Mike Roberts978-0-8223-5475-8_pr

In Tell Tchaikovsky the news: Rock ‘n’ Roll, the Labor Question, and the Musicians’ Union, 1942–1968 (Duke University Press, 2014), Michael James Roberts investigates the response of the American Federation of Musicians to the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. The AFM never actively organized rock ‘n’ roll musicians, and often even specifically excluded them from membership—even though recruiting them would have been to the union’s political and economic advantage. Roberts persuasively argues that the union’s failures with regard to rock ‘n’ roll can be found in the intersection of race and class, and in the cultural biases of the overwhelmingly classical and jazz musicians that constituted the union’s core membership and leadership. I recently spoke with Roberts about his work on Tell Tchaikovsky the News, and the broader artistic and political implications of his research.

Greg Weinstein: To start off, perhaps you can tell me a bit of the biographical background of the project, how you came to this topic and how it’s changed over the years as you’ve worked on it.

Michael James Roberts: When I was a grad student in New York, I got hired by the AFM local in New York, Local 802, to do research on the changing structure in the recording industry. What they were concerned with at that time—and this is the early 2000s—was how the recording industry had changed over the past couple decades, where the major record labels mainly controlled the recording industry through distribution, no longer through production. The main problem for labor unions was if the big corporations can claim that legally all they’re doing is distributing products, they can say, “Well, we’re not the actual employer of the workers who are making the products.” All the products are being produced for these big corporate conglomerates, but they can claim that, because they have a subcontractor who’s in charge of making the products, that they’re not legally bound to a labor contract. I was looking at the situation in the early 2000s, and the musicians’ union was concerned that there were a whole bunch of independent labels which were not signatories to the contract. The union was trying to figure out what kind of strategy could they develop as a way to organize the musicians who are making music on these so-called independent labels. The main active members of the union are classical musicians and jazz musicians, and it’s been that way for decades.

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David Sanjek Graduate Student Paper Prize

by Victor Szabo on May 3, 2016

The committee for the David Sanjek Graduate Student Paper Prize of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music – US Branch (IASPM-US) invites graduate students who will be presenting at the 2016 IASPM-US and Canada conference to submit their papers for consideration.

Eligibility: Any student who presents, in person, a formal paper at the 2016 meeting is eligible for the prize. A student shall be defined as a person pursuing an active course of studies in a degree program. This includes persons who are engaged in writing the doctoral dissertation but not those who are teaching full-time while doing so. Student applicants must be members of IASPM-US. (IASPM Canada will hold its own competition, distinct from that of the US branch.)

Application Process: To apply for the prize, candidates must electronically submit a copy of their paper to 2016sanjekprize@gmail.com along with a brief bio (75 words) and copy of their conference registration receipt. Paper submissions should be in Word or pdf format.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, May 20 at 11:59 pm. The paper deposited is to be the version that is read at the conference and may not exceed twelve double-spaced pages (roughly 3,900 words).

The winner will be announced at the general business meeting at the annual conference. The award includes a prize of $500.

Please feel free to email the chair of the committee, Eric Hung (msumeric@gmail.com), if you have any questions.

Committee:  Andrew Flory, Kariann Goldschmitt, Eric Hung


AllisonwithMiccropMcCracken Real Men book

Allison McCracken’s Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture (Duke 2015) outlines crooning’s history from its origins in minstrelsy through its development as the microphone sound most associated with white recording artists, band singers, and radio stars. She charts early crooners’ rise and fall between 1925 and 1934, contrasting Rudy Vallée with Bing Crosby to demonstrate how attempts to contain crooners created and dictated standards of white masculinity for male singers. The short-lived but massive popularity of crooners, as McCracken compellingly demonstrates, fundamentally changed American culture. Recently, Allison McCracken and I discussed over email the writing of the book, crooning history, and the status of gendered standards for pop singing today.

Victor Szabo: When and how did it become apparent to you that the history of crooning in the U.S. was a history that needed to be told?

Allison McCracken: It was a long time ago, when I was a graduate student in the late 1990s. I was working on a seminar paper on the changes in early microphone technologies, and I stumbled across a newspaper article from 1932 in which Cardinal O’Connell of Boston condemned crooners, saying they were “not men”: “whining and crying as the singer does, there is no man in America who would not feel disgusted.” I was easily able to find a few similar reports that indicated a large backlash against these singers from a wide range of cultural authorities during 1932–34. I was fascinated that these white middle-class men’s voices had provoked so much anxiety and had resulted in such direct attacks (the words used to attack them were the same ones used to attack jazz music). It seemed obvious to me that there was a story there, one that involved addressing the unprecedented popularity of radio’s crooning voices—which I had not heard of before—as well as the specifics of their regulation. My visit to Rudy Vallée’s vast personal archive at the American Radio Archives in Thousand Oaks California (an absolute gold mine of material from the era) convinced me that this project was a book—indeed, could be several books. At the time, the only scholarly or popular attention this story had received was from radio historian Thomas DeLong in the early ‘80s, who reported it objectively, and prominent cultural and music historians from the 1970s–90s who were entirely dismissive of crooners as reactionary social forces; the music historians, in particular, often employed homophobic and effemiphobic language that parroted the attacks against crooners from the 1930s. It was the persistence of this discourse in relation to male pop singers (and their audiences) over these many decades that made me realize how formative and foundational this era was, not only in American pop singing but in the gendered circulation of standards for white male vocals generally that have continued to mark certain kinds of male voices (high-pitched, wide-ranging, emotionally intense) as insufficiently masculine.

