On protest music in the current age 1.28.17

I’ve renewed an old research interest – protest music. Not terribly a shocking interest for an ethnomusicologist in the crazy times we’re seeing, but it’s been a recurring theme in my toolkit of research subjects.

John Mellencamp (whose work I don’t normally look at) just released a really interesting song that takes on inequality, protest movements, oppression (and, interestingly, it was released the day before the new POTUS was sworn in).

I hear him, vocally, channeling a Tom Waits-like raspiness in his delivery. I’m waiting to see how my own read on this song evolves, but Rolling Stone has an interesting piece on it here.

I do see a resurgence in protest musics (I’m not special here) and talk about dystopian futures. Uncertainty does breed this, yes?

One thought: a brief conversation I had this morning got me doing some research online – I spoke who a colleague who referenced an old quote with the words (I’m paraphrasing here) that “uncertainty breeds fear.” Doing a little research (as in, I googled it) I found consistent references to this idea. It’s not something new.

What struck me as I looked to make lemonades out of lemons was the additional idea I came across, that uncertainty also creates conditions for creativity.

Let’s all work to make that constructive creativity.

In the meantime, I’ll keep investigating what happens as music intersects with protest movements.


Mourning 2016 Musicians – Glenn Frey

This is just a brief post but I anticipate more of these to follow – every one of the artists I miss deserves a post of his/her own.

So I’m still not over last year’s losses. And by that I mean the musicians lost to the world when they died last year. For me this is about musicians and performers from all genres, but today I’m talking about a musician from my hometown, Detroit. I wanted to share Bob Seger’s tribute to Glenn Frey and the write-up in Rolling Stone about it.

A guest blog from my new housemates

I broke down this week and did something I avoid – I went to the local animal shelter (because I can’t go without bringing home new friends). Even worse, I went into the kitten room and was immediately accosted by two small feline persons who informed me in no uncertain terms that I was taking them home with me.

As you can see, they didn’t take long to settle in – this was the first evening at home.Marlowe and Bowie on day 1 at home

If you’re wondering, the orange tabby is Bowie (yes, note my curated post from last winter) and the black and white tabby is Marlowe. I’ll leave it to you if he’s the poet/playwright or the detective. And no he’s not named after a sportscaster. I’d never even heard of that Marlowe until after I’d named him.

Since this is a departure from my usual pop culture/ethno posts, I’ll leave it at this, but I will say that I debated naming them (respectively, right to left) Walter and Benjamin. Unfortunately, Marlowe is just definitely a Marlowe, and Bowie is not a Benjamin. They’re cats – they told me this. 😉

Re-investigating home base

For those of you who do not know me in “real” life, I was trained as an art music musician (what most folks call classical music, which I have issues with, which will likely be the topic of another post on another day…). Recently, as in about three weeks ago, I took a new job that has brought me back to that world. Funny enough, in my head I never left it. I always saw myself as trained from that particular perspective.

Now the anthropologist/ethnomusicologist steps in.

Perspective IMHO predisposes me to consider the daily grind of practicing and interpretation of another’s ideas as my two basic premises.

But I live in the contemporary world, just like all the other currently living, currently practicing, art music musicians.

So why is it that the music we who make it all love and perform is considered so disconnected with contemporary popular culture?

Here is the article from Greg Sandow from last week that got me started. In this particular post, he reflects on a performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle in DC recently, which leads to a revisiting of a consistent theme in his blog on how art music is/is not maintaining its audience and hence relevancy to our contemporary world, as measured by audience attendance and participation in art music performances.

Sandow comments mourn what is to my eyes a disconnecting from tradition in favor of current cultural connections and values in the ways contemporary art music (again, I hate the word classical music – it’s so loaded) is adapting/will adapt to the modern world.

And this got me wondering. Big surprise.

