Archive for October, 2007

So this weekend and next I’ll be at two of the big yearly meetings of the musicology societies (Society for Ethnomusicology and American Musicological Society–Society for American Music is in the Spring, and I don’t generally go to the Society for Music Theory meetings unless they’re meeting with AMS). I’ve had mixed feelings about the meetings over the years (I used to really love them, but have gone to fewer and fewer papers over the years and have felt wierd about it). This year, though, I’m really excited about it. One of my students is giving a talk at SEM, which is a first for me, I’m giving a talk at AMS (on Gil Scott-Heron), which I haven’t done in too long, and I guess the rock class I’m teaching has me excited to see what people are saying about rock right now. I’ll try to post on what I hear.

OH, PLUS, I JUST GOT THE VERY FIRST COPY OF MY BOOK, SO I’LL BE ABLE TO SHOW IT OFF!!!!! (Currently number 362,712 or some such on Amazon 🙂 )


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You’d never believe it if Wikipedia didn’t tell you so. “Cock Rock” is a sub-genre or offshoot of glam, right. What’s unbelievable is that Burger King – the imperial viceroys of fast food have established a band called Coq Roq on Myspace in order to sell Chicken Fries. Oh so much to say. Go to the page first – listed as the title of this post. They are labeled as “Indie” and their influences list “animosity towards record execs.” My brain is short circuiting. This could only work because a.) Burger King has the chutzpah to embrace the ironic sexual innuendos involved in the cock rock genre, as well as the the associated phalocentric suggestiveness evoked by shaping the chicken into French Fries (groooooooooan), b.) The sheer obvious incongruity of a gigantic burger corporation making statements about “the man” in deference to the recording business is an irony too tempting to resist for Coq Roq’s fans. All of the band members have pseudonyms like “Fowl Mouth,” and “Free Range,”and their first television commercial, according to Wikipedia (online source for all truthiness), featured the tagline “Groupies love the Coq.” The posters seem to support the group ecstatically – only one of which saying anything related to the interstices of authenticity and overt commercialism (and she didn’t seem to be able to decide which way the balanced tipped). These guys are an “Indie” band slingin’ a corporate-produced commodity (chicken fries) to a target audience (presumably, teenagers and dopey 20-somethings).

This has to be some kind of proof that authenticity is no longer such a hot-button quality that will make-or-break anyone. Maybe we’ve all made up with the man. Or maybe all the fans are low-level execs of Burger King who set up myspace accounts with their sons’ and daughters’ pictures. I…AM…STUMPED!

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In Tuesday’s discussion of Harris Berger’s Metal, Rock, and Jazz, the theme of reflexivity arose.  As some of us in another class are currently reading an extremely reflexive ethnography, it seemed like a good time to delve into the issue a little more.


I understand the motivations behind reflexive ethnomusicology and anthropology, and I do agree that there is no such thing as true objectivity; the ethnographer will always have some influence on his or her encounters in the field.  But this does not mean that attempts to understand information and concepts objectively are futile.  I think good, useful ethnography constantly negotiates the continuum between reflexivity/subjectivity and objectivity. 


Work that only pretends detached objectivity often gives good, detailed information, but ignores the author’s experiences and relationships with people in the field, all of which could contribute substantially to the ethnography.  However, in overly subjective or reflexive ethnography, the author’s relationships with informants take precedence over information and broader historical and cultural themes.  In such ethnographies, which can feel unstable or ungrounded, the danger is that the author himself/herself becomes the focus of the work (dare I mention the book many of us love to hate?)


Anyway, reading the Berger and the hyper-subjective ethnography in the other class, as well as discussing the Berger on Tuesday, motivated this post.  I’m not bashing Berger at all here; I actually really enjoyed the book.  We get a lot of good, detailed information about the Cleveland and Akron rock scenes, individual and group compositional techniques, and musicians’ conceptions of their own work.  However, I did think the book was not quite reflexive enough.  As just one illustration of this, look at the section entitled “Some people at the Agora” (37-39) in which he outlines a typology of clubgoers.  Why not admit he was/is one of the Silent Men, as many of us suspected?  Or, if not, why not tell us to which of the categories he belonged? 


In a larger context, why did Berger not attempt to locate himself more within the study?  I think it would have lent more credibility to the book, and would have made the chapters in which he engaged one-on-one with the musicians much more meaningful.  According to Berger, in ethnography, “To ignore the subject’s experiences and their social context is to threaten the entire critical project,” (258).  Perhaps, in Metal, Rock, and Jazz, he should have included himself as one of the subjects he refers to in the quote above. 

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Jeeze, it’s been way too long since I posted. October has turned out to be the busiest month of the year.

At any rate, Garrett Warshaw at “Meh, Why Not” has a post about the IPodification of contemporary life. I should say, first, that I really love the title of his blog–“Meh” is one of my current favorite expletives.

The post reminded me that some undergrad students of mine, apparently turned on by my discussion of ethnomusicology as a practice in an intro course, told me in the hall the other day that they have been doing field work. I should say, they’re under no obligation to, and it does not count towards any project for the class. Truly, that’s the reason to teach.

Their research was to ask anyone on the quad that was listening to an ipod what they were listening to and whether they had their ipod on shuffle. Natch, the statistics said the majority were, indeed, listening on shuffle. We had a nice discussion of the impact of shuffle–that far fewer people record an album any more (my ultimate example, Tom Waits’s Orphans

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I wanna be your guy (x2)

I already know the way you walk home.

your three favorite movies and your telephone.

I wanna be your guy (x2)

you may find it funny but i noticed your hair, today.

you were wearing it in a slightly different way.

