The Avid Listener

November 14, 2016

The Avid Listener Digest, November/December 2016

To help readers navigate the growing list of essays published on The Avid Listener, we've created a downloadable "digest." In it, you'll find links to all our content, organized by category. Check it out, and stay tuned for exciting new essays later this month!

Download The Avid Listener Digest, November/December 2016

Springsteen and Human Rights: “Chimes of Freedom”

Joanna Smolko (Athens, GA)

 

Bruce Springsteen singing Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” live in Copenhagen in 1988, prior to his tour with Amnesty International.

 

Since the beginning of his career, Springsteen has been haunted by his label as “the next Dylan.” Though promoted by John Hammond at Columbia Records (as Dylan had been), and admiring Dylan greatly (as he recently articulated while reflecting on Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature), Springsteen consciously chose to distance himself from Dylan’s musical style and forge his own path as a songwriter, embracing instead a carefully orchestrated, hard-rocking sound. In a 1999 interview with Mark Hagen, Springsteen recounted that in his early twenties he began to avoid writing lyrics that relied on loosely strung-together images, a stylistic feature that was emblematic of Dylan’s music. However, from the late 1970s on, Springsteen covered songs written by Dylan, perpetuating—purposefully or not—the link between his work and that of Dylan. In particular, Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” was central to Springsteen’s political awakening in the years following the release of “Born in the U.S.A.” In 1988, two key performances of this song embody Springsteen’s quest for social justice: his concert in East Berlin and his participation in Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! tour. Springsteen suggested that “Chimes of Freedom” embodied his ideal of rock music as a vehicle for expression of community—rather than simply individual—autonomy, when he stated, “This is one of the greatest songs about human freedom ever written.”

 

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October 31, 2016

“Dedicated to All Human Beings”: Remix Culture, Fandom, and the Case of Radiohead’s “Reckoner”

Reba A. Wissner, Montclair State University

 

Radiohead’s video for “Reckoner.”

 

A remix is the digital reinterpretation of a song by adding, removing, or altering its constituent parts such as beat, tempo, and instrumentation. Many artists remix their own songs, and DJs often remix the songs of other musicians. More and more frequently, artists are encouraging fans to make their own remixes by making the components of their music available online as a bundle of tracks, with each track isolating a single instrument or group of instruments. Fans are then free to manipulate and recombine these individual tracks in programs like GarageBand to create a new version of the song. The results can be astonishing in their variety and creativity. One of the best examples of fan-based remixing via Internet comes from the 2007 album In Rainbows by Radiohead, a group based in Oxford, UK.  

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October 17, 2016

Deaf-Blindness and the Avid Musical Touch of Helen Keller

Stefan Sunandan Honisch (Vancouver, British Columbia)

 

My hands evoke sight and sound out of feeling,

Intershifting the senses endlessly,

Linking motion with sight, odor with sound.

They give color to the honeyed breeze,

The measure and passion of a symphony

To the beat and quiver of unseen wings.

In the secrets of earth and sun and air

My fingers are wise;

They snatch light out of darkness,

They thrill to harmonies breathed in silence.

Helen Keller, A Chant of Darkness

 

 

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September 19, 2016

Politics and Protest in Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”

Joanna Smolko (Athens, Georgia)

“I liked Springsteen before he became political,” a friend of mine commented on Springsteen’s performance at the 2009 Super Bowl. But in actuality, Springsteen has always been political. From the outset, he infused his music with elements of working class identity: unions and families, steel and rust, coal and dust, machines that bind you to a community and way of life, and machines that allow you to ride away in a cloud of exhaust and defiance. But there was a specific moment that galvanized Springsteen’s self-identification as a political spokesperson. As Marc Dolan narrates, “Born in the U.S.A.” was used as an anthem in Ronald Reagan’s 1985 campaign without Springsteen’s permission, and in a speech, Reagan cited Springsteen as a beacon of the “American dream.”

 

Video compilation of conflict around “Born in the U.S.A.” between Reagan and Springsteen. Here Reagan praises Springsteen, stating, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in songs of a man so many young Americans admire, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.” In an interview, Springsteen articulates his response, including his opposition to Reagan’s economic policies, and his support for locally based community efforts, such as food banks.

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