention to me and as such I identify with those who don’t get the credit they deserve.

Whatever. My personal narcissism issues notwithstanding, our friend Matthew Grimm is a recording artist whose talent merits the attention of a very large audience. Continue reading

Generation X, whatever, nevermind: reflecting on Kurt Cobain

No one could possibly be THE voice of Gen X, but Cobain was certainly A voice of my generation.

SRHonors_Kurt CobainIn their seminal 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, published in 1993, Neil Howe and William Strauss argued that the only thing Generation Xers really agreed on was that there was no such thing as Generation X. Given the inherent irony and collective self-denial bound up in any examination of the cohort born from 1961 to 1980, then, maybe Kurt Cobain was the Voice of His Generation.

Whatever. Nevermind.

Yeah, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but not as much as you might think. Gen X is a subject I have studied deeply through the years, and if trying to characterize any demographic that’s 50 million people wide is a tricky enterprise, it’s doubly so with m-m-my generation because we’re so goddamned contrary. Continue reading

Kurt Cobain: If you read you’ll judge

He never surrendered.

Let me tell you about Kurt Cobain.

In the fourth grade we had to do these stupid aerobics gym classes, plastic pink green black steps, Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” pounding off the gymnasium walls.

Riding in the back seat of my dad’s car was the only time I heard good rock and roll. Maybe because he was my dad. I don’t know. “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” was my favorite song.

Until he played a mixtape, windows down flying across the earth in an automobile, with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on it. Continue reading


TunesDay: Who is your favorite band?

Last.FM tells us who we listen to the most. Isn’t that what “favorite” means?

We all have our favorite bands. Most of us probably have a lot of favorite bands, in fact, and if you’re like me, that honor has probably been held by different artists throughout your life. My first favorite, back when I was in junior high, was Elton John (the wonderful Captain Fantastic, still one of my all-time favorites, came out just as I was wrapping up 8th grade). Then, when I was a freshman, the radio exploded with this sound unlike anything I’d ever heard before, and at that point I became a rabid Queen fan.

When I hit college, I found myself in a fraternity filled with unrepentant music freaks. The range of our collective taste was matched only by the intensity of our passion for it. Continue reading