I wanna be your guy (x2)

maybe i’ll try and call you again.

i wonder if it’s okay to call past ten.

i’ll make you dinner and write you a song.

you’ll love me and leave me before too long.

I wanna be your guy. (x4)

The above song, by now-defunct Muckafurgason is one of the tracks featured on “The Gay EP,” their last release. Without having told you so, you might assume the song was from a 1950’s teeny bopper to the cutie in the poodle skirt next door. The music (which is, unfortunately not available on YouTube) is a throwback to 1950’s lounge music, which of course is meant to heighten the sense of irony. I was reminded of this track while reading through Philip Auslander’s Performing Glam Rock of University of Michigan Press – particularly during his discussion of Sha-Na-Na. The strange combination of 1950’s aesthetic riffs with post-counter-culture sexual ethics as a means of critiquing the limitations of those ethics is a kind of dissonance that I find fairly provocative. I am not attempting to say that Mucka is glam rock (or even, I suppose, that it is directly influenced by glam), but our discussion of the performance of homosexuality made me (myself a ‘mo) want to take the opportunity to toss a couple things out there.

I ‘m not even sure that Mucka’s members are themselves gay – information about the band and its members is a little tough to come by). If not, this would provide one connection with many of the glam rockers of the 70’s for whom exaggerated expressions of gender and sexuality were a means to…to…to rebel (fitting them into the Oedipal complex discourse of music history)? To create a wider space for people to accept / discover their own identities? To shock, to provoke? I’m not sure actually.

Bowling for soup’s “I’m Gay,” potentially has similar undertones (depending on whatever Mucka actually meant with the Gay EP tunes). “I’m Gay” plays off of the double entendre as a way perhaps of re-claiming the word for straight folks (they’re all straight). The song is a cheeky, cheerful diatribe against rockers that are too emo, the central thesis of the song seems bet summed up by the line “I think rock and roll is really funny when it’s serious.” Notable in the lyrics is the bridge section where a dialog develops between the lead singer and various members of the band:

Leader: It’s perfectly fine to be a happy individual

(One band member repeats)

L: Chris, Gary, you wanna join in

Chris : Yeah Man

Gary: Sorry Dude…

L: It’s perfectly fine to be a happy individual

Others: It’s perfectly fine to be a happy individual (in a fake campy accent)

How are we supposed to understand that little quip? What is it’s deliberate message? BFS obviously doesn’t want you to take them too seriously (Sha-Na-Na?) – I mean, the title of the album the song comes from is “The Great Burrito Extortion Case.” However, the song portrays a tenuous support, maybe a conflicted one, for the source of the songs pun – gay people. I tend to think it was inserted into the song to increase the appeal to people who are not affirming of LGBT folk – “hey guys, we’re just kidding, some of us aren’t comfortable with it either…”

Sigur Ròs’ Jonsi Birgisson, however, is the real thing. The FAQ page of the band’s official website reveals that yes in fact, Jonsi is gay. There is only one SR song I know of that deals with issue of homosexuality, the video for Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa (Good Weather for Airstrikes) from ágætis byrjun (an alright start) features the story of a small Icelandic boy with a penchant for playing with dolls (hey! it’s gender performance!) and his father / community that provide a painful and difficult environment for his identity formation. Here’s the link:

Sigur Ròs presents a stronger, more direct activism – even if perhaps too literally-minded – than did the glam rock of the 70’s or the sarcasm-rock found in Mucka (maybe) and Bowling for Soup. There’s little symbolism here, nor reference to any other time but our own. Also, and most importantly, Jonsi self-identifies unambiguously as a gay man – which makes a big difference.

Anywho, this post is getting interminably long, so I leave you with a short list of some other interesting folks to check out: Matmos (and Martin Schmidt’s solo project Soft Pink Truth), Ani Difranco (of course), Tori Fixx (gay hip-hop artist), Jason and DeMarco (crappy gay contemporary Christian duo), Chris Garneau (a kind of clippy Sufjan Stevens), and Rufus Wainwright (esp. “Gay Messiah”). Let me know what you think.

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Today in our seminar, we closed with a discussion of Pearl Jam’s performance of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” at a festival in Australia in 2006. The concert was a joint effort with U2, and was intended as a benefit to combat world poverty. The encore of Pearl Jam’s set was “Rockin’ In The Free World”, for which Bono joined the band on vocals.

I’ve been thinking about whether performing this tune was intended ironically or not, and I’ve decided that the answer is definitely “no”. (This goes for this individual performance, and for Pearl Jam’s 200 some odd other performances of it.) After rereading the lyrics (which I’ve copied below) I’m convinced that this song is not intended ironically, but rather as a sincere protest song. Young is clearly commenting on poverty and general problems in the US. Thus, I think the song is not ironic, and the desire to perform it at a major rock festival to combat poverty is equally as sincere in its intent.

I do think that the question of irony becomes a little more convoluted when you consider the audience. Does the audience know that this is a protest song? Or are they just caught up in the rock anthem sing along?

Contradiction alert: Does this question of the audience then beg the question of whether Young did intend the chorus as being ironic, being that he knew it was a big rock anthem-style sing along and people wouldn’t necessarily read all the other lyrics?


Rockin’ In The Free World

There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
But there’s a warnin’ sign
on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people sayin’
we’d be better off dead
Don’t feel like Satan,
but I am to them
So I try to forget it,
any way I can.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

I see a woman in the night
With a baby in her hand
Under an old street light
Near a garbage can
Now she puts the kid away,
and she’s gone to get a hit
She hates her life,
and what she’s done to it
There’s one more kid
that will never go to school
Never get to fall in love,
never get to be cool.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler,
Machine gun hand
We got department stores
and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes
for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people,
says keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn,
got roads to drive.
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

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