Last Thoughts

April 26, 2007

Thanks for a great class. I particularly appreciated your suggestions & responses in class today. I’ll do my best to incorporate them in future versions of the class. If there’s anything else you want to say, this is the place. (Comments here count toward your totals for grading purposes.)

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Here is a portrait of the jazz singer Diana Reeves. Her music is well worth a listen. Before reading this, I didn’t know anything about her biography.

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A Real-Life Rob

April 3, 2007

Here is a memoir, Love is a Mix Tape, by Rob Sheffield (he’s even named Rob!), someone who appears to be a lot like the Rob from the Hornby novel we’re reading. I heard about it — & heard him interviewed — on this radio show, which sort of boils this whole class down into a single hour. There is also an interview with Sister Rosetta Tharp, who may have invented rock n roll & an interview with novelist Jonathan Lethem about his novel You Don’t Love Me Yet, about an alternative rock band in LA.

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Possible Mini-Project

April 3, 2007

Someone could make a list with record numbers, etc. of all the songs mentioned in High Fidelity.


March 30, 2007

Well, I didn’t make my noon deadline, but all the essays that came in through Turnitin are graded now.

Open discussion. Put your thoughts here.

Follow-up question: It is easy to criticize Rob for putting everything in terms of pop music, but would we be so critical, say, if he used classical music in the same way? Or the kind of art you find in art galleries? Is part of our frustration — as well as Laura’s & other characters’ — that Rob finds meaning in mass culture rather than elite culture?

Janis: A Personal Take

March 28, 2007

Janis Joplin was not cool. She wasn’t pretty. She was outrageously sexy. (Ninety percent of popular music is about sex, the other ten percent is about getting high. American popular music has a habit of pushing the limits of what is socially acceptable.) She danced funny. She took drugs & drank. She screamed when she sang. And yet her performances are mesmerizing. And however fucked up she may have been, in the recorded audio & video that we can examine, she always knew what she was ding on stage. She always knew where she was in the music. Watch the performances closely & you will see that she is clearly the leader of the band. (I’d also argue that she never in her brief life had a band that was up to her level of talent.) She was also a woman fronting a band at a time when most women were consigned to the role of backup singer or groupie. Janis Joplin was a great deal like Ma Rainey, another unattractive woman who insisted on having her way. Who insisted on artistic integrity. And who also, even though she understood the business of record-making, refused to be turned into a commodity. In a couple of the interview segments, Joplin says she doesn’t “write” songs but “makes them up.” She says of her concerts that they are “not just performance.” Maybe this is just so much hippie bullshit, but if we take her at her word, and then listen, I’d argue that she is trying to tell us something about what she’s doing. So, no, Janis wasn’t cool. She wasn’t a package that would fit nicely into a music video format. In fact, she hardly ever got played on the radio, except for the rocker “Piece of My Heart,” which she uses as a kind of happy encore in the film, bringing her fans up onto the stage to dance with her. But the song that frames the film is the previous number, “Ball and Chain,” which also opens the film. The song is originally by Big Mama Thornton, yet another strong woman who “didn’t take no shit off no one.” Joplin’s performance of that song, it seems to me, is definitive. As a performance, it makes the human voice into a kind of pre-verbal cry, erasing, at its most intense, the literal meaning of the words, breaking them down into syllables & repeating the syllables until they are no longer language, but pure music. And then she brings us back to language. Joplin’s performance of “Ball and Chain” starts with a person “looking out the window,” then, using the medium of the blues, descends into the depths of despair, taking the willing listener along on the journey, before returning us to ourselves. Except that if we have been open to the experience, we return changed. That’s what I meant in class when I talked about an “almost religious” experience. That journey, by the way, is also a fundamental structure of literature.

Turtle Blues

Ball and Chain (07_Ball_And_Chain.mp3)