For her 1994 version Lauper provocatively incorporated a gloss on another song, Redbone’s Come and get your love, and in the updated music video the original “girls” are replaced by men in drag while the singer arguably performs a drag version of herself (or rather, her 1980s persona of a girl who just wants to have fun).
Bringing nuance to the truism of Lauper as a creator of female address on MTV and in popular culture, her versions of the song demonstrate that agency and authority in popular music derive just as much (perhaps more) from interpretation and performance as they do from authorship and songwriting.
Tanzanian zilipendwa is a look-over-the-shoulder metagenre whose musical subject is a moving target dependent on the current time reference.
The term was initially reserved for east and central African dance music chestnuts popular during the 1960s and early 1970s post-Independence period, but it recently encompasses the music of the mid-1970s through late 1980s, a time generally associated with the Socialist policies of Julius Nyerere.
Fans of zilipendwa are most eloquent about its value in their lives when making humorous generational distinctions with Bongo Flava, the region’s hip hop and R&B. Zilipendwa fans are also quick to demonstrate their affinity through physical expression, dancing a style known as serebuka, translated as “blissful expressive dance”.
Recently popularized on the television show Bongo Star Search, serebuka dancers take to the floor and bounce off the walls with a coterie of enthusiastic free moves and styles (mitindo) covering fifty years of popular music history.
Nostalgia for zilipendwa is far from being a melancholic rumination over days long past; it is enacted instead for the sake of health and community well-being. Zilipendwa is a conscious act towards musicking the values of a fading era, creating temporary autonomous zones where the perceived chaos and noise of neoliberal globalization are now waiting to rush in.
This according to “‘Rhumba kiserebuka!’: Evoking embodied temporalities through Tanzanian zilipendwa” by Frank Gunderson (The world of music (new series) III/1  pp. 11–23; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2014-17463).
Above, Msondo Ngoma, a group discussed in the article; below, the U.S.-based zilipendwa artist Samba Mapangangala. (Don’t worry—the music and dancing start soon, and they’re worth the wait!)
BONUS: Schoolboys getting down to zilipendwa in the great outdoors.
James Brown had an uncanny ability to synthesize the talents of musicians from disparate musical fields into a cohesive ensemble. Still, many of his peers had little regard for his own musical abilities.
“He has no real musical skills…yet he could hold his own onstage with any jazz virtuoso—because of his guts” one of his former bandleaders explained. Indeed, many of Brown’s own players dreamed of eventually moving from pop to jazz, where their individual abilities would shine more brightly.
There is a certain irony in the fact that someone maligned by his colleagues for his apparent musical ineptitude would end up influencing the very musicians that they looked up to: Miles Davis, for example, changed the bebop world when he took the radical step of incorporating Brown’s rhythmic innovations into his music. Further, Brown’s influence is explicitly acknowledged by rap musicians, spawning developments in popular music that continue to reverberate around the world.
A compelling valorization of Brown’s approach is suggested by Gilles Deleuze’s account, in Différence et répétition, of the Idiot as the pedant’s polar opposite. As a musical Idiot, Brown’s naive immunity to conceptual rules or institutionally dominant forms of thinking—his capacity for thought without presupposition—enabled modes of conceptual originality that evaded the musically trained.
“Funk was not a project” he explained. “It happened as part of my ongoing thing…I wasn’t going for some known sound, I was aimin’ for what I could hear.”
Brown’s bravado and innovations were necessary because he lacked the musical and cultural capital of his peers. Deleuze’s Idiot is self-assured because he is not bothered with any image of thought that cannot see him; for Brown, reason yielded to experimentation because his poverty-stricken childhood had demonstrated that abstractions were useless for solving the immanent problems at hand.
Brown had a superlative ability to forge new connections, to make music work regardless of its orthodoxy. This is what Deleuze attributed to the great artist—one who could make new and unforeseen connections.
This according to “James Brown: The illogic of innovation” by John Scannell (New formations: A journal of culture/theory/politics 66 [spring 2009] pp. 118–133; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2009-17662).
Today would have been Brown’s 90th birthday! Below, the Godfather of Soul defies logic in his heyday.
Let’s celebrate this historic event by visiting an odd corner of the album’s reception history: a meticulous and complex theory claiming that it was conceived, constructed, and produced as a deliberate and calculated musical accompaniment to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, and that its sounds and silences will, if correctly decoded, reveal explicit and specific congruences with key scenes in the movie.
The theory’s origins can be traced to the mid-1990s, when fans began excitedly posting on Pink Floyd websites about synchronicities that result from simultaneously watching the film and listening to the album. Soon these fansites provided detailed instructions for experiencing these audio-visual parallels. Typically viewers are told to start the film and begin playing the album at the MGM trademark lion’s third roar; if the music begins at the moment that the words “Produced by Mervin Leroy” appear on the screen the synchronization is on track, and the coincidences begin:
Just after the words “look around” in Breathe, Dorothy turns around;
The words “balanced on the biggest wave” accompany Dorothy balancing on a fence;
At the words “no one told you when to run” Dorothy breaks into a trot;
Many aspects of the Munchkin scene are coordinated with Money;
The chimes in Time coincide with the appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West;
and so on, with different websites claiming as many as 70 to 100 moments of synchronicity.
