In the latest installment of our Popular Music Pedagogy Series, Gregory Weinstein shares his experience teaching a course called Glam at Davidson College. He has also shared the syllabus, which is included below, as well as on our Pedagogy page.
Despite its name, this course focused not on a musical genre, but rather, on an analytical perspective that can be applied across musical forms and communities. The course opened with a discussion of Philip Auslander’s analysis of “glam” performance, and we concentrated especially on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust-era experiments in performance persona. Bowie superbly confounded audience expectations about how identity is expressed through pop culture, blurring the normative boundary between the concert stage (where a performer assumes a persona) and the backstage realms where the performer reveals his “authentic” self.
Thus, we used Bowie as a core analytical model through which we could approach a wide range of other materials. Some of the materials put forward in the course bear a fairly obvious connection to Bowie and other 1970s “glam” artists: Alice Cooper, the Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, Lady Gaga. However, we also pushed the idea of glam performance in some fairly unconventional directions, such as the performance of blackness on the 19th century minstrel stage, Bob Dylan’s transition from a folk to a rock persona, and the notion of masculinity in castrato operatic performances.
The diversity of topics was essential to the success of this course because it reinforced my core objectives for students to develop an inclusive critical perspective on performance across historical eras and cultural milieus, and to understand how performance contexts might powerfully assault invisible social and cultural values. To this end, Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner’s essay “Sex in Public” was a valuable theoretical complement to our engagement with Bowie, and it was the other core theoretical lens for the course. Berlant and Warner’s formulation of (and challenge to) heteronormativity informed our analysis of a great many of our objects of study. The broad critique of normativity was the glue that bound together our look at Dylan, where we encountered his rejection of a normative American folk identity; Weimar cabaret, which pushed at the boundaries of interwar sexual normativity; and 1980s “hair” metal, which paradoxically subverted normative codes of gender signification, even while it reinforced misogynistic elements within rock culture.
Not every element of this course was fully successful: when I teach it next, I will do more to bring a multimedia pedagogical perspective to students’ encounters with course materials—an approach that I believe is particularly suited to the study of a performance concept that is itself broadly characterized by an engagement with various media. However, I found that students were drawn to the openness of the “glam” concept, and that they responded by not only engaging with the topics and case studies I selected, but also by extending our course themes to a wide variety of musical cultures that interested them personally. The students demonstrated tremendous creativity and independence in developing final projects that enhanced our understanding of the meanings of “glam.” This is, for me, the most rewarding possible course outcome, and what I believe makes a course experience most valuable for students, too: a level of engagement that goes beyond an in-class work with required texts and sees students personalize the readings and themes, and use them to engage with cultures they encounter elsewhere in the world.
Gregory Weinstein holds a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago, and is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing and Music at Davidson College. His research centers on the creative processes of the recording studio, particularly classical music “works” are constructed through the act of recording, and the ways in which the relationships between recordists and musicians have been shaped by the decades-old post-Fordist trend in the recording industry.
We are always accepting submissions to our Popular Music Pedagogy Series. Please refer to our submission guidelines for more details. If you have any questions about the Pedagogy Series, please email Victor Szabo at email@example.com.