This essay considers the cultural implications of a brief period in the life of New York’s Brill Building, America’s second Tin Pan Alley, a transformative moment in R&B that involved music performed by African American artists but written by songwriters committed to “Jewish Latin.” Recorded on 45 rpm vinyl, circulated in jukeboxes and on radio in new Top 40 radio formats, this sound formed young taste, and, in the bargain, its commercial cycles produced staggered temporal segments that shaped feeling and memory for a generation. One’s sense of life history, of history itself, was time-coded by what we heard and how we heard it, with some interesting implications.
Memories Are Made of This: Notes on a New York Sound, 1959–64
James Chandler teaches at the University of Chicago, where he is the William K. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English and the Department of Cinema and Media Studies. His books include An Archaeology of Sympathy: The Sentimental Mode in Literature and Cinema (Chicago, 2013) and England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism (Chicago, 1998). From 2001 to 2018, he was director of the Franke Institute for the Humanities, where he was Principal Investigator for a series of Mellon-funded projects addressing the transformation of humanities and social science disciplines, including the Musical Pasts Consortium. His new book, How to Do Criticism, will be published next year by Blackwell.
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James Chandler; Memories Are Made of This: Notes on a New York Sound, 1959–64. Representations 1 May 2021; 154 (1): 99–112. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2021.154.8.99
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