Although the band members have dismissively refuted any association between the album and the film, enthusiasm for the theory continues unabated. On one level, this phenomenon may be an example of an urban myth. On another level, it may reveal much about how texts can generate multiple meanings that dispel the tyranny of the imposed explanation—one of the principal tenets underlying the relocation of the consumer as active rather than passive.
This according to “‘We’re not in Kansas any more’: Music, myth and narrative structure in The dark side of the moon” by Lee Barron and Ian Inglis, an essay included in “Speak to me”: The legacy of Pink Floyd’s “The dark side of the moon” (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005, 56–66; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2005-6807).
Below, we invite you to see how many coincidences you can discover!
The library of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris is home to an extensive collection of writings on music from the Arab world, a region stretching from the Atlas Mountains to the Indian Ocean. This series of blog posts highlights selections of this collection, along with abstracts written by RILM staff members contained in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the comprehensive bibliography of writings about music. Since the onset of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, the Institut du Monde Arabe has hosted exhibitions and concerts featuring musicians and artists who are at the heart of the cultural production in the region.
“It takes a revolution/To find a solution” - From the song “Revolution” by the Palestinian hip-hop band DAM.
Revolutions and popular movements are characterized by a distinct soundscape defined by chants, songs, and the rhythmic movements of collective bodies. The act of protesting in the Arab world is often encapsulated in the idiom kasir ğidār al-ṣamt (to break the barrier of silence); in contrast, the authorities’ act of oppression is referred to as an act of silencing.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the peoples of the Arab world have composed, disseminated, and rendered songs and chants against all forms of domestic, foreign, secular, and religious oppression. Musicians, vocalists, urban poets, and rappers all moved people to act in spaces, public and virtual. In music literature, these songs and chants are referred to by different names: al-aġānī al-ṯawrīyaẗ (revolutionary songs), aġānī al-iḥtiğāğ (protest songs), al-aġānī al-multazimaẗ (socially committed songs), and al- aġānī al-waṭanīyaẗ (patriotic songs). With the rise of communist and leftist movements in the Arab world during the 1960s and 1970s, aesthetic judgment was defined by the level of social and political consciousness of music and songs.
The history of independence and protest movements in the Arab world is interlinked with a crackdown on civil liberties and freedom of expression, and is marked by the movement of peoples across regional borders and beyond. Writers on music have commented on the phenomena of protest songs in their home countries as well as the circulation of songs across borders and cross-cultural influences among Arab diasporas in exile, acknowledging the continuous connections between communities at home and elsewhere.
Given the cosmopolitan contexts in which musicians and poets work and perform, the musical and poetic production of non-Arabic-speaking peoples of the region is noteworthy: The Algerian Kabyle vocalist Lounès Matoub (1956–98) singing in Kabyle, youths living abroad rap in European languages, and Moroccan urban poets known as Jil Lklam (Generation of Words) mix the languages and dialects of Amazigh and Arabic, fusing them with expressions in French, English, and Spanish.
The music that carries protest and political themes is as diverse as the dialects and languages present in the Arab world. The patriotic and nationalist songs of the first half of the 20th century draw from the rich repertoire of al-qaṣīdaẗ al-ʽamūdīyaẗ (vertical poetry), fusing with local melodies and European-style orchestration and arrangement. Other songs rely on local dialects and musical sensibilities to appeal to the broader masses. Among the anti-colonial and independence songs, the Tunisian “Tūnis al-yūm brāt mi al-tankīdaẗ” stands out, sung here by legendary Tunisian vocalist Saliha (1914–58).
The songs of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that offer social and political commentary rely on local folk styles and instruments, as can be observed in the revolutionary songs of the Sabreen group (Palestine) and the revolutionary anthems of the Firqaẗ al-Ṭarīq (Iraq). The songs of Nass el Ghiwane (Morocco) feature elements of rwais, and the rebel songs of Groupe El-Ouali (Mauritania) use the subversive lyrics of Sheikh Imam (1918–95) from Egypt. In the last decades, rock, reggae, rap, hip hop, and other popular genres have served as a source of inspiration for bands such as Mashrou’ Leila (Lebanon), DAM (Palestine), and Cairokee (Egypt), with its aspirational lyrics and rock instrumentation that respond to the 2011 Egyptian revolution. “Ya El Medane” is one song that expressed the aspirations of the youth during the Egyptian revolution.
Protest songs in the Arab world are forms of expression that break boundaries, defy expectations, and challenge reality. They hail from the Atlas Mountains to Tangier and Algiers, and find a receptive audience in the banlieues of Paris; chants are heard in Tahrir Square and move protesters in Sana’a, Beirut, and Tunis.
The writings featured in this annotated bibliography present and carefully analyze songs accompanying key political and social events. These include nationalist protest movements that unfolded in the Arab world in the last century, from anti-colonial movements and national movements in the first half of the century to chants that accompanied the revolutions of 2011 and beyond.
