Scholars are institutionally motivated revisionists, but our era’s interest in vaunting the underrepresented has fueled that fire. So, too, however, has the political drift right, raising questions about popular culture efficacy that have constrained old school rock and roll ballyhoo about music producing meaningful change. Both sentiments find voice in this issue. Norma Coates, elsewhere the subject of a Leah Branstetter “from the vaults” look at her early 2000s manifesto on women as “low Other” of rock, reviews Jenn Pelly’s book on the Raincoats, asking: “Who gets to be a part of history and why, and in what capacity and to what extent?” Gina Arnold, thinking about the recent film Cold War, finds in it a “poignant indication of the limits of popular music to change, to heal, and ultimately shape people’s life experiences.” And in the most close-to-home version of Field Notes yet, a discussion from the annual conference of our journal’s organizational sponsor, IASPM-US, member after chapter member discusses what it means to pursue necessary networking and sustaining “contact” in the age of Quit Lit.
To scrutinize popular music now might mean, as Lauren Jackson takes up in Amplifier, to consider viral clips as pop politics: “The leak that never was couldn’t have happened to a public figure [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] with a fan base more primed to mitigate scandal with memes.” It might involve a full article by a scholar of timbre, Megan Lavengood, pursuing the DX7, an FM digital synthesizer slammed relentlessly by its detractors, as the quintessence of 1980s pop as a disposable musical genre. Or Richard Davila on how the song “Chicano,” seemingly an exposable lie when Doug Sahm wrote and performed it as an identity statement, was differently authenticated by a Rumel Fuentes cover version.
In Sean Lorre’s account of Jamaican rhythm and blues in the early 1960s, these popular music studies questions of how song can be stifled by subject position and disempowering discourse turn on why black American authenticity mattered more to the British music press than the post-colonial immigrants around them in London. Andrew Snyder has a bone to pick with ethnomusicology that presumes a distinction between commodified and truly popular sound, finding in the for-profit samba schools of Brazil a much more complicated cultural formation. And Kyle DeCoste, winner of the David Sanjek Prize for best graduate student article at this year’s IASPM-US gathering, reconsiders James Baldwin, who in his day felt marginal in relation to black vernacular music, noticing how the record player of Mr. Man, in the children’s novel Little Man, Little Man, “makes a case for music’s ability to create joyful, intergenerational community that is necessary to sustain struggles for racial justice.”
Play it loud, we used to insist, so there’d be nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. Now we recalibrate our levels. Matthew Jones, looking warily at writing interested in reclaiming queer history to kick off our book reviews (which elsewhere treat jazz in Latin America and Latin America in Los Angeles, nineteenth century songsters and spirituals, and Christians on the devil’s music, rock), recalls how musicologist Philip Brett “made the audacious claim that ‘all musicians are faggots in the parlance of the male locker room,’ anticipating by a couple of decades Drew Daniels’s assertion that ‘all sound is queer.’” Cue Mr. Man, showcasing Ray Charles’s version of “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Wanna Do It),” and let the music (writing) play.