Jonathon S. Epstein, ed. Adolescents and Their Music: If It's Too Loud You're Too Old. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994. xxxiv + 401 pp. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8153-0614-6.
Reviewed by Robert G. Weiner (Mahon Library, University of North Texas)
Published on H-PCAACA (September, 1995)
Adolescents and Their Music is the first volume in a series devoted to "New Directions in Sociology." This collection of fourteen essays and an extended annotated bibliography, put together by Jonathon S. Epstein, represents the current wave of sociological popular music scholarship. This book represents an attempt to define what the adolescence and youth subculture means and how popular music fits into that meaning. The primary audience for this collection consists of sociologists, popular music scholars, and the general public.
The first essay, by Denna Weinstein, "Rock: Youth and Its Music," discusses the various ways in which rock music has been the target of social critics and the political elite since its inception.
Lawrence Grossberg's article looks at "The Political Status of Youth Culture." He argues that youth and its cultural surroundings are "intimately tied to the media" (26). While his essay is an excellent discussion of the effects of the mass "media culture" on youth, he only briefly alludes to rock music's influence in this process. This essay does not seem to fit very well into the overall scope of the book.
Donna Gains looks at the suburban subcultures in New York City. This article is of great interest because it looks at a specific case study of a "do it yourself hard-core scene." Gains also briefly looks at the role fanzines or 'zines play in the process of fostering and nurturing a subculture. Given the rise of 'zine culture throughout the 1990s, this provides a good starting point for further research into that area. As Gains points out, a "good 'zine helps...[keep]...the spirit of community going..." (p. 57).
Daniel Dotter's article on the deviant lifestyle of early Rock performers is an interesting combination of sociological theory and history.
Robert Sardiello looks at how "secular rituals" have played a role in creating a community of followers of the band, The Grateful Dead. These fans, known as Deadheads, have created their own unique form of culture and mores. Aside from a few historical errors, Sardiello does present a convincing case that ritual and symbol have played a key role in creating a Deadhead subculture.
Joseph A. Kotarba and Venise Berry look at forms of popular music considered by some to be a source of depravity: Heavy Metal and Rap Music. Kotarba looks specifically at the metal group Metallica and the role of its music in giving young people something to relate to and find meaning in, as its music relates to the postmodernization of society. He points out that "Metallica serves as a primary cultural resource for many of its audience members" (p. 142).
Similarly, Berry's article defends rap music against its bad reputation by pointing out the tremendous value it has in speaking to black urban youths. She contends that the negative press rap music has received is really unjustified.
Perhaps the most interesting article is Thaddeus Coreno's essay on "Guerilla Music." Coreno argues that much of today's popular music is not really threatening to the status quo. The avant-garde in art, music, film, and politics can play a role in the "call for an overhaul of the status quo" (p. 203). He states further that avant-garde music must be "subversive ... in order to puncture the womb of dominant ideology" (p. 208). Although Coreno alludes to the importance of bands like Trobbing Gristle and Zoviet France in nurturing the avant-garde in the 1970s and 1980s, he could have made his case even stronger if he had discussed those bands and others like them in more detail. Examination of influential publications like The Industrial Culture Handbook, Industrial Nation, or Chris Cutler's File under Popular would have enhanced his discussion even further.
Other essays discuss the chart-topping songs of the 1980s that deal with men/women relationships, a case study of two concerts where crowd crushes occurred, themes in song titles from the alternative music scene, and the role behavior of semi-professional musicians. The last chapter is a useful annotated bibliography of recent sociological popular music scholarship.
One idea that prevails throughout the text is that adolescence is a hard word to define. The wide variety of topics in the essays illustrate this. At worst, Adolescents and Their Music becomes so bogged down in jargon and theory that the general public won't be able to make much sense of it; at best, this is an excellent resource for sociologists and popular music scholars.
Libraries with strong sociology, music, or popular culture collections will find this volume a welcome addition. This text will, no doubt, be referred to again and again as popular music continues to be a source of study in academia. Epstein has done a fine job of putting this collection of essays together.
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Robert G. Weiner. Review of Epstein, Jonathon S., ed., Adolescents and Their Music: If It's Too Loud You're Too Old.
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