– Written and compiled by Farah Zahra, Assistant Editor, RILM
Caubet, Dominique and Amine Hamma. Jil Lklam: Poètes urbains (Casablanca: Éditions du Sirocco; Mohammedia: Senso Unico Éditions, 2016). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56443; IMA catalogue reference]
The Moroccan music scene that emerged in the mid-1990s has become a crucial part of the overall cultural scene of the country. Rappers, slammers, reggae musicians, creators of metal music and non-music genres such graffiti and break dance have all initiated an urban movement that mixes genres and contributes to a multicultural Morocco. The evolution of discourse emerging from the underground scene to the public sphere is explored, with attention to the lyrics of songs expressing a young generation that is concerned with taboo subjects, cool music, and tough texts. Eloquent, humorous, sensitive, angry, and poetic, this creative and rebellious generation expresses, in multilingual tongues—vernacular, Amazigh, mixed with French, English, and Spanish—its love for its homeland along with its desire for dignity, freedom, and a future. A new generation of artists is revealing, in addition to its eloquence and its extraordinary talent for writing and composition, an unquenching determination to be heard. The generation adapted the American counterculture’s ethos of do-it-yourself and solidarity while using new technology and social media to share its music. Including interviews with experts on the new music scene, a selection of song texts shared in their original language and translated to French, and rich iconography, the book represents a platform for the new generations of artists to be heard and seen, a generation that is the true echo of the youth.
Dridi, Daïkha and Omar Zelig. “La petite musique du voyage au bout de la nuit: Quand la musique se revolte, entre ‘bizness’ et poesie”, La pensée de midi 4 (mai 2001) 65–71. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2001-49702; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: A description and an interpretation of the music scenes in 2001, after ten years of political violence that Algeria witnessed. The aftermath of violence and political stances in music genres and scenes, old and new, is discussed. Local genres such as raï, Kabyle militant, and chaabi triste sorrowful chaabi capture a general spirit of hopelessness, but also of hope. Case studies and performances such as the hip-hop group Intik and the group Ragga-Gnawi are explored, and the performance and the following banning of Baaziz’s “Algérie mon amour” is interpreted against the backdrop of political upheavals in Algeria. Algerian hip hop is a rhythmic, musical, and lyrical rupture from everything that preceded it.
El Mazned, Brahim. “Les rwayss, ou la musique amazighe comme résistance”, Le monde arabe existe-t-il (encore)?, ed. by Chirine El Messiri. Araborama 1 (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe; Seuil, 2020) 190–193. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-71413; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Approaches Amazigh (Berber) music as an expression of cultural, social, and political resistance. Rwayss is a genre that originates in the Sous region, the center of Amazigh culture, and incorporates singing, dance, and a religious ceremony. The setting where rwayss is traditionally performed is described, and new scenes of rwayss in urban spaces in Morocco and in Europe, especially in France and Belgium, are analyzed. Resistance to musical assimilation and the importance of continuity in rwayss and its connection to the past are considered the main expression of resistance that the tradition holds.
El Zein, Rayya. “Resisting ‘resistance’: On political feeling in Arabic rap concerts”, Arab subcultures: Transformations in theory and practice, ed. by Layal Ftouni and Tarik Sabry. Library of modern Middle East studies (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2016) 83–112. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56445; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Explores the ways in which young Arab rap artists navigate the contradictions in the urban and public spheres in everyday life. The discourse of resistance permeating scholarship on rap and hip hop in the Arab world is critiqued and perceived as an expression of neoliberal power. Within the context of the rap scenes in Beirut and Ramallah, political feeling is expressed through objection, confrontation, repetition—a set of processes that hinges on collective action and solidarity rather than individual agency. Interactions, as such, should not be labeled as political but should be approached as subversive in their own terms. Conclusions are based on ethnographic studies conducted in Beirut and Ramallah, where interviews and conversations were conducted and exchanges between artists and audiences were observed.
Houssais, Coline. “En chansons: Florilège musical révolutionnaire”, Il était une fois…: Les révolutions arabes, ed. by Chirine El Messiri. Araborama (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe; Seuil, 2021) 239–248. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-101344; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Provides a selection of songs that marked the history of revolutionary and nationalist songs. Most of them were initially poems later set to music. All the case studies feature a short background on the poet, the performer, and the historical context. Brief background information is then followed by the lyrics in Arabic and a French translation. Among the case studies featured are Min djibalina (From our mountains) by Mohamed Laid Al Khalifa from Algeria, Irdatou al-hayat (The will to live) by Abou el Kacem Chebbi from Tunisia, “Ana Afriqi ana Soudani” by Alsir Gadour from Sudan, Ounadikoum (I call upon you) by the poet Tewfik Ziad from Palestine, and other cases from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria.
Institut du Monde Arabe. Hip Hop: Du Bronx aux rues Arabes [Exposition, Paris, Institut Du Monde Arabe, 28 Avril–26 Juillet 2015], ed. by Aurélie Clémente-Ruiz (Gent: Snoeck; Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-89747; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Issued as part of the exhibition Hip Hop, du Bronx aux Rues Arabes organized by the Institut du Monde Arabe in 2015. The book is divided into three sections: the birth of a movement, a new aesthetic, and rap and society. The editors approach hip hop not simply as a genre but as an aesthetic, a lifestyle in perpetual evolution and a continuous transformation. In the preface, the director of the Institut du Monde Arabe remarks on the recourse of young Arab generations to hip hop as a way to express frustration with current realities and to vocalize their aspirations. Articles by multiple authors covering various topics and aspects of hip hop history and its adaptation by contemporary Arab artists are included.
