Tag Archives: indtroductions

Introduction, Paul Aitken

Hi, you’ve probably already noticed my name around here. I was recently tasked with revamping and improving on the IASPM Canada website and communication strategy. It has been my immense pleasure to do this for the association.

I have been a popular music fan all of my life. I can vividly remember sitting around my parents’ table as a child in the 70s with Harry Chapin or Elton John playing on the radio and I still have a pang of nostalgia every time I hear the theme to CBC’s “As It Happens” and its resemblance to the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”! I shed a tear when John Denver passed away as he was probably the first musician I ever felt a connection to, even though I was probably barely able to talk when I first heard the dulcet tones of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” When I first saw the video for Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” I wanted to BE that. When I saw Jimi Hendrix in the Woodstock movie my jaw dropped, I got shivers. When I first heard Joni Mitchell I got an inkling of what love might be about; and I never understood the vitriol of Alanis Morissette until after my first experience with the former. When I heard “Even Flow” I jumped out of my seat. When I heard the opening riff of “So What” I heard possibility. When I saw the Allman Brothers live I watched a musical conversation take place. When I first heard Run DMC, me an all my suburban friends perked up: “What is that?” And even though it’s a rare occurrence, when I heard Songs in the Key of Life, I danced.

And when I first saw Napster a chorus of angels literally emerged from behind the screen and sang, I swear.

My love for popular music developed into a deep commitment to music of all kinds, and I found myself begging my folks for a guitar. I received a plastic one sometime when I was still single digits, which I then proceeded to smash to bits on the basement floor. I can only assume I saw a TV programme showing old footage of The Who or Jimi Hendrix. As I got older, and actually began playing the guitar, for real, I learned that guitars aren’t meant to be smashed. Or, at least your ONLY guitar shouldn’t be smashed! As for back up guitars…

I played in a lot of bands throughout my teen years, playing gigs at bars I wasn’t allowed to drink at. Somewhere in there somebody must have mentioned that you could study jazz at university, and so I made a point of pursuing that. In the early 90s in Canada it was either jazz or “classical” music. Having little interest in the latter at the time, the jazz route was the way to go. I quickly found that while the training I was getting as an instrumentalist was invaluable, there was little respect, and even fewer avenues, for studying and thinking about popular music. I persevered and throughout the better part of the decade that it took to earn my undergraduate degree from York University (during which there were numerous sojourns into a professional music career) a veritable sea change happened in musicology. When I started in university you couldn’t breathe the words popular music at most institutions, and now there are fully-fledged degrees in the subject. To me, this is amazing, and personally heartening.

The world of a professional musician is both extremely rewarding and extremely difficult. While I was more active professionally I managed to release two independently produced albums, Live at the Jack Lyons Concert Hall (1998) and York Sessions (2001), both of which I now give away for free on my website. I had the pleasure of working as a sideman for many great musicians in the UK, US, and Canada, I led my own groups, had the opportunity so sit in on live gigs with several inspiring musicians, and even spent some time “in the trenches” playing in cruise ship show bands and lounge acts. I have immense respect and admiration for those that are able to carve out a living making creative works because, quite simply, these artists are responsible for making my life better. In fact, I can’t imagine life without the efforts of these creative musicians.

There came a time when I desired to take my interest in an academic direction. With the help of many of the scholars who are part of IASPM I pursued an MA at McMaster University in the now defunct Music Criticism programme (thesis here), and found that my interests were moving toward the uses (and misuses) of new technologies for music distribution. This led me to the Institute of Communications Studies at the University of Leeds where I am now a PhD candidate. My PhD thesis research focuses on critical theories of gift giving, their relationship to music piracy and the ways in which this relationship may/may not present a challenge both to the music industry and to how we conceive of the exchange of cultural products. The project combines traces the developments of the seminal work of Marcel Mauss through critical anthropology and French theory and combines this strand of thought with contemporary work on digital networks and music piracy. Specifically, I am looking at the ways in which private or “members only” music filesharing articulates the struggles and contradictions of late capitalism. I proceed with an eye to conceiving of the possibilities of an emergence common and renewed possibilities for collective politics, but one that is constantly threatened by the interests of profit and limitless assertions of ownership. This project forms a part of my wider interest in popular music studies, ICTs, and critical/cultural theory. While a graduate student I have taught popular music history at Dalhousie University and political economy of the media at McMaster University, both in Canada, and communication theory at the University of Leeds.

I hope that we can all turn the IASPM Canada website into THE cutting edge resource for all things related to the scholarly pursuit of popular music in Canada.

More information about me is available here, but it would be much more interesting for you if you just read this.