Saturday, July 27, 2013
July 27-28, 2013: Crowd-sourced Hits
[This week’s series has focused on how AmericanStudies can help us analyze some of our most ambiguous pop music classics. This chart-topping crowd-sourced post is drawn from the responses and analyses of fellow AmericanStudiers—add your takes, please!]
Following up Thursday’s Madonna post, Matt Cogswell writes, “I love all things Madonna, and I have always felt that people missed the points being made in ‘Like A Prayer,’ especially in its video. Many fail to point out that the Jesus character is the one to help a woman who has essentially just been raped and stabbed. Then, because he is black, that man takes the fall when he is completely innocent. It's also interesting to note that on the original Like A Prayer album, that 'God?' line is not there. That happens on the Immaculate Collection album, inspired by the Blond Ambition concert, when she shouts out ‘God?’ after masturbating in ‘Like A Virgin,’ which makes the song very much an appeal for salvation.”
Nancy Caronia follows up Friday’s Bruce post, writing, “It’s so funny, that album is so melancholy to me that it pushes past the outlaw romanticism to the demise of the American Dream.”
Joshua Eyler highlights Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and Five For Fighting’s “Superman” as two songs well worth AmericanStudying. He writes, “‘GYBR’ takes Oz and turns it on its head a bit. Elton John is reflecting on fame, forcing us to rethink our ‘destinations.’ If the Emerald City is fame (with accompanying perils), then we need to leave the YBR to return to home/authenticity. ‘Superman,’ though recorded just before 9/11, ultimately became a sort of cultural touchstone for that time/event. The great hero reflects his desire to be human, to be vulnerable, to put down the heavy weight he carries, to rest. Given the events of the time, it became a reflection on our collective vulnerability and equally collective humanity.”
L.D. Burnett highlights three folk classics: “John Henry,” “Erie Canal,” and “Dan Tucker,” the kind of songs that both she and I connect to Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions.
Erin Kingsley highlights Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock,” a song whose ambiguities were flattened out a bit by the famous Chevrolet ad campaign; absent that link, as Erin writes, “The song is about the (illusory) promise of youth, one of the fundamental premises of Americana, I think.” In response, Osvoldo Oyola argues, “Seger is all about perpetuating myths; reminds me of a piece I wrote a few years ago” on “Old Time Rock and Roll.”
Matt Loveland notes that there are “so many to choose from. Patsy Cline, Woody Guthrie, Willie Nelson, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Buddy Holly, on and on and…” About Guy, he adds, “he’s got an identifiable, mash up style. You’d have to really delve into mid-century blues. The electric guitar story.” And he adds, “Les Paul, Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughn. This is a playlist begging to be made!”
Josh White writes, “The Ramones all day long. Punk has an intellectual history.” Bryan Waterman responds, “Fun read. Though I'd foreground Duchamp/Cage -- at least as vital as Emersonian individualism.” And Josh adds, “Plenty of crossover with New York art students and punk, particularly via Velvets and their fans...” For more of their subsequent conversation, check out the retweets in my Twitter feed!
In response to a prompt about controversial and challenging songs and videos:
And Rob Gosselin mentions when Sinead O’Connor ripped up the photo of the Pope on SNL. Shil Sen adds that “she was singing ‘War,’ by Bob Marley, but I gather that she changed the lyrics a bit to more explicitly refer to child abuse in the Catholic Church.”
Finally, Paul Beaudoin makes a meta-argument about the week’s series, arguing that “In American culture, I can’t think of too many places, outside of music, where ambiguity is an essential element.” Paul also highlights, in response to a Facebook conversation about more and less exemplary pop culture icons, Dreamworlds, a multi-part documentary by UMass Comunications Professor Sut Jhally.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think?