Massad, Joseph. “Liberating songs: Palestine put to music”, Palestine, Israel, and the politics of popular culture, ed. by Rebecca L. Stein and Ted Swedenburg (Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2005) 175–201. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-31981; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Analyzes the role of patriotic, nationalist, and revolutionary songs in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, approaching songs as a register for the changing dynamics of the Palestinian struggle and the various populations and demographics involved in it at different stages of the country’s history. Themes of the songs include the fight for liberation, the dream for Arab unity and solidarity, and the struggle for refugees’ rights. Songs are categorized in three historical phases. The first phase is marked by the growing support for pan-Arabism, the rise of Palestinian guerrillas, and the underground scene in the late 1960s and 1970s. The second phase comprises songs produced by non-Palestinians following the great defeat of 1967. The third phase covers songs that accompanied the first intifada (1987–93). Overall, resistance songs were subject to many transformations throughout the second half of the second century and beyond. Musicians and artists moved away from state-sponsored productions to underground scenes in Palestine and among its displaced population. Nowadays, Palestinian resistance and patriotic songs have reached a wide reception and have become a founding aspect of Arab and Palestinian popular culture.
Mérimée, Pierre and Jacques Denis. Intifada rap. Trans. by Tara Dominguez and Sarah Bouasse(Paris: LO/A Edition, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-95113; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Presents photographs featuring Palestinian rappers, spoken word artists, and musicians, as well as photos of the broader urban spaces in which the alternative and broader Palestinian music scene flourishes. The photographer followed musicians in their everyday lives and captured aspects of their activity. The photographs are occasionally accompanied by brief written commentary and by quotes or lyrics by Palestinian poets and artists and Israeli activists. Hip hop artists featured include Saz (Sameh Zakout), Boikutt (Jad Abbas), Shaana Streett, Mahmoud Jrere of DAM, and members of MWR, WE7, and G-Town. Other non-hip-hop artists featured are Amal Murkus and Said Mourad (founder of Sabreen Band).
République Arabe Sahraouie Democratique. Groupe El- Ouali chants et danses sahraouis: Une culture de résistance (Nouakchott: Ministère de L’information de la République Arabe Sahraouie Démocratique, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-26413; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Surveys the works, repertoire, and style of the Mauritanian music and dance company Groupe El-Ouali, and situates them within the broader landscape of cultural resistance in Mauritania in the 1970s and the liberation movement led by the Front Polisario. Groupe El-Ouali was formed by amateur musicians and militants and performed live concerts and disseminated their music on cassettes. The book covers dance styles such as the war dance Dance de ausred, which was performed during the resistance movement led by the Front Polisario against the Spanish occupation of the Sahara, and La touiza, a women’s dance. The book also includes lyrics of selected songs by Groupe El-Ouali translated into French. The songs express themes of revolution and independence, as well as relationships to the land, national identity, and the values of the nationalist movement.
Shalaby, Nadia A. “A multimodal analysis of selected Cairokee songs of the Egyptian revolution and their representation of women”, Women, culture, and the January 2011 Egyptian Revolution, ed. by Dalia Said Mostafa (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2017) 59–81. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-90149; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Analyzes the music videos Ṣawt al-ḥurrīyaẗ (Voice of freedom), Yā al-mīdān (O Tahrir Square), and Iṯbat makānak (Stand your ground) by the Egyptian band Cairokee. The three music videos were released during the year following the breakout of the Egyptian revolution on 25 January 2011, and each reflects the popular mood accompanying the phases of the revolution. The creation and reception of meaning through these music videos is a product of lyrics, music, and other semiotic resources such as visual cues, photographs, camera angles, framing, range of shots, and gaze. The visual design of each music video is discussed to show how multimodal discourse is formed through the employment of various visual, verbal, and musical modes. Finally, the presence and the agency of women in the three music videos are analyzed following the same analytical model.
Skilbeck, Rod. “Mixing pop and politics: The pole of raï in Algerian political discourse”, The Arab-African and Islamic worlds: Interdisciplinary studies, ed. by Kevin R. Lacey and Ralph M. Coury (Bern: Peter Lang, 2000) 289–302. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2000-83623; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Documents the rise of popularity of raï and of kabyle musics among young Algerians at home and among the country’s diasporas, covering the origins and early development of raï in the early 20th century and documenting its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Raï is a hybrid genre that merges Arabic and Bedouin poetry and incorporates local and Western instrumentation. Raï song texts can be categorized in terms of clean raï, which narrates stories of love, and dirty rai, which deals with forbidden sexual desires, alcoholism, and alienation. At the start of the Algerian civil war in 1991 raï became one of its battlefields, and while raï itself was not political, it became political insofar as it represents marginalized social classes through expressions of themes that are deemed taboo or unethical by society or political authorities. During the civil war raï artists were banned, and some were murdered by religious guerrilla groups. One important case study presented is the raï song El harba way? (To flee but where to?) by Cheb Khaled, which became the anthem of protesters during the political crisis of 1988.
Al-Sayyid, ʽUmar. Kalām al-ġīwān (Rabat: Ittiḥād Kuttāb al-Maġrib, 2002). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2002-50214; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: A comprehensive collection of song lyrics by the Moroccan group Nās al-Ġīwān, compiled by one of its members. The preface includes key information about the group and presents a critical take on various commentators’ views on the phenomenon of Nās al-Ġīwān, their musical career, and their popularity in Morocco. Formed in the 1960s, the group accompanied and contributed to the cultural, artistic, and political movement that was unfolding in Morocco. The 1960s and 1970s were marked by a growing popular protest movement that Nās al-Ġīwāne marked with their lyrical and musical contribution. However, one should not reduce the group’s artistic production to a political message. Nās al-Ġīwān merged musical and lyrical elements belonging to four cultures—African, Arab, Amazigh, and Saharan—providing a case study of how to properly reclaim musical and cultural heritage and identity. The concept of a Nās al-Ġīwān dictionary of terms is introduced.
