E 397M • Popular Music and Youth Subculture
Given the near-total neglect of popular music by musicology (fixated on Western classical music), the academic study of popular music has been dispersed across a number of fields, including anthropology, communications, English, history, and sociology. I propose in this course to survey the variety of serious analytical approaches to popular music, from the formalist work of musicologists (on harmony, etc.) to anthropological studies like Sara Cohen's Rock Music in Liverpool. The students' interests will dictate the genres covered, whether the blues, country & western, electronic (including industrial, disco, techno, and so forth), folk, jazz, rap, rock and roll, reggae, soul, or worldbeat. This will not be a "history of rock and roll" class: I'm interested not in what year Elvis emerged and which musics he combined, but in the question of what a sophisticated (i.e., academic) critical approach has to offer followers of contemporary music--and I should note that I'm not all that certain academics do have much to offer.
Given my doubts about academic approaches to popular music, I will try to make the course of considerable utility, odd as it may sound, to the study of literature. In discussing subcultures (or audiences), for example, we will emphasize more generally the examination of the actual social uses of texts both musical and literary (along the lines of cultural studies). In paying close attention to musical form or style (especially the voice) as well, however, we will also develop a strong text-based critical approach. My own work with music criticism has led to a strong material orientation to literary language. Such comparisons of literary criticism with music would include the dialogical theory of Mikhail Bakhtin and V.N. Volosinov (employed by George Lipsitz, for example, in relation to rock and roll), and the materialism of Walter Benjamin.