Pop When the World Falls Apart

Music in the Shadow of Doubt

Pop When the World Falls Apart

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 18 illustrations Published: March 2012

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Music

Hearing Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan once said, was “like busting out of jail.” But what happens when popular music isn’t as simple as rock-and-roll rebellion? How does pop respond to such events as a decade-long war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina? In Pop When the World Falls Apart, a diverse array of music writers, scholars, and enthusiasts reflect on popular music’s role—as commentary, as refuge, and as rallying cry—in times of military conflict, social upheaval, and cultural crisis.

Drawn from presentations at the annual Experience Music Project Pop Conference—hailed by Robert Christgau as “the best thing that’s ever happened to serious consideration of pop music”—the essays in this book include inquiries into the sonic dimension of war in Iraq; the cultural life of jazz in post-Katrina New Orleans; Isaac Hayes’s reappropriation of a country song, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” as a symbol of black nationalism; and punk rock pranks played on record execs looking for the next big thing in central Virginia. Offering a diverse range of voices, perspectives, and approaches, this volume mirrors the eclecticism of pop itself.

Contributors: Larry Blumenfeld , Austin Bunn, Nate Chinen, J. Martin Daughtry, Brian Goedde, Michelle Habell-Pallán, Jonathan Lethem, Eric Lott, Kembrew McLeod, Elena Passarello, Diane Pecknold, David Ritz, Carlo Rotella, Scott Seward, Tom Smucker, Greg Tate, Karen Tongson, Alexandra T. Vazquez, Oliver Wang, Eric Weisbard, Carl Wilson


“Let there be no doubt that this is one of the best anthologies of music writing you’ll find this year and one that’s destined to be required reading for any kid who thinks he has what it takes to make it in the rough ‘n’ tumble world of music criticism.” — Jedd Beaudoin, PopMatters

“[T]he range of contributors in this collected volume refreshingly breaks the cult of expertise often surrounding popular music discourse and refrains from burying the reader under a barrage of cultural theory verbiage. Both entertaining and educational, this latest compilation in the series will appeal with equal measure to both critics and fans.”
— Joshua Finnell, Library Journal

“This collection covers a varied terrain: ghostwriting celebrity memoirs; Karen and Richard Carpenter’s reassuring pop songs, whose darkness bubbled below a syrupy surface of melody and lyrics: Retro-Soul’s appeal to middle-class whites; and Morris Holt—a.k.a. ‘Magic Slim’—as the last keeper of traditional Chicago Blues. While some of the articles stray from the book title’s promise, together they offer a stimulating view of popular music’s indelible cultural imprint.” — Karl Helicher, Foreword Reviews

“The point of this sort of criticism isn’t — or shouldn’t necessarily be — to convince us of a single interpretation, but rather to invite us to consider ones we had either never thought about or dismissed long ago. Nearly all the essays ... in the book ... confront the reader with more questions about pop’s past and present than anyone could seriously engage in a lifetime.” — Gary Sullivan, Los Angeles Review of Books

“...the twenty-one assorted authors of this volume weave together a tapestry of varied approaches and interests that is both refreshing and disorienting...Its strength is its variety.” — Joseph R. Matson, Notes

“Perhaps because these EMP conferences differ from typical academic events by combining presentations from a range of experts from inside and outside the academic sphere, the resulting papers—written by music journalists, scholars of American studies, obsessive fans and a variety of professional specialists—are often highly original and occasionally quite brilliant." — Alex Seago, Journal of American Studies

“[T]he collection serves as an excellent introduction to the wide range of approaches to the study of popular music—the authors of individual essays come from university departments of sociology, English, music, communications, gender studies, creative writing, and more; and, true to the open spirit of the Pop Conference, they also write for the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, and NPR. That eclectic range and the type of audience that such range implies—that is, they all have to talk to each other—is the collection’s greatest strength.” — Kreg Abshire, American Studies

"Pop When the World Falls Apart gazes deep into the abyss of pop fandom—its pleasures and fears, complexities and contradictions—and then dives right into the heart of it all. These essays enliven the sheer absurdity of loving music so much through the caustic precision of their insights. Read them and weep, and laugh, and sing." — Barry Shank, co-editor of American Studies: An Anthology and The Popular Music Studies Reader

"The best essays in this brooding, often brilliant collection both reflect and reflect upon struggle and trouble, whether it's the sonics of the Iraq conflict, the post-Katrina culture war threatening New Orleans's jazz scene, or the self-annihilation of those Nixon-era popmeisters, the Carpenters. Pop When the World Falls Apart is an indispensable document of what cultural criticism reads and rocks like during these hard and bewildering times." — Alice Echols, author of Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture

"The voices in Pop When the World Falls Apart are so strong the book raises a new question: which critics would you take to a desert island? Everyone will have a different answer. For me, it would be Tom Smucker, Eric Lott, and Scott Seward. They'd argue til the sun came up, full of smiles and exasperation; I’d get to listen." — Greil Marcus


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eric Weisbard is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama. His previous books include, as editor, Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Eric Weisbard 1

Collapsing Distance: The Love-Song of the Wanna-Be, or The Fannish Auteur / Jonathan Lethem 7

Black Rockers vs. Blackies Who Rock, or The Difference between Race and Music / Greg Tate 15

Toward an Ethics of Knowing Nothing / Alexandra T. Vazquez 27

Divided Byline: How a Student of Leslie Fiedler and a Colleague of Charles Keil Became the Ghostwriter for Everybody from Ray Charles to Cornell West / David Ritz 40

Boring and Horrifying Whiteness: The Rise and Fall of Reaganism as Prefigured by the Career Arcs of Carpenters, Lawrence Welk, and the Beach Boys in 1973–74 / Tom Smucker 47

Perfect is Dead: Karen Carpenter, Theodor Adorno, and the Radio, or If Hooks Could Kill / Eric Lott 62

Agents of Orange: Studio K and Cloud 9 / Karen Tongson 82

Belliphonic Sounds and Indoctrinated Ears: The Dynamics of Military Listening in Wartime Iraq / J. Martin Daughtry 111

Since the Flood: Scenes for the Fight for New Orleans Jazz Culture / Larry Blumenfeld 145

(Over the) Rainbow Warrior: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and Another Kind of Somewhere / Nate Chinen 176

Travel with Me: Country Music, Race, and Remembrance / Diane Pecknold 185

The Comfort Zone: Shaping the Retro-Soul Audience / Oliver Wang 201

Within Limits: On the Greatness of Magic Slim / Carlo Rotella 230

Urban Music in the Teenage Heartland / Brian Goedde, Austin Bunn, and Elena Passarello 240

"Death to Racism and Punk Revisionism": Alice Bag's Vexing Voice and the Unspeakable Influence of Canción Ranchera on Hollywood Punk / Michelle Habell-Pallán 247

Of Wolves and Vibrancy: A Brief Explanation of the Marriage Made in Hell between Folk Music, Dead Cultures, Myth, and Highly Technical Modern Extreme Metal / Scott Seward 271

The New Market Affair: Media Pranks, the Music Industry's Last Big Gold Rush, and the Hunt for Hits in the Shenandoah Valley / Kembrew McLeod 282

All That Is Solid Melts into Schmaltz: Poptimism vs. the Guilty Displeasure / Carl Wilson 299

Contributors 313

Index 317
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5108-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5099-6
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