Šalābī, Fawzīyaẗ. Qirāʼāt munāwiʼaẗ (Tripoli: al-Dār al-ʽArabīyaẗ li-al-Kitāb, 1984). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1984-28079; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Approaches political songs from the 1960s through the 1980s as expressions of contemporary Arab consciousness. The difference between the Arab intellectual elites fueling the conscious cultural movement and the Arab masses who follow with little critical take is explored. Political songs that do not give lip service to intellectual elites, but rather engage and express the real suffering of the people, are highlighted, distinguishing between progressive songs (al-aġānī al-taqaddumīyaẗ) of politically and socially engaged people and political songs (al-aġānī al-siyāsīyaẗ) of authoritarian states and the Arab right. Case studies from Morocco (Nās al-Ġīwān), Tunisia (Aṣḥāb al-Kalimaẗ), Iraq (Firqaẗ al-Ṭarīq), and Egypt (al-Šayẖ Imām) are included.
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After her breakout performance at Lebanon’s 1957 Baalbeck International Festival (where organizers had initially worried that their sophisticated audience would find homegrown music distasteful) the music of Fayrūz went on to become a powerful emblem of Lebanese identity—a position that it holds to this day.
Fayrūz’s performance, which featured music by the Raḥbānī brothers, was the headline act of the Festival’s first Lebanese Nights series, and its resounding success ensured the continuation of the series, with the Fayrūz/Raḥbānī trio as its mainstay, until the Festival’s suspension at the beginning of the Civil War in 1975. During that time, the trio forged a music that both articulated Lebanon’s national character and aspired toward a future in which the country’s liminal position between the Arab world and the West would bring long-lasting peace and prosperity.
While this element of futurity was rhetorical and discursive, it was also profoundly sonic, manifested in the arrangement, instrumentation, and style of their work. The Fayrūz/Raḥbānī trio’s music was clearly positioned in relation to three major reference points that dominated nationalist discourse at the time: Arab nationalism, the West (conceived as European high culture), and Lebanese culture (conceived as local folklore).
While the style developed by the trio continues to shape understandings what it is to sound Lebanese today, Fayrūz’s voice has become symbolic of Lebanon itself. Notably, she did not sing there during the Civil War; she came back to perform in 1994, and returned to Baalbeck’s stage on the occasion of the Festival’s postwar resumption in 1998. Her wartime silence was publicly received as an act of resistance against violence on Lebanese soil and as a show of solidarity with the Lebanese people—further reinforcing the identification of her voice and persona with Lebanon as a country.
This according to “Hearing cosmopolitan nationalism in the work of Fairuz and the Rahbani Brothers” by Nour El Rayes (Yearbook for traditional music LIV/1  49–72; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-16150).
Above, Fayrūz performing in 1971 (public domain). Below, the official music video for the Fayrūz/Raḥbānī song Lebnan el akhdar(لبنان الأخضر/Lebanon the verdant); the recording is the subject of a detailed analysis in El Rayes’s article.
On 29 April 1900 the engineer John Luther “Casey” Jones died in the wreck of the Illinois Central’s Cannonball, the fast passenger express from Chicago to New Orleans. No one else was killed or even seriously injured in the accident, a fact generally ascribed to Jones’s skillful but self-sacrificing actions.
The myriad versions of the song commemorating this incident—formally known as The ballad of Casey Jones—stand at the crossroads of the African American and Anglo-American ballad traditions.
Nine years after Jones’s death, Casey Jones (The brave engineer), a vaudeville song by T.L. Seibert and E. Newton, became widely popular. It is generally accepted that Seibert and Newton based it on a song that they had heard among African Americans in New Orleans, which had been composed by Wallace Saunders—a Black roundhouse man who knew Jones personally. “Wallace had a gift for improvising ballads as he labored at wiping engines or shoveling coal” one source reported. “He would sing in rhythm with his muscular activity; and one of his creations, as innumerable witnesses agreed, was the original version of Casey Jones.”
Turning a song deeply rooted in African American traditions into a popular hit involved merging its attributes with those of Anglo-American broadside ballads, which were more characterized by a semi-journalistic recounting of events than by verses extemporaneously arranged around an underlying narrative. Over time, the traditional and popular versions naturally influenced each other, resulting in an uncommonly rich demonstration of pop and folk interactions.
This according to “Casey Jones: At the crossroads of two ballad traditions” by Norm Cohen (Western folklore XXXII/2 [April 1973] 77–103; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1973-2351).
Today is Casey Jones’s 160th birthday! Above, CaseyJonesPortrait (public domain); below, a performance by Furry Lewis, who first recorded the song in 1928, followed by Johnny Cash’s classic recording.
Written and recorded in 1975 by the Angolan popular singer António Sebastião Vicente (Santocas), Valódia is derived from African praise songs, with their characteristic heroic laudatory epithets. The song demonstrates the timeless quality of such praise songs, as it turns a young soldier into a socialist hero.
