Gimme Shelter: Popular Music and Protection
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio
“Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones demands that we address musical protections, from the aesthetics of shelter to the realities of social upheavals and the equity of intellectual property rights. The song begins as light rain on an overcast day, but it quickly turns into an all-encompassing textural storm, echoed by the opening lyrics, “A storm is threatening my very life today. If I don’t get some shelter, I’m going to fade away.” As the acoustic atmosphere becomes more tumultuous, Merry Clayton joins Mick Jagger, and their entwined vocals pierce the surge and ultimately suggest that “love is just a kiss away.” Written in 1969 during social and political unrest, the song is a lament and an appeal. As such, it offers temporary shelter from everyday violence that renders certain people and struggles invisible. It also offers shelter for the memories of traumatic events, which is perhaps why it has been used in film soundtracks, in American Red Cross commercials, homeless relief projects, and in 2012 news features about Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “Gimme Shelter” has also had its share of controversy in terms of artistic protections, racial appropriation, and even questions concerning labor, safety, and natal health: Clayton miscarried immediately following the recording session. And, this is just one song, albeit a poignant and powerful example, from a rich archive of popular music practices, performances, recordings, spaces, cases, contestations, and controversies that speak to the necessary and unnecessary protections afforded by circulated sounds.
Music can provide musicians and listeners alike a sense of safety, respite, and escape from the storms of everyday living, whether in the studio, in one’s bedroom, or in the concert hall. And popular music in the U.S. has historically thrived in spaces providing temporary shelter for marginalized groups, from the block party to the nightclub. For the disempowered, collective music making, listening, and dancing have long served not just as a social bond, but also as a protective bubble from too-real possibilities of outside violence. Yet music’s power to protect might also seem limited and illusory in light of recent massacres in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and Paris’ Bataclan concert hall. Many have since reasserted music’s power to protect collectives in light of these tragic, destructive acts; many more have sought private solace in mourning with music.
Popular music has also been instrumental in addressing and responding to racist, domestic, and sexual violence, today and yesterday. The rampant police brutality against persons of color in the United States has most recently inspired tributes from artists like Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, D’Angelo, and Eric Garner’s siblings, the latter of whom penned the chilling memorial to their deceased brother, “I Can’t Breathe.” Songs by artists from The Crystals to The Dixie Chicks, Rihanna, and Carrie Underwood have addressed domestic violence with varying degrees of detachment and defiance. Sexual violence, too, has been tackled by artists like Tori Amos and Lady Gaga, while questions of music’s incitement to sexual violence have been drawn in the debate over Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines.” Sometimes popular music, as with much popular entertainment, flirts with and potentially glorifies these forms of harm and violence as well.
With natural-turned-social disasters (we recall Katrina and Sandy), terrorism and militarism, colonialism and neoliberal economic policies, and many feeling they are without protective measure or recourse, we stress there is a timely need to exam the ways in which popular music and protection are related to and shape our sensible, political, ethical, and social worlds. We ask: What storms do we face, and how does music provide shelter? How does popular music serve as call to action, or a gathering of forces, or a mourning of struggle? Where does popular music serve as a shelter, and where does it instead create the need for protection?
Our theme of popular music and protection draws heavily on the rich and topical conversations in academia surrounding the production of safe spaces and the need for them. We also encourage robust critiques of various shelters, such as intellectual property and other legal protections, archival practices and institutionalized protections (such as the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame), and collective claims to shelter. We seek to better understand how music has appealed for protective measures against precarious lives and vulnerable communities. And, we ask how these calls have been responded to in various forms, specifically, social, political, and institutional, including the music industry.
The 2017 IASPM-US Annual Conference will take place from February 23–26, 2017 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Papers focusing on Cleveland are especially welcome.
Papers may address one of the following, often interrelated, subthemes, other issues regarding popular music and protection, or any other topic in the study of popular music.
1. Social, Political, and Legal Protections
In what ways can popular music be understood as a shelter for mourning, as well as for solidarity and community? How does popular music address, work through, or resist state/municipal protections, police/police service, and widespread police brutality? How has popular music become instrumental in social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter? With these issues in mind, what is the relationship between popular music and weapons, as weapons? How do practices in the music industry afford certain protections and not others? How do DIY (do-it-yourself) or underground practices subvert these or replicate them? How does the use of certain genres of music in the legal system reproduce notions of criminality and normativity?
2. Popular Music and the Production of (Un)Safety
What role does popular music play in the conception, creation, and protection of safe spaces? How does music unify, stratify, and mobilize groups in (un)safe spaces? How does music itself create spaces that feel safe or unsafe? How does popular music express and reflect upon vulnerability, harm, and/or safety? How does popular music enact vulnerability, harm, and/or safety? How can we think through popular music’s (in)formal (in)stabilities from theoretical and analytical perspectives?
3. Archives, Preservation, and Education
How do archival and educational practices, curricular decisions, and institutional programming reify or subvert contemporary hegemonic values, beliefs, and resource allocation? How are scholars applying their work to shape these acquisition and dissemination practices inside and outside of conventional learning and collections venues?
4. Trauma, Memory, and Mourning
How has popular music, in theory/performance/practice, been used to protect individual and collective memories? How does popular music memorialize the past, whether traumatic or comforting? How does music contribute to psychological safety? What are popular music’s therapeutic uses?
We welcome proposals on these and other themes. Please submit proposals via a single Word document [labeled with last name_first name.docx] to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 25, 2016. Individual presenters should submit a paper title, 250-word abstract, and author information including full name, institutional affiliation, email address, and a 50-word bio. Panel proposals, specifying either 90 minutes (three presenters) or 120 (four), should include both 125-word overview and 250-word individual proposals (plus author information), or 250-word overview and 50-word bios (plus names, affiliations, and email addresses) for roundtable discussions. Please indicate any audio, visual, or other needs for the presentation; each room will have sound, projector, and an RGB hookup. We also welcome unorthodox proposals that do not meet the above criteria, including ideas for workshops, film screenings, and other non-traditional formats. For more information about the conference, send email inquiries to Jessica Schwartz, program committee chair, at email@example.com. You will receive an email confirming receipt of your submission.
2016 Program Committee:
Jessica Schwartz, University of California, Los Angeles
Amber Clifford-Napoleone, University of Central Missouri
Kellie Hay, Oakland University
Mandy Smith, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame/Case Western Reserve University
Victor Szabo, University of Virginia