Musicological Blogging and the Obligatory Post
HENCE... this obligatory musicological post on music and guilty pleasures and my new musicological interests.
Recently on Rebecca's and the Musicology/Matters blogs, there have been discussions about the guilty musical pleasures of the musicologist. I have often felt guilty about my great love for popular music, esp. that of the punk rock variety. Most musicologists would consider it to be near treason to listen to as much punk rock as I do, since it is viewed as being so 'simplistic' musically. Obviously, if you are a formalist or an organicist, punk rock must not quite cut it (at least on the surface). One of my professors got very incensed during a seminar when the topic of popular music study was broached. "But HOW can it compare to classical music in any way, shape or form?! To Beethoven, to Brahms, to Schubert?! It just doesn't!" Never mind that he only quoted three composers from a specific section of the canon (19thC German Romantic)... and left out a whole slew of music that is considered by the majority as canonical. However, during a discussion with another musicologist on "what is HOT, and what's not" in our discipline, my friend tried to convince me that popular music is now where it's at and what everyone is studying. I honestly surprised and unconvinced: if that is so, then why are popular music studies still marginalized in the general AMS meeting? The popular music sessions were held during the 2pm Thursday session (when most people hadn't arrived yet) and the Sunday AM session (when most people had already left or were too knackered to attend more papers), while the majority of the other sessions were full of either mainstream or fairly acceptable studies of canonic repertoire. Cultural studies are clearly in the more mainstream, judging by the traditional fare in JAMS and other journals and at AMS, but clearly studying music of other cultures and that of the more mainstream American culture is not. We all experience these feelings of guilt. Why is that? We are forward-thinking, liberal academics. Why should we feel guilty about appreciating other musics?
Yet we all feel it. We all have our own niches of music that we won't touch and disregard as rubbish or beneath us. I feel this way about most rap music, R&B, top 40 and popular country music written after 1980. How can I call myself a free-thinking academic open to cultural studies of all musics if I can't bring myself to tolerate even a microsecond of Shania Twain or Britney Spears? That so many people listen to Britney Spears and are obsessed with all of the details of her life tells us something about our culture, even if it is something that we dislike or don't want to know. It seems unethical as academics to ignore that which makes us uncomfortable that which we do not understand or does not interest us just because there are musics or cultures out there who are more interesting. It seems that we are ignoring an important part of humanity to discount any cultural artifact as unworthy of inspection.
I know that I'm going to make more of an effort to find what is worthwhile in every music I can, even though I might not write my dissertation on it. In the end, we need to study what interests us, or else we won't have the motivation to finish it. Even if Britney Spears or Madonna aren’t your cup of tea as a musicologist, there is no point in shooting a sister or brother musicologist in the foot for her or his interest in it. We all have our pieces of cake and sometimes we’ve got to eat them too.