Traditional African poets served as both praise singers and court historians, and their successors are in the vanguard of political song movements. Santocas’s lyrics capture the essence of the fallen subject, who fought against neocolonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.
When Valódia was recorded by the Cuban singer Beatriz Márquez it became a transatlantic anthem advocating sociopolitical and economic change framed by communist doctrine, advancing an agenda of decolonization that still lingers over the destinies of both Angola and Cuba.
This according to “Valódia: A transatlantic praise song” by Jorge Luis Morejón-Benitez, an essay included in Indigenous African popular music. I: Prophets and philosophers (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 303–20; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-2996).
Below, the original recordings.
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The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s angular, august facade reflects light beams that seem lightyears away from the intransigent, transgressive spirit, the championing of misfits, the sardonic humor that the exhibit captures and that Reed’s music embodies. Is there a psychogeographic contradiction between the outside buildings’ shimmering, safe, highbrow sheen and the sounds and images purveyed by the avant-garde prince (or pauper?) of New York proto-punk? If so, it is an incongruity to revel in.
Reed’s music and poetry disrupted reductive divisions between the cultivated and vernacular, the concert hall and the streets, and the transcendent and ephemeral. His sounds rejected the colorful and optimistic 1960s utopian collective, the normative middle-class assumptions that homogenized gender distinctions and human sexuality, and the blind eye cast towards a drug-fueled urban underclass. This rebellious spirit runs through his creative work and the eclectic literary and sonic sources on which he drew to craft his own sound(scapes). One finds this eclecticism refracted everywhere in the ethnic mosaic of New York City, whether on the Upper West Side in 2022, or the Lower East Side in the 1960s and 1970s. The NYC mosaic—a metaphor that’s preferable to “melting pot”, which fails to grasp the historical resonance of ethnically similar people living together in specific neighborhoods—is captured in the form of the exhibit. It eschews strict narrative construction of Reed’s life, offering instead a constellated, interconnected network of images, recordings, friendships, interests, collaborators, writings, and technologies. The visitor is invited to take a free (as in gratis) journey that may nourish the inquisitive iconoclast within.
Lou Reed is indexed in over 280 records across RILM Abstracts of Music Literature and RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text—the sources from which the bibliography below is taken—and has two entries in RILM Music Encyclopedias(in Das Gothic- und Dark Wave-Lexikon: Das Lexikon der schwarzen Szene and the Algemene muziek encyclopedie). Additionally, information on Reed, his collaborators, and related topics (such as literature, poetry, the NYC downtown scene, visual arts, film, recording techniques, and more) can be found in several reference texts in RME, as well as in MGG Online. Links to some of these sources have been embedded into this introduction. But in the end, this bibliography is by necessity a superficial treatment of what can be said and has been said on Reed and his career, as well as on what can be found in RILM’s resources.
What follows below more or less replicates the organizing structure of the exhibit, beginning with Reed’s work in The Velvet Underground and his collaboration with Cale and Warhol, followed by emphasis on his literary interests and poetry, which then leads into his solo productions of the 1970s (especially Metal machine music) and beyond, and ends with Reed as a subject (e.g., an interviewee, a listener with a wide range of interests, a human with a sense of humor). The reader, then, may use this blog entry to supplement and elaborate the experience of attending the exhibit (open until 4 March 2023) in person.
Reed’s music has attracted attention from musicologists (e.g., a 2016 special issue on The Velvet Underground published in Rock music studies), music theorists, music journalists (most notoriously Lester Bangs), theologians, literary theorists, and many others working in other music and music-adjacent fields, and this is reflected in some of the sources you’ll find in this bibliography. The writers of these texts are themselves a motley crew in all the best possible ways, and they reveal the enormous impact that Reed continues to make on musicians, researchers, teachers, and explorer-outcasts of all stripes around the world.
– Written and compiled by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM
The exhibit begins with what is perhaps the most famous context for Reed’s production: his time as co-founder, songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist of The Velvet Underground.
Bockris, Victor and Gerard Malanga. Up-tight: The Velvet Underground story (New York: Quill, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-7587]
Abstract: Presents an in-depth history of the Velvet Underground from the pre-VU activities of band members up through the Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour and the four seminal albums. Although the band was an outright commercial failure at the time, they are now recognized as one of the key catalysts in the development of rock music, especially as progenitors of punk rock and postpunk. Substantial portions of the book reproduce interviews with the four founding members of the Velvet Underground (Lou Reed, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, and Sterling Morrison) and with key associates such as Nico, Andy Warhol, and members of the Factory.
Bouchard, Marie-Ève. “Andy Warhol et le Velvet Underground: Réalité ou reconstruction de la réalité?”, Les cahiers de la Société Québécoise de Recherche en Musique III/1–2 (septembre 1999) 51–62. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1999-38064]
Abstract: Describes how reality is expressed in the New York underground scene in the 1960s, as epitomized by Andy Warhol’s Factory. The world of the Factory is detailed, and the relationship between Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground is explored. The Velvet Underground incorporated elements of the Warhol Factory in their music, and in the song I’m waiting for the man composed by Lou Reed, in particular. An analysis of the song’s text and music is undertaken to demonstrate how it conforms to the reality of the Factory and the New York City underground.
