The Literature of American Popular Music


Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 480 Illustrations: 40 illustrations Published: May 2021

Author: Eric Weisbard

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Music > Popular Music

In Songbooks, critic and scholar Eric Weisbard offers a critical guide to books on American popular music from William Billings's 1770 New-England-Psalm-Singer to Jay-Z's 2010 memoir Decoded. Weisbard, drawing on his background editing the Village Voice music section, coediting the Journal of Popular Music Studies, and organizing the Pop Conference, connects American music writing from memoirs, biographies, and song compilations to blues novels, magazine essays, and academic studies. The authors of these works are as diverse as the music itself: women, people of color, queer writers, self-educated scholars, poets, musicians, and elites discarding their social norms. Whether analyzing books on Louis Armstrong, the Beatles, and Madonna, the novels of Theodore Dreiser, Gayl Jones, and Jennifer Egan, or varying takes on blackface minstrelsy, Weisbard charts an alternative history of American music as told through its writing. As Weisbard demonstrates, the most enduring work pursued questions that lingered across time period and genre—cultural studies in the form of notes on the fly, on sounds that never quit changing meaning.


“Entertaining scholarship! Entertaining criticism! What a revelation! Eric Weisbard is one of those rare writers who understand that in mirroring the music it addresses, literary analysis should provide pleasure as well as insights. With great verve, Songbooks provides both.” — David Ritz, co-composer, “Sexual Healing”

“Embracing the fact that there's no hearing any music without mediations of crosstalk, mythography, humbug, gate-keeping, and taste war, Eric Weisbard's exuberant and encyclopedic history of music writing delivers two and a half centuries of vernacular bounce—sheets of sound, if you will. Heroic, acutely discerning, compulsively readable, and bound to be enduringly useful.” — Eric Lott, author of Black Mirror: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism

“Eric Weisbard is the rare critic who can pair a deep, intersectional, and breathtakingly intelligent survey of music writing with the nuance and joy of someone who has actually done the strange, difficult work of parsing sound on paper. Songbooks is an extraordinary look at how we try to make sense of the music that buoys and destroys us. It made me rethink what criticism can do, what music can do, and how both can change our lives.” — Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records


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Price: $27.95

Open Access

Fall2020 Online Sale
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Eric Weisbard is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama and the author of Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music.

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Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1408-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1194-1