Survival, Revival and the Negotiation of Gendered Taste in Country and Americana Music Communities
Dave Robinson, Leeds Beckett University
ABSTRACT: Defining marginal country music worlds as broadly either working-class survivalist or middle-class revivalist, I examine how counter-hegemonic representations of gender and sexuality have both infiltrated, and been co-opted by, mainstream ‘country culture’ during the early years of the twenty-first century.
I argue that the disruption of traditional gender roles located in the song lyrics and lived experiences of such country icons as Hank Williams and Kitty Wells, highlights a paradox of American working-class identity that takes on new relevance amongst survivalist cultures in the post-industrial, post-9/11 United States. I also connect the ethics and aesthetics of the alt.country/Americana ‘movement’ to the post-modern anxieties of middle-class urbanites, and to the construction of a more democratic narrative of nationhood from amongst the signifiers of a ‘lost’ rural past.
ABSTRACT: Although America’s south has long been associated with political conservatism and intolerance (e.g. W. J. Cash’s The Mind of the South, 1941), it was only in the 1960s that country music began overtly to express such ideas, provoked by the counter culture’s stance on the war in Vietnam. The appearance at that time of songs defending the military action and extolling patriotism served to reinforce long-held beliefs that both country music and the southern states from which it emerged were reactionary and chauvinistic, strengthening ideas that the south was a world apart.
ABSTRACT: One of Andy Warhol’s earliest Pop art paintings, “Campbell’s Elvis” (1962) is a visual mash-up that combines two kinds of commercial goods, two kinds of trash: the torn label of an old tin can that once contained Campbell’s Soup and a publicity image of Elvis Presley. Perhaps unwittingly, Warhol here invokes a long chain of signification trailing after the word “pop”: as music; as mass produced, promoted and packaged commodity; as popular art; as trash. A late 19th-century slang expression fora garbage-filled backstreet—a “tin can alley”—helps shape early-20th-century critiques of Tin Pan Alley as an industrial fount of musical rubbish. Likewise, Sousa’s (1906) indictment of “canned music” draws on the tin can’s close associations with tainted food and urban pollution. This paper will explore the materiality and ecology of tin cans and canned music as they relate to critical ideas of “pop”.
“Pop” has a longstanding presence in so-called mass culture, from the beginning of the 19th century, when it names one of the earliest individually-packaged consumer products, “ginger pop”, to late 19th century (e.g., the Boston Pops orchestra), to the early 20th century advent of “popular-priced” or “pop” vaudeville. By c. 1920, “pop” is being applied in its modern sense to “popular music.” However, as Stuart Hall (1981) reminds us, it is in this period the very meaning of “the popular” undergoes significant transformation and re-articulation, resulting in ambiguities and contradictions: does it mean “of” the people? liked by many? distributed widely? dumbed down for mass consumption? Whilst paying attention to the democratic potentials of “pop,” this paper will also recount a story brimming with trash, triviality, and trouble. Understanding the genealogy of this keyword can help situate its ongoing importance to popular music studies, from the notorious rock vs. pop binary to Lady Gaga’s most recent album.
¿Dónde está: The Creative Role of Alfred Benge in the Music of Robert Wyatt
ABSTRACT: To many journalists, ‘Alfie’ is simply the woman who picks them up from the station when they come to interview her husband—or, at most, the woman who inspired Sea Song. My paper will aim to document Benge’s multi-faceted role, which may be far more active than mere muse. I will examine her role in the studio (drawing on interviews with Wyatt and Benge themselves, as well as with several other musicians and the engineer Jamie Johnson). This paper will discuss Benge’s pivotal role in securing deals (with Virgin, Rough Trade, Hannibal/Ryko and Domino) as Wyatt’s de facto business manager, and her contribution to the visual presentation of his work (she has designed the cover of every album since 1974’s Rock Bottom). Her creative contribution is evident in the work itself; since 1991’s Dondestan, Benge has written lyrics for a number of the songs that appear under her husband’s name. What is the power dynamic that governs their relationship, both professional and personal? Is the critics’ relative neglect of Benge’s contribution due to sexism, or are there other issues at play? To what extent should her album cover be seen as part of Wyatt’s—or Wyatt and Benge’s—artistic output (Machin, 2010)? Finally, what is the relationship between writing, singing and authorship, particularly in relation to the cover versions Wyatt himself records, and the increasing number of other artists who, in turn, cover his songs (Solis, 2010)?
Making Music for a Museum: An Insider’s View of the Collaborative Creative Process
Dan McKinna (BIMM)
ABSTRACT: To be able to gain an understanding of the creative process in popular music, it is helpful to examine the relationships and motivations at work from the perspective of an insider. Creativity in popular music is often discussed with reference to its social production and in particular to Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus. This, and Becker’s Art Worlds (1982) will be used as starting points, particularly in connection with the different roles and relationships, but the paper al-so seeks to address notions of individual agency and expression; a concept is often at odds with social perspectives on the production of art. In order to explore both the expressive ideals and the roles involved in the music’s crea-tion, a layered, auto-ethnographic approach is adopted so that the work is presen-ted with intertwined interviews, narrative and an analytical voice so as to bring to-gether the divergent themes. I argue that the auto-ethnographic approach has ena-bled the relationships involved in the collaborative production of the music to come to the fore, while allowing for the initial emotional connection and need to ex-press to be addressed. A reading of Bourdieu’s habitus is put forward whereby there can be a predisposition to express emotion in a musical way without losing sight of it being constructed through social interaction between creative collaborators.
ABSTRACT: In 2004 US Time magazine named Glasgow as Europe’s capital of rock music and likened it to Detroit in its Motown heyday (Porter, 2004). In August 2008 the city was named UNESCO City of Music and the application dossier submitted in support of this title notes the importance of rock and pop for the city’s musical reputation. Given Glasgow’s recent accolades, and the number of critically and commercially successful rock/pop artists to emerge from the city over the last thirty years, there has been little research into the ways in which Glasgow has maintained such a vibrant and productive popular music scene.
Portland, Oregon is a city renowned for its countercultural preference of cottage industry over multi-nationals, despite living in the shadow of Nike, Intel and Adidas. In terms of the music industries the city is pinpointed by a handful of independent labels and the various self-releasing internet platforms available. Music-making is also supported by a strong network of not-for-profit organisations providing opportunities to play, funding for exploratory projects and start-up capital for independent music industries such as record labels and studios.