Cuesta, Stan. Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, John Cale, Nico (Paris: Layeur, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-21973]
Abstract: The Velvet Underground had an amazing destiny. In the 1960s, in the wake of Andy Warhol, avant-garde artist, provocateur, and way ahead of his time, they had no success at all! But, as Brian Eno said, although almost nobody bought their records when they were released, the people who did all later formed their own groups. The band steadily attracted more and more imitators, especially in punk, and is now recognized as one of the most enduringly influential groups in rock history. The recordings of the Velvet Underground are analyzed: the group only released four albums during its brief existence, though myriad records came out after they broke up: live, never-released, and other pirate recordings which achieved official status. After 1970, the three principal members of the group embarked on incredibly fertile solo careers, which are discussed chronologically.
Dorin, Stéphane. Velvet underground: La Factory de Warhol et l’invention de la bohème pop (Paris: Éditions des Archives Contemporaines, 2016). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-28124]
Abstract: Between 1965 and 1967 with its first album The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), The Velvet Underground evolved from a promising underground New York band into a legend of rock history. This pivotal period for the group that installed itself in the Factory was equally so for Andy Warhol, who was for a short while its patron and manager. Warhol’s yearning to achieve the alchemical transformation of rock into art through his collaboration with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground was always balanced on the razor’s edge between sub-cultural marginality and social and commercial recognition within the realm of contemporary art and rock. Although it did not completely shake up the classical and popular art and music worlds, it did blur their boundaries and give rise to one of the most beautiful myths of 20th-century American culture, and to a rock group which attained cult status. Using the conceptual tools of cultural studies and cultural sociology, an analysis of the life and experience of the band at the center of the Factory reveals how rock and art have transformed today’s lifestyles and relationship to work, from the standpoint of the pop aesthetic.
Heylin, Clinton. All yesterdays’ parties: The Velvet Underground in print 1966–1971 (Cambridge: Da Capo, 2005). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-18301]
Abstract: The Velvet Underground (VU) are among the most influential bands of all time. Their trademark sound is easily detected in David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Talking Heads, R.E.M., Jane’s Addiction, Yo La Tengo, Luna, and the Strokes, and they are also credited with creating a streetwise, pre-punk sensibility that has become inseparable from the popular image of downtown New York. “Discovered” by Andy Warhol in 1966, the VU—with their original line-up of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker—would soon become the house band of the avant-garde, composing songs simultaneously furious in their abrasiveness and beautiful in their pathos, standing in striking contrast to the prevailing flower power of the era. With such a notorious pedigree, it’s only natural that the story of the VU has become shrouded in myth and hyperbole. Here gathered for the first time are almost all of the published writings contemporary with the band’s existence–from sources as mainstream as the New York times to vanished voices of the counterculture like Crawdaddy!, Oz, Open city, and Fusion. An invaluable snapshot of an era is provided by trailblazing rock writers such as Lester Bangs, Robert Greenfield, Sandy Pearlman, and Paul Williams. With the most complete VU discography assembled to date; a biographical overview by the editor; and photographs, posters, and other visual evocations of the period throughout, a treasure trove of lore is made available for anyone interested in the VU, their roots, and legacy.
Jovanovic, Rob. Seeing the light: Inside The Velvet Underground (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-3572]
Abstract: Artists including David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Roxy Music, Nirvana, U2, R.E.M., and even the dissident Czech playwright and eventual president Václav Havel have cited The Velvet Underground as a major influence. Formed by the mercurial Lou Reed and the classically trained Welshman John Cale in the mid-1960s, the band first gained notoriety after being adopted by Andy Warhol. Warhol’s patronage allowed the group to chart unexplored regions of rock ‘n’ roll, producing music that veered from droning, avant-garde experimentalism to folk-infused pop, offering taboo-busting tales of drug addiction, prostitution, and sexual deviance. Creative tensions and frustrated ambition eventually saw both Cale and Reed leave the band, to its ignominious end. In the decades since, The Velvet Underground’s music has attained classic status, revered alongside The Beatles and The Beach Boys as one of the sources of modern pop. New interviews from members Moe Tucker and Doug Yule, as well as the widow of their bandmate Sterling Morrison, reveal the mystique of one of the most important bands in rock history.
Abstract: The author casts an ear back through the musical history of The Velvet Underground legend and brilliant rock musician who recently passed away. Lou Reed saw himself as the bard of New York; the way, he explained, Joyce had Dublin and Faulkner the South, though a sensibility awash in Edgar Allan Poe, Delmore Schwartz, and Nelson Algren produced adolescent renderings of perversion. But he didn’t stop there. Reed’s fictive power acted as a window through which sympathetic parents, heterosexual marriages, and other tenets of the bourgeoisie look as deeply strange as kissing a boot of shiny, shiny leather. If rock critics remain as obsessed with lyrics as they ever were, Reed deserves the blame as much as Dylan. But what’s astonishing about those Velvet Underground records is the success with which their musical correlatives complement if not overwhelm the lyrics. For instance, Venus in furs, the ode to sadomasochism from the band’s first album, is sexy and thrilling and wondrous in ways that have little to do with the ooh-scary libretto. Listen as those Byrds-y guitars slam against the single note that John Cale saws off his viola, while “Moe” Tucker bangs a kick drum; when Cale actually plays chords on the bridge the song sounds as tired and weary as Reed himself.
