American Rock Journalism
PD Dr. Ulf Schulenberg und Dr. Marcel Hartwig (University of Siegen)
The worlds of rock journalism and academia have so far often seemed incompatible. Even at the beginning of the 21st century, it still seems easier to imagine an academic elaborating on Adorno’s interpretation of Schönberg than on the multilayered complexity of the term “pop”. Undoubtedly, a lot has changed with the establishment of cultural studies in the 1970s and 1980s. However, one also has to see that rock journalism has so far played only a minor role for the field of American Studies. This is deplorable insofar as rock journalism can teach one much about America. Would it seem too frivolous to advance the idea that after the much-debated demise of the hipster it is the American rock journalist who is capable of elucidating the complexities of style, form, and myth? The American rock journalist, it seems, is also an Americanist seeking to appreciate his homeland. As far as this attempt at understanding is concerned, one only has to think of what is still one of the most fascinating texts of American rock journalism: Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music (1975). That Marcus intends to approach his topic in an Americanist manner already becomes obvious in the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book. He writes: “What I have to say in Mystery Train grows out of records, novels, political writings; the balance shifts, but in my intentions, there isn’t any separation” (ibid: xi). Refusing any kind of separation between the different kinds of material he discusses, Marcus underscores that what he brings to his book is “a recognition of unities in the American imagination that already exist” (ibid: xi).
What Marcus focuses on is what he terms “the resonance of the best American images” (ibid: xi). What, one might feel tempted to ask, would be the resonance of those images at the beginning of the 21st century? What this boils down to is that American Studies can learn a lot from rock journalism, while the latter at least to a certain degree can be regarded as a variation of the former.
In his book Sound Effects (1981: 168) popular music scholar Simon Frith identifies the ideology of rock as being “valued for its political stance, its aggression, its sexuality, [and] its relationship to cultural struggle.” Frith here draws attention to the codes and practices of rock music and locates its meaning-makers in fan communities (ibid 165), a great part of which may also be identified as autodidactic and (semi-)professional rock journalists. As makers of meaning, rock journalists are institutionalized among others in music journals, fansites, and blogs. There they define and circulate criteria of individualism, authenticity, independence (as opposed to mainstream), and originality – this practice results in a fluid body of manifestations of distinct American myths.
Moreover, American Rock Journalism is also dependent on corporate structures due to its strong connection with the music industries. As such this practice renders a field of post-industrial struggle in providing services that can be regarded both as branded and corporate but – with regard to the locus of fan communities – by the same token also as autonomous. As a cultural practice, American Rock Journalism further establishes and circulates tropes of youth cultures that determine criteria for the respective politics and styles.
We welcome 500-word abstracts from rock journalists as well as from scholars of cultural studies, media studies, English and American studies, and sociology. Participants could trace individual ‘texts’, magazines, formats, genres, or politics as well as explore the theoretical and aesthetic dimensions of the practice of American Rock Journalism.
Themes for papers could include, but of course are not limited to:
- the aesthetics and rhetorics of rock journalism
- the role of individual magazines, (for instance, Creem, Spin, Pitchfork)
- the influence of magazines such as NME or The Wire on American Rock Journalism
- rock journalism and fanzines
- the role of individual rock critics (the idiosyncrasies of style)
- the autonomy and agency of the rock critic
- rock journalism and hipsterism
- rock writing and bohemia
- hipsterati, style signifiers, and cultural capital
- rock writing and nostalgia (“retromania”)
- rock journalism and the dialectics of class and race
- rock journalism and gender/the role of female rock critics
- the rock critic and work/making a living as a rock critic
- online rock journalism
- late capitalism and the change in entertainment industries
- rock journalism and the phenomenon of pop
- rock writing and fashion journalism
- rock journalism and glamour
- rock journalism and politics
- rock journalism and the notion of resistance
- rock writing, authenticity, and irony
- rock journalism and American myths
- the future of rock journalism
Please e-mail abstracts and a short CV to firstname.lastname@example.org and to email@example.com by September 2, 2013.
The conference will take place at the University of Siegen from February 28 to March 1, 2014.
Dr. Marcel Hartwig
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