Here’s a “duh” moment question: why is it that the American consumer public, at least at the broadest levels, dis-values tradition and the re-presentation of older musical forms? Is this any different in theater? Film? (Hint: NOT) Of course the answer is that our society values and fetishizes the “new” and the “unique,” making “the past” something only relevant to people who are “out of touch.” (this last part: also not true)

I had a conversation with a fabulous screen writer this past weekend talking about this same evolution in film and tv writing and development. Granted, this is a far newer technology, but it takes on the same question: where do relevant art and culture-making enterprises have to let go of the past to be relevant to the present and the future?

My favorite example of this kind of art music making comes from one of my favorite composers, Maurice Ravel. Ravel, for those of you who don’t know his work, not only totally rocks in terms of creating moving and meaningful music, but also had a real sense of the connections between what was created before and what can be meaningful now.

I’ll take as a case in point his Le Tombeau de Couperin, composed between 1914 and 1917, and was dedicated to friends of his who died fighting in World War I. The notes from the performer who presents this performance give a great example of the kind of relevance I’m talking about.

So, I’ll leave you with this here today. But there will be more on this theme. Please do comment – this is something so important for us all to talk about!

Kesha, the American Pop Music Industry, and Cultures of Production

So this the the world I study, folks. The ways that the music recording industry interacts with performers, and in particular how these two parts of the music world intersect with how music gets made.

I encourage you to pay attention to the Kesha/Sony case, not the least of which because it’s another example of how problematic the relationships are between performers and their labels.

The Amanda Petrusich’s article in the New Yorker yesterday (2/25/16) does a nice job of identifying one of the big issues here – not about right or wrong, but in the ways the American system of economy and justice assumes that – as Petrusich put it – “since Sony has an undeniable mercenary stake in Kesha’s continued success, it is likely acting in her best interest.”


Kesha signed her current contract when she was eighteen. EIGHTEEN. There is a long history of labels signing young performers, and there is also an equally problematic history of the catches buried in those contracts.


A rare repost – on Apple and Privacy

I rarely simply repost an article (not accounting for my recent curated post on David Bowie – a personal retrospective if I’ve ever done one), but I am today, with just a bit of context.

As someone who studies the digital world and the production of culture in that world, the ongoing Apple case strikes me as extremely important, and Amy Davidson’s piece in The New Yorker lays out the issues well. Please do read this. I’d be interested in having a discussion in the comments.

On David Bowie

david-bowie-00s-david-bowie-37030347-900-900(Update:you’d think with all my work on online construction of performance I’d be better at embedding media? Well I’ve improved this post a bit…)

I’ve been obsessing about my long-time personal fan status with David Bowie like so many others over the last day and a half, since I learned of his death this past weekend. I’ve found myself posting over and over on Facebook. But today I decided to formalize it and curate a full page of links to items about Bowie that hit specific things about him as a performer, musician, and performance artist (yes, I’m separating out the performer from the performance artist). Expect this post to get updated fairly regularly over the next week or so.

So here we go.

How David Bowie Made It OK to be a Wandering Jewish Misfit

  • This one, just for the title, but it hits on many of the issues I see coming up over and over about the ways (especially the 1970s Bowie) became an icon for folks who needed role models that challenged gender norms.

What really made Bowie a star: As a songwriter he was unparalleled

  • What I love here is the tribute to his songwriting and song-crafting skills from someone who had to learn to appreciate Bowie as an artist.

Thanks, Starman: Why David Bowie Was the Greatest Rock Star Ever

  • Rob Sheffield’s tribute. ‘Nough said. If you don’t know who Rob Sheffield is, well, you’ve got a lot of reading (and listening) to do.

David Bowie Dead at 69

  • Rolling Stone’s obit. The catalog of his work. Again, ‘nough said. This one’s a bit overwhelming for me to read. I want to hole up in my apartment, turn on the tunes, put a pot of coffee, and wallow in great music and art here.

This one needs musical accompaniment:


You’ve got to be listening to this while you look at it:

And while you’re at it, great fun from a master: Magic Dance from Labyrinth

  • And speaking of gender bending representations,

You ask what’s inspired this post? Curation is the new obituary: 8 ways media outlets marked Bowie’s life and death

I’ll add more over the coming days as I either get inspired by my own listening or find more articles that need adding to this collection. (more…)