Warner, Simon. “La banalité de la dégradation: Andy Warhol, le Velvet Underground et l’esthétique trash”, Volume! La revue des musiques populaires IX/1 (2012) 51-65. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2012-15874]
Abstract: The American 1960s has become closely associated with moral crusades that strove for Civil Rights for the Black community and protested against the conflict in Vietnam, and with the peace and love gestures of the hippies, particularly in the latter part of the decade. However, the seeds of a more subversive underground movement were sown during the period, and a new approach to art creation, centered on an emerging trash aesthetic, not only challenged the psychedelic utopianism of the counterculture but actually left a longer lasting mark on left-field creative activity in the final quarter of the century. As Andy Warhol’s art and film projects were reshaped into multimedia experiences, the importance of the Velvet Underground, the rising house band at the artist’s Factory headquarters, was magnified. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a performance work inspired in part by early-decade Happenings, would be unveiled in 1966, combining Warhol’s underground cinema projections, light shows, dancers, and the cacophonous sound of the Velvets. This radical piece of stage art was filmed by the director Ronald Nameth, and his account remains a key document of the live venture. While Warhol and the band built on traditions from Dada to the Beats to build a form of anti-art, it was during this time that the aesthetic of trash took shape, from the Pop Art celebrations of mass cultural forms to the darker realms of drugs and sexual perversity. This anti-aesthetic would have an enduring impact in the years that followed, beyond the subterranean avant-garde of New York City, as music, cinema, art, and literature were all shaped by this brand of expression. An English translation is abstracted as RILM 2014-3712.
Willis, Ellen. “Velvet underground: Golden archive series”, Stranded: Rock and roll for a desert island, ed. by Greil Marcus (New York: Da Capo, 1996) 71–83. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-3327]
Abstract: Ostensibly an essay on her desert island album—a slightly Willis-doctored version of an existing Velvet Underground anthology released in 1970 (she switches out Afterhours for Pale blue eyes)—this piece serves as more of a general essay on the band and even Lou Reed’s post-VU work. Willis situates all sides of the band into a larger framework that accounts for detachment, innocence, irony, and, most unusual in writings on the Velvets, moral responsibility. As she sees it, there’s an intended irony in their emotional distance—a straddling of the rock ‘n’ roller as aesthete and the rock ‘n’ roller as punk. Their stance is self-critical and even in danger of being internally undermined: “The risk is real because the Velvets do not use irony as a net, a way of evading responsibility by keeping everyone guessing what they really mean. On the contrary, their irony functions as a metaphor for the spiritual paradox, affirming that the need to face one’s nakedness and the impulse to cover it up are equally real, equally human”.
Although strained at times, Reed’s relationship with the vanguardist John Cale was incredibly fruitful. Moreover, it encouraged a complex and perhaps erroneous dichotomy between highbrow and lowbrow sensibilities, which surfaced in different guises throughout Reed’s career.
Gibson, Dylan Lawrence. “Postmodernism in Lou Reed and Metallica’s collaborative album Lulu: The subjective perception of highbrow and lowbrow“, Metal music studies V/2 (2019) 187–200. [RILM Abstracts of Music of Literature with Full Text, 2019-5761]
Abstract: The 2011 collaborative album Lulu (by Lou Reed and Metallica) presents one with what can be clearly identified as a clash between highbrow and lowbrow culture. This clash, as demonstrated in this article, attempts to blur what the media tries to enforce by revealing that Metallica and Lou Reed in actuality cannot be exclusively defined by one coherent label. The intended implication is that the album should not be dismissed as its impact, as Metallica’s first postmodern album, ought to be remembered and formally recognized as such—a postmodern experimental metal album.
Gracyk, Theodore. “What goes on: The double-bind of theorizing rock”, Literature and psychology XLIV/3 (1998)1–22. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1999-32628]
Abstract: Theorizing about rock is difficult because intellectuals trained in the values of high culture have not found a way to approach popular music on its own terms. In addition, rock music is often assumed to be incapable of incorporating the values of high culture. The career of Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground demonstrates how a rock musician can include tradition and morality in his work, drawing on both high and low culture. The views of the cultural critics John Fiske and Martha Bayles are also examined.
Sangild, Torben. “Flossede nerver: Støj og avantgardisme hos Velvet Underground”, Loaded: Om The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, ed. by Klaus Lynggaard and Henrik Queitsch (København: Information, 2004) 64–70. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-10893]
Abstract: The link between The Velvet Underground and the avant-garde art music world was established by John Cale, a classically trained composer and viola player active in the vanguardist scene of John Cage and associates. Together with Lou Reed they developed an aesthetic alternating between intense noise and otherworldy ambience on albums such as White light/White heat. Lou Reed pushed this aesthetic further than it had ever been taken in popular music with his album Metal machine music. With their avant-noise innovations, The Velvet Underground were a key inspiration for the post-punk of the 1970s and 1980s.
Zak, Albin J., III., ed. The Velvet Underground companion: Four decades of commentary (New York: G. Schirmer, 1997). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1997-8762]
Abstract: A collection of articles, reviews, and essays on the influential avant-garde rock band made up of John Cale, Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, guest vocalist Nico, and Doug Yule in the band’s final incarnation. Interviews with and memoirs by band members are included.
The exhibit includes multiple stations for