Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dirty Beaches In Store At M Theory is TONIGHT- Not Yesterday

   Dirty Beaches in store is today (Saturday) at 6 P.M. at M Theory- sorry to everyone who came out last night- rumor has it upwards of 40 people turned up!  But it still counts, even though you didn't get to see him.  Alex may bring the first copies of the Zoo Music Pink Playground 7" that have been sold: ANYWHERE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.  I said, "may," not "would."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recorded Music in American Life: 1890-1945

Recorded Music in American Life:
The Phonograph and Popular Memory 1890-1945
by William Howland Kenney
p. 1999
Oxford University Press

   I've observed that a common mistake that contemporary observers of popular music make is to equate the industry which has developed to sell recorded music with the subject of music itself.  For someone whose time horizon is bounded by the period after WWII, this equation makes some amount of sense.  After all, the story of music between 1945 and say.... 2005 is the story of  the recorded music industry itself.

  But it wasn't always the case, especially when you consider that the phonograph and recorded music itself did not exist prior to 1890.  People had to learn the relationship between recorded sound, music and their own lives.  It's an interesting subject, and quite a pity that it has been so thoroughly neglected- to the point where this was the single book I could find on the subject.  In the first chapter, Kenney defines the significance of recorded music in American life during this period as follows:

  The phonograph and recorded sound served as instruments in an ongoing process of individual and group recognition in which images of the past and the present could be mixed in an apparently timeless suspension that often seemed to defy the relentless corrosion of historical change. (Introduction XIX)
  Unfortunately, the ten page introduction is the high point of this book.  What follows the introduction is occasionally interesting, such as the chapter focusing on the marketing and sale of recorded music prior to the depression.  Kenney points out the development of an industry focused on "hits" was something that arose only AFTER the depression brought the recorded music business to its knees.  Prior to the depression, companies sought to sell and stock the widest possible range of types of recordings in an effort to achieve something like corporate omnipotence.

  Kenney includes chapters on the African American and Hillbilly experience with the recorded music industry that sounded like they had been lifted from other books- nothing new there.  If I have to read one more description of how African American recording artists were stripped of their copyrights and cheated out of money owed them, I will scream.  To his credit, Kenney notes that to a man, all of the artists who are now seen as "victims" were beyond eager to offer up their services- often willing to be recorded for free just to get their music "out there."  Huh- does that sound familiar to anyone in the audience?

  I've been doing my best to read about the history of the recorded music industry in an attempt to find some reassurance that the recent cratering of the sale of recorded music is an anomaly.   Honestly, I do believe that to be the case.  Recorded music sales in the US have cratered on multiple occasions: the introduction of radio in the 1920s, the great depression in the 30s, the ban on recordings during World War II in the 40s and the rise of the mp3 in the 90s.  Recorded music has survived all of these traumas, because, at a very basic level recorded music and the purveyors of recorded music help audiences deal with the confusion, displacement and anomie that seem to characterize modern life.  Record companies may go bankrupt, specific artists may live and die in poverty, but recorded music serves an important function in society as a preserver of collective memory, and that function is stronger then the destruction allegedly wrought by Mediafire and Napster(or the Great Depression, World War II or the invention of Radio.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Charles Dickens Is Relevant

Charles Dickens

Dickens: His Private Life And Public Passion
by Peter Ackroyd
p. 1991

  If ever there was a writer who deserved an eleven hundred page biography, Charles Dickens is that writer.  His output was prolific, and you can say things like "most popular novelist in the 19th century."  His Amazon page hardly does him justice.  What is striking about the life of Charles Dickens is that he was a celebrity in the most modern sense of the word, but be was a celebrity in the UK, Europe and US in the early to mid 19th century.  Certainly you can say that his work defined his generation.

  What most stands out about the life of Dickens is first, his extraordinary energy and productivity,  and second, his life long concern with his audience.  It was an audience that took different shapes.  There was his readership, of course- people who subscribed to the periodicals he edited and the ones which carried his serialized novels.  But there were also the people who watched him as an amateur actor in plays that were put on before aristocrats and wealthy literary folk.  For the last part of his life, his primary source of income was money earned on tours where he would read from his hits.  He spend a considerable amount of time just perfecting his live performance so to speak, and it's interesting to contemplate the way Dickens novels were influence by older forms of art in the UK like Elizabethan Theater.

  Ackroyd points out that even though Dickens was a man who defined the Victorian Era, he himself was closer to being an "early" or "proto" Victorian in that he was a man who believed in strict, racially based imperialism and wasn't afraid to laugh at cripples on the street. Dickens was also similar to modern celebrities in that he was obsessed with what people thought, and thought people were always trying to find out what he was doing.  For example, when he divorced his wife of 22 years so he could take a much younger mistress (unproven but obvious), he wrote a public letter where he denounced her because he thought everyone was talking about his young mistress, when in fact, nobody gave a s***.  The obsession with negative feedback seems endemic to artistic feedback and celebrity going wayyyy back.

Other Posts About Charles Dickens On This Blog

Book Review:  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens11/20/14
Book Review: Dickens and His Readers: Aspects of Novel Criticism Since 1836 by George H. Ford. 3/25/13
Book Review: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, 3/17/13.
Book Review:  Dickens Worlds by Humphrey House, 3/8/13
Book Review: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, 9/21/12
Book Review: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 8/23/12
Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 7/17/12.
Book Review: The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens, 6/19/12.
Book Review: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, 6/7/12.

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