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JamesTaylorLivingroomJoni Mitchell Graham Nash

“I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul.”
Cat Stevens, “The Wind” (1971)

“From time to time you get the feeling that you want to disengage yourself from your life. You want to withdraw into some kind of solitary contemplation—a locked room or a quiet corner of your mind—just to think about everything for a while.”
Advertisement: Leonard Cohen ‘Songs from a Room,’ Rolling Stone, No. 33, 17 May 1969

The whimsical opening lines of Cat Stevens’s “The Wind” (1971) and the listening practices described in the advertisement for Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room (1969) perfectly encapsulate the introspection that motivated the singer-songwriter movement in the U.S. during the 1970s. The music prompted listeners to retreat from the world and find themselves. To most listeners, singer-songwriters are not simply artists who write and perform original music, but the artists who present their music through notions of personal story telling, displays of vulnerability, and perceptions of intimate performance, which reinforce this mode of listening and identity searching. My research locates this musical aesthetic as one that coalesced in Los Angeles, home to Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, and many others, and which coincided with broader trends of “self-discovery” sweeping through 1970s culture. As singer-songwriters confessed their personal accounts, the music allowed listeners to indulge in the same act of self-reflection.

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IASPM-US: Call for Assistant Web Editor

by Greg Weinstein on April 5, 2016

The executive committee of IASPM-US is currently seeking applicants to fill the position of Assistant Web Editor.

The Assistant Web Editor commits to a 21-month volunteer position that begins May 2016. In the first nine months, primary responsibilities include managing social media networks for IASPM-US (FacebookTwitterMixcloud), writing the monthly IASPM-US website email digest, and assisting the Executive Web Editor, Greg Weinstein, in generating content for the website. After the 2017 meeting of IASPM-US, the Assistant Web Editor will take on the position of Executive Web Editor, becoming the primary point person for website-related tasks, including: maintaining and generating content for the website; working with the executive committee and program committee to keep the organization updated about elections, annual conference details, and other IASPM-US-related business; addressing the executive committee and broader membership with an annual report at the IASPM-US conference; and training the incoming Assistant Web Editor. The executive committee is particularly interested in applicants who are adept at social media networking, blogging, and content curation. While there are no technical prerequisites to the position, a working knowledge of WordPress is advantageous. There is a modest stipend for the Executive Web Editor.

To apply for the position, please send a 300-500 word personal statement to iaspmus@gmail.com, including a brief biography, list of accomplishments, and what skills and ideas you would contribute to the position. Applications must be received by April 29, 2016.

Please direct any questions to the current Executive & Assistant Web Editors, Victor Szabo and Greg Weinstein, at iaspmus@gmail.com.



Despite the failure of the student protests and worker strikes to create a political revolution in 1968, many young people in France still believed in the revolutionary potential and the coming change. Many musicians began the decade reflecting on the failures of the movement of May 1968 while others were trying to advocate for change in their music. Still others were interested in cultural change, creating new types of music within French pop music and embracing styles explored elsewhere. The collapse of the economic miracle in the early 1970s created many of the same problems in France—inflation, unemployment, racial strife, and dissatisfaction with government institutions—and led to new musical movements there—regional folk-rock, punk, disco, and electronic music—all offering a reaction to social and political climate in France.

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Jarek Paul Ervin, 2016

1970s punk is curiously iconic. From the Ramones T-shirts that adorn racks in suburban shopping malls to the CBGB-themed restaurant that recently opened in Newark Airport, we are surrounded by images of punk. Most of such representations focus on screeching vocals and buzzsaw guitars, leather jackets, heroin, and the grit and grime of downtown NYC. Punk is practically a caricature today, something made apparent by the ease with which the new HBO series Vinyl dresses up Scorsese’s usual Goodfellas­ gangsters in seventies rock drag.

On the ground floor, though, punk music turns out to be pretty slippery. More than just the usual ambiguities that affect any given genre, punk artists often seem to deliberately eschew stylistic commonality. This has only intensified as punk has grown into a global phenomenon, a situation that has given rise to dozens of (often competing) visions of its sound.

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Robin JamesR&M

In Resilience & Melancholy: pop music, feminism, neoliberalism (Zer0 2015), Robin James listens to popular music to hear how it sounds resilience–a performance of feminine overcoming that ultimately feeds and strengthens white supremacist patriarchy–then locates popular music that is melancholic–a failed overcoming that routes power and wealth away from white supremacist patriarchy. She builds her argument by combining close readings of critical theory with close listenings of popular music: it is, as she puts it, “both philosophy of music and philosophy through music.” Not for nothing, it’s pop music analysis that should be a crucial part of what we do in popular music studies moving forward, as James’s theory of soars and drops both informs our understanding of early ’10s music and creates a template that could shape similar theoretical filters we can use to better hear pop and related genres in critical theoretical terms. James, who has upcoming presentations at PhiloSOPHIA in Denver (1:15-3, Saturday 12 March…and then don’t miss her DJ set from 9-11 that night), as part of Columbia University’s Center for Race, Philosophy & Social Justice Speaker Series (12:15-2, Friday 25 March), and at the annual POP Conference in Seattle (9am, Saturday 16 April), spent some time talking in detail about Resilience & Melancholy with Justin Burton.

Justin D Burton: The two main ideas that frame the book are your theorizations of “resilience” and “melancholy” (hey, nice title!). Without asking you to rewrite the book, could you give us a brief rundown of these two terms and how what you do with them departs from colloquial usage of the same words?

Robin James: Yeah, you’re right–these two concepts, which I’m using in a quite technical and specific sense, are the phenomena I see tying some particular aspects of contemporary gender politics to some specific pop music aesthetics and practices.

Resilience is the practice of making evident a lot of noisy damage so that you can then spectacularly overcome it in a way that produces surplus value for both you (in the form of, say, human or social capital) and for society as a whole. You can think of it like shock-doctrine capitalism for the individual psyche, especially the individual psyches of people from oppressed groups. Resilience is a specific type of therapeutic overcoming. It has three steps: (1) perform damage so that others can see, feel, and understand it; (2) recycle or overcome that damage, so that you come out ahead of where you were even before the damage hit; (3) pay that surplus value–that value added by recycling–to some hegemonic institution, like white supremacist patriarchy, or capital, or the State, something like that. This isn’t just coping–it’s a very, very specific form of coping designed to get individuals to perform the superficial trappings of recovery from deep, systemic issues, all the while reinforcing and intensifying the very systemic issues it claims to solve. Resilience is how patriarchy hides behind superficial feminist liberation, how white supremacy hides behind superficial multiculturalism.

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IASPM-US Election Results

by Victor Szabo on February 19, 2016

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s election. The membership has elected the following individuals to the Board of Directors and Executive Committee:

Esther Morgan-Ellis

S. Alexander Reed

Open Seats
Robin James
Daniel Goldmark


IASPM-US 2016 Officer Election Ballot

by Victor Szabo on February 5, 2016

The ballot for this year’s IASPM-US election has gone out to all members. The deadline for voting is Wednesday, February 17th. If you are a member of the organization and expected to receive a ballot but did not, please contact Rebekah Farrugia at farrugia@oakland.edu.


IASPM-US Website CFP: 2016 Mixtape Series

February 1, 2016

Text + image by schoolboy-ra, http://schoolboy-ra.tumblr.com   “My mixtape bring / All the boys to the yard” -Nicki Minaj, “Playtime Is Over” The IASPM-US website seeks digital mixes for the third run of our annual mixtape series. Mixtapes (aka mixes, podcasts, or playlists) are phonographic anthologies capable of telling stories and expressing identity through ideas and emotions, […]

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IASPM-US Interview Series: Travis L. Gosa and Erik Nielson, eds., The Hip Hop and Obama Reader

January 14, 2016

In The Hip Hop and Obama Reader (Oxford UP, 2015), editors Travis L. Gosa and Erik Nielson examine the complicated and often tumultuous relationship between the Obama administration and hip hop culture. The collection brings together writings from some of the most notable scholars in the area of hip hop culture, and is the first hip […]

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Research Fellowship Opportunity with the Southern Folklife Collection

December 18, 2015

The Southern Folklife Collection is pleased to announce the Southern Folklife Research Fellowship Program. Created through support from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the program seeks to broadly support humanities scholarship, disseminate content, encourage research, and increase exposure of the Southern Folklife Collection. The program will provide travel funds of up to $1,500 per fellow, […]

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Call for Applications: Popular Music Study Group of the American Musicological Society

December 8, 2015

Popular Music Study Group of the American Musicological Society Case Western Reserve University 2016 Junior Faculty Symposium Location: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH June 14 – 16, 2016 Application Deadline: January 31, 2016 In response to many members’ call for more substantial career development programs, the Popular Music Study Group of the American Musicological […]

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Call for 2015 End-of-Year Lists

December 7, 2015

December: ‘Tis the season in pop music for retrospection, inventory taking, list making, and ranking. Care to join the commentariat? How does your year in music stack up? The IASPM-US Web Editors invite members to share their 2015 end-of-year lists to be posted on the website. These lists may be fun or critical (or both), personal or political (or both), genre-specific […]

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