Category Archives: Books

IASPM-CA 2016 Book Prize

Susan Fast’s contribution to the 33 1/3 series on Michael Jackson’s 1991 album, Dangerous

The book prize committee were unanimous in their acclaim for Susan’s new book, and I’d like to summarize our observations about some of the book’s many significant strengths.

In a year in which we have witnessed the passing of two great icons of popular music – David Bowie and Prince – it is interesting to compare the passing of Michael Jackson some years earlier. While Jackson was younger than either of these artists at the time of his death, he was actually a contemporary in many ways: he was born in the same year as Prince and, as a child star, he had a career that spanned as many decades as Bowie’s. Yet, as Susan persuasively argues in her book, Dangerous, there is a sense in which Jackson was never understood as a “mature artist” in the sense that both Prince and Bowie were – he remained, for many critics and fans, the “boy-man” of pop.


Susan Fast, enjoying music.

Susan’s starting point is that Dangerous is Michael Jackson’s “coming of age” record, that the album—and its cover artwork and set of accompanying short films, which Susan shows to be inseparable from the songs—demonstrates in a hundred different ways Jackson’s stark and fearless maturity. In developing this theme across the album, its cover, and its accompanying films, Susan draws on a truly broad range of scholarly and popular critical perspectives. And remarkably (we all remarked on this!) she does so through fluid, generous, reflective prose that conveys analytical rigor and ambitious multidisciplinarity in inviting, sometimes personal, sometimes humorous, but always solidly grounded language.

With this book, Susan has given us a model for how we can reach a broader audience with scholarly writing. Attempting this kind of academic outreach can be very difficult, even “dangerous,” but we believe Susan pulls it off. Her willingness to take such a risk seems likely motivated by her admiration for Jackson’s risk taking—and it’s inspiring. Susan’s book, we hope and expect, will open possibilities for younger scholars, who haven’t yet achieved her professional level of recognition and seniority, to write a book in this hybrid genre.

Susan’s book deepened my interest and appreciation not only for Michael Jackson, but for analytical perspectives that are new and exciting to me. I’ll finish my comments with one example from her chapter “Utopia,” where Susan discusses Jackson’s body, what she calls his theology, and their intermixing in his expressions of “kinship.” Jacksons “queer ways of building kinship,” Susan writes, “are extensions of the fluidity of his body.” “Jackson’s vision of the body and kinship was…forward looking, some might even say utopic. He modeled a way of being in the world that was predicated on the idea of what Haraway calls ‘affinity’, not identity, on the creation of coalitions of the like-minded” (104-105). As the Michael Jackson of Susan’s Dangerous shows, the activities and properties of such challenging artists can burst the limits of any disciplinary approach.

2012 IASPM Canada Book Prize

The winner of the 2012 IASPM Canada Book Prize is RUSH: Rock Music and the Middle Class, Dreaming in Middletown (Indiana University Press, 2009) by Dr. Chris McDonald of Cape Breton University. | | | The Book Depository

Table of Contents:

1. “Anywhere But Here”: Rush and Suburban Desires for Escape
2. “Swimming Against the Stream”: Individualism and Middle-Class Subjectivity in Rush
3. “The Work of Gifted Hands”: Professionalism and Virtuosity in Rush’s Style
4. “Experience to Extremes”: Discipline, Detachment, and Excess in Rush
5. “Reflected in Another Pair of Eyes”: Representations of Rush Fandom
6. “Scoffing at the Wise?”: Rush, Rock Criticism, and the Middlebrow

From the publisher’s website:

Canadian progressive rock band Rush was the voice of the suburban middle class. In this book, Chris McDonald assesses the band’s impact on popular music and its legacy for legions of fans. McDonald explores the ways in which Rush’s critique of suburban life—and its strategies for escape—reflected middle-class aspirations and anxieties, while its performances manifested the dialectic in prog rock between discipline and austerity, and the desire for spectacle and excess. The band’s reception reflected the internal struggles of the middle class over cultural status. Critics cavalierly dismissed, or apologetically praised, Rush’s music for its middlebrow leanings. McDonald’s wide-ranging musical and cultural analysis sheds light on one of the most successful and enduring rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s.

“A well-researched, provocative glimpse into one of the most popular, yet oft-overlooked bands in the history of rock.” —Theo Cateforis, editor of The Rock History Reader

“McDonald makes an important contribution to our understanding of the middle class as a force in North American rock culture, and at the same time offers a pioneering look at one of the most idiosyncratic and influential bands of the past four decades. This book should be welcomed not only by those with an interest in hard and progressive rock, but also by anyone who wishes to understand the role of social class in recent popular culture.” —William Echard, Carleton University, author of Neil Young and the Poetics of Energy

“As Chris McDonald correctly points out in Dreaming in Middletown, writing on rock music traditionally has tended to privilege the working class as the ultimate site of authentic expression. It is refreshing to encounter a scholarly book that finally takes up the challenge of interpreting popular music’s meanings in relation to its substantial, yet often neglected, middle class fan base. Deftly interweaving in-depth musical analyses with the insights of sociology, cultural studies, philosophy, and the voices of Rush fans themselves, McDonald has produced a smart, probing, and illuminating scholarly work that deserves a place alongside Susan Fast’s In the Houses of the Holy as one of the best musicological studies of a single rock band.” —Theo Cateforis, Syracuse University, editor of The Rock History Reader

“If you are the sort who is a Rush freak, a musician, and a fan of academic writing, you’ll enjoy this book.” —PopMatters

“McDonald has a lot of interesting points to make about the music, the band, and what was going on in the world surrounding them at the time. Rush fans who are interested in something more in-depth than the normal run of band biographies should at least take a look at this volume.” —Goldmine , February 12, 2010

Review: She’s So Fine

Laura Stras’s edited collection She’s So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music has received a glowing review on the Times Higher Education website courtesy of Lee Barron. IASPM Canada members have been highlighted for their contributions. Congrats!

The book’s standout chapters include those written by Jacqueline Warwick, Annie J. Randall and Susan Fast. Warwick analyses He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss), detailing the ways in which Gerry Goffin’s lyric appears to condone male domestic violence in a mainstream pop-song setting, while Randall charts Dusty Springfield’s emergence from the Mod “revolution” and her later reign as Britain’s “White Queen of Soul”. Both chapters approach the issue of gender in differing, but highly convincing ways.

Hawkins and the British Pop Dandy

In the past, Stan Hawkins has produced worthwhile work for researchers in popular music interested in gender, masculinities and the singing voice, particularly in the form of his book, Settling the Pop Score: Pop Texts and Identity Politics (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002). This newer book, entitled The British Pop Dandy: Masculinity, Popular Music and Culture, is part of the same Ashgate series as the earlier title, and seems to be an expansion of some of the thoughts and ideas in the earlier volume.

Hawkins begins his book by providing a list of “dandies,” even prior to defining what a dandy actually is. In his list, which he notes is not comprehensive, are singers like Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger, Robbie Williams, David Bowie and Steven Morrissey. The last two are particularly interesting to me, since my graduate work revolved around their artistic output and celebrity image.
Hawkins does well to attempt to work through the definition of “dandy,” suggesting its gradual transformation “from a term of abuse to one of resentful respect,” describing those employing “displays of tame eccentricity, dry wit, vulgarity, comic excess and most ‘troublesome’ behaviour.” (2, 3) Hawkins is concerned with the British (English) pop musician as dandy, the conflation of Britishness and masculinity, and he locates identity, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class as sites of dandyism.

Hawkins suggests that, central to his study is “the positioning of the body and its presence in recorded form,” and our imaginative responses to music performances: “In multimedia settings, then, music mediates desire by instructing us to imagine what we see.” (7-8) In a way, I agree, though in my work on Morrissey, I suggest that we construct the image of the celebrity from fragments, and over time (perhaps using our imaginations, as Hawkins suggests). Our desire comes from wanting a complete picture of those celebrities, working through their enigmatic star images for wholeness. If only I would have had Hawkins’ book a few years ago during the writing of my doctoral dissertation; Morrissey is “signifying difference through musical practice,” a particularly elegant way of expressing the singer’s transgressing of conventions. Hawkins also calls this a kind of “dissident masculinity.” (35)

In his discussion of Morrissey’s music video for “You Have Killed Me,” from 2006, Hawkins suggests that this performance is “one of the countless examples of how pop maximizes hyperbole as an emotional crutch.” (72) Here is where some of Hawkins’ analyses are both elegant and thorough, but seemingly surface as well. He briefly speaks of the lyrics which reference Italian culture: the director Pasolini and his film Accatone, as well as Morrissey’s “introduction in Italian by a compère.” (71) There is no mention of how this problematizes Morrissey’s own Britishness, perhaps imbuing him with a cosmopolitan sensibility; it is quite possible that such a reading would correspond with Hawkins’, but he seems to simply glance over an important characteristic of both this video and this period of Morrissey’s career.

What Hawkins does provide is an elegant, and much needed, analysis of the singing voice in popular music. In particular, Hawkins provides a brief but deft discussion of tremolo and “glottal shakes” in Morrissey’s voice (drawing from Lomax), something sorely needed in studies about the singing voice in general. Much further study can come from Hawkins’ work here. Hawkins suggests, though, that exaggeration is the most common trait of Morrissey’s vocality, which songs like “Seasick, yet Still Docked,” or “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning” (both which show Morrissey’s vocal constraint) seem to contradict. (128-129)

Hawkins’ analyses here are particularly heartening to me in that he works to unify ideas regarding meaning in the singing voice; his discussion of how Morrissey’s persona is “filtered” through his singing style is particularly useful, not only in discussions of Morrissey, but also in greater discussions about meaning in the singing voice. Of interest is Hawkins’ argument that “sound is no less camp than the imagery we associate with the artist: for to be camp in pop is to sound camp.” (151)

In relation to this concept, Hawkins explores the idea of camp as “mask.” He assumes that music is about the intersection between what we as consumers of music hear and what we see; his concern is with popular music as mediated through recording, both sound and video. For Hawkins, “to mask something is to place weight on that which is not there,” but that which seemingly makes itself known at the conflation of the heard and the seen in mediated popular music performance. (154) In this study, then, Hawkins promotes analyses taking into account the “complete picture” of the mediated performer, focusing on the whole consumed cultural object engaged by fans.

This book follows and builds from Stan Hawkins’ earlier work in the area of masculinities and performance and, as such, is highly recommended for scholars interested in popular music, and the singing voice in popular music. Those researching masculinities in pop music performance might find it particularly useful.

Volume ! La revue des musiques populaires: La Reprise / Covers

Volume ! La revue des musiques populaires
La Reprise / Covers

Éditions Mélanie Seteun
Release : june 2010
ISBN: 978-2-913169-26-5
ISSN: 1634-5495
300 pages
Format: 8,25’’ x 8,25’’
Languages: French  & English
Public price: 19 euros

Covers are ambiguous objects that run through all popular musics, with a variety of forms and functions: homage, parody, learning practice, means of emancipation, exercise in style, roots of a new aesthetics, fan identification, commercial hijacking, plundering, constitution of a musical tradition, means of belonging to a musical culture. By their ambivalence, covers are a promising entry to the study of popular musics, questioning their creative process as well as their cultural dimension. Read the introduction (French)

This special issue was edited by Matthieu Saladin, doctor in aesthetics and associate researcher at IDEAT (Université de Paris 1 – La Sorbonne, CNRS), lecturer of popular music history and aesthetics at the FLSH in Lille. A second one on the same topic will be published in October 2010.

With Jan Butler (Oxford Brookes University) • Gary R. Boye (Appalachian State University) • Armelle Gaulier (Iep de Bordeaux) • Christophe Kihm (Art press, HEAD Genève) • Gerry McGoldrick (York University) • Julien Martin (auteur) • Charles Mueller (Florida State University) • Frédéric Saffar (Université Paris 8) • Thomas Vendryes  (École d’Économie de Paris).
Artists : Francis Baudevin • Pierre Bismuth • Patrice Caillet • Rodney Graham • Christian Marclay • Jonathan Monk

For our English-speaking readers, three articles are available for free download online :

Charles Mueller, Gothic Covers
Jan Butler, Musical Works, covers and Strange Little Girls
Gerry McGoldrick, Frome Annie Laurie to Ladie Madonna, A Century of Covers in Japan

Volume ! La revue des musiques populaires n° 7-1 – La reprise
Éditions Mélanie Seteun
Parution: juin 2010
SBN: 978-2-913169-26-5
ISSN: 1634-5495
300 pages
Format: 21 x 21 cm
Langues: français/anglais
Prix public : 19 euros

La reprise est un objet ambigu qui traverse toutes les musiques populaires, apparaissant tour à tour comme hommage, parodie, forme d’apprentissage, vecteur d’émancipation, exercice de style, régime d’invention de nouvelles esthétiques, identification du groupe de fans, récupération marchande, pillage, ou encore mode d’appartenance à une tradition musicale. Par son ambivalence même, la reprise se présente comme une entrée prometteuse pour l’étude des musiques populaires, interrogeant aussi bien leur processus de création que leur dimension culturelle. Lire l’introduction

Dossier dirigé par Matthieu Saladin, docteur en esthétique et chercheur associé à l’IDEAT (Paris 1, CNRS), enseignant en histoire et esthétique des musiques actuelles à la FLSH de Lille.
Avec des textes de Jan Butler (Oxford Brookes University) • Gary R. Boye (Appalachian State University) • Armelle Gaulier(Iep de Bordeaux) • Christophe Kihm (Art press, HEAD Genève) • Gerry McGoldrick (York University) • Julien Martin (auteur) • Charles Mueller (Florida State University) • Frédéric Saffar (Université Paris 8) • Thomas Vendryes  (École d’Économie de Paris).
Note de recherche : Maël Guesdon + notes de lecture.
Artistes : Francis Baudevin • Pierre Bismuth • Patrice Caillet • Rodney Graham • Christian Marclay • Jonathan Monk