English | Studies in American Culture
L384 | 25258 | Ed Comentale


L384 25258 STUDIES IN AMERICAN CULTURE
Ed Comentale

1:00p-2:15p TR (30 students) 3 cr.  A&H.

TOPIC:   “Music/Lyrics/Voice – Popular Music and Modern American
Culture”

This course will explore American popular music, focusing
specifically on songs and performances of the early to mid-twentieth
century. We will trace the evolution of popular music – from ballads
and broadsides to blues and country music and ultimately rockabilly
and pop – as it responds to specific regional and cultural crisis.
Our first set of questions will explore the very basic phenomenology
of song. What is song? How does it exist in our world? What are its
unique aesthetic qualities? What is the relationship between music
and text? Music and performance? Another set of questions will
address the specific qualities and values of popular song. What does
it mean for a song to be popular? What is the relationship between a
popular song and its cultural moment? How does popular song arise
and respond to particular historical crises? Another, more material
set of questions will link popular song to early twentieth-century
culture and history. How does popular song address the often violent
experiences of modernity? How does it respond to significant
experiences of alienation and exploitation? How does it address
changing regional audiences and the experience of migration? How
does it evolve in relation to the growth of modern technology and
the expansion of the consumer market? How do innovations in popular
musical form reflect and respond to similarly radical innovations in
other modern arts?

We will explore the music of both major and minor figures, including
Charley Patton, Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Mamie Smith, Bessie
Smith, Muddy Waters, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Jimmie Rodgers, the
Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Cole Porter,
Irving Berlin, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly,
Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, etc. We will read work by musicologists,
music historians, cultural historians, and critical theorists: Greil
Marcus, Nick Tosches, Peter Guralnick, Simon Frith, David Brackett,
Theodor Adorno, Roland Barthes, Brian Massumi, Charles Altieri,
Susan Sontag.

Students will be required to keep up with a heavy listening and a
heavy reading load, and they will be responsible for one in-class
report and two long research papers. This is an upper-division,
discussion-based course, so both attendance and participation are
also mandatory.

Students are not required to have prior training in music or music
history, but any knowledge of these subjects would certainly be
helpful.