The Avid Listener

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.

Continue reading "Politics and Protest in Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”" »

September 13, 2016

The Avid Listener Digest, September/October 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 September/October 2016

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.” 

Continue reading "Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger: “This Land Is Your Land”" »

August 4, 2016

Integrating The Avid Listener into the Classroom: Common Core English Language Arts Standards

Feature essays at The Avid Listener can serve two primary functions in the classroom: as informational texts about music history and music in culture, and as exemplars of good writing for general audiences. Essays are brief, well crafted, and carefully edited. They introduce new ideas (such as hip-hop diplomacy) alongside creative takes on more traditional musico-historical narratives (such as the history of music notation, or the politics behind G. F. Handel’s oratorios). Each essay concludes with discussion questions; asking students to read the essays and engage with these questions is perhaps the easiest way to integrate Avid Listener essays into the classroom. But we also recognize that (1) classroom activities are more likely to appeal to school administrators if they can be linked to current educational standards, and (2) music educators are under increasing pressure to support language arts and math educational standards in music classrooms.

To facilitate the integration of The Avid Listener into high-school level curricula, we have developed a brief list of suggested exercises that use our essays to meet specific Common Core English Language Arts standards. We have chosen standards from grade levels 9/10 and 11/12 that can be adjusted to meet grade-level expectations. The activities can easily be adapted to a number of Common Core standards.

The handout is available for download here. Let us know what you think!

Integrating the Avid Listener into the Classroom: College Edition

Dedicated to the idea that music criticism can be both literate and fun to read, The Avid Listener features weekly essays about popular, world, and Western art music written by rising scholars from all over the United States and abroad. This ever-updating accompaniment to Norton’s renowned music list gives readers the skills to analyze and discuss some of their favorite tunes while learning about practicing musicians, the industry, and new trends. With The Avid Listener, students discover how to listen broadly and deeply, to approach music with a curious spirit and a sense of adventure.

Some of our most popular topics include modes of listening (avid, structural, spiritualdistracted, and religious); hip-hop and cultural diplomacy; Ruth Crawford Seeger and the question of gendered music; film music; musical notation; authenticity and interpretationthe musical canon; music and public mourning; songwriting and recording; and video game music. We will post frequent (often monthly) digests to facilitate site navigation by topic. Each digest also includes a list of upcoming essays so instructors can plan lessons and assignments in advance.

Instructors can integrate The Avid Listener into their music history and appreciation courses in a variety of ways. Click here to download Integrating The Avid Listener into the Classroom.

Dedicated to the idea that music criticism can be literate and fun to read, The Avid Listener fosters weekly discussions between scholars and novices alike.

Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

Norton Music

A History of Western Music

J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca

The Enjoyment of Music

Kristine Forney, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Joseph Machlis