The Avid Listener: Music and Culture

53 posts categorized "Music and Culture"

November 14, 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 5, 2016

Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger: “This Land Is Your Land”

Joanna Smolko (Athens, Georgia)

 

Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Tao Rodríquez-Seeger, and choir singing “This Land Is Your Land” at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration (2009). Springsteen draws attention to Seeger, and Seeger sings in a call-and-response fashion, inviting the crowd to sing, speaking out the words between verses as they sing along with other musicians and a choir.

 

On January 18, 2009, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang together at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by Seeger’s grandson Tao Rodríquez-Seeger and a choir. Seeger invited the crowd to sing along, reflecting his lifelong commitment to group singing; even in staid places like Carnegie Hall, his concerts were less about performing than about community music making. The song they chose was Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” a song much-beloved by both musicians. As they prepared for the event, Springsteen asked Seeger on how he wanted to perform the song. Seeger replied, "Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote. Especially the two that get left out: about private property and the relief office." After Seeger’s death in 2014, Springsteen memorialized this moment: “And I thought, of course, that's what Pete's done his whole life. He sings all the verses all the time, especially the ones that we'd like to leave out of our history as a people. At some point, Pete Seeger decided he'd be a walking, singing reminder of all of America's history. He'd be a living archive of America's music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends.” 

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May 23, 2016

What’s a Girl Gotta Do to Get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Alexandra Apolloni (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, Los Angeles, CA)

Each year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (henceforth Rock Hall) announces a new list of inductees: artists that are deemed worthy of commemoration—and canonization—as rock greats. And in 2016, none of the inductees were women.

The underrepresentation of women in Rock Hall is nothing new:­ of 259 musicians, bands, and music industry luminaries who have been inducted since 1986, a mere 42 are women, or even groups that include women.

Maybe this is unsurprising. Rock and roll is, after all, a man’s game, right? Not so! Women have always been involved in rock and roll—and the notable but few women who have made it into the rock hall are a testament to that. Those women include Rhythm and Blues pioneers Ruth Brown and Lavern Baker; iconic performers Aretha Franklin and Madonna; and songwriters Carole King, Cynthia Weill, and Ellie Greenwich, to name a few. But Rock Hall inductees are disproportionately male. And the reason why becomes clear when we ask one particular question: what do Rock Hall inductees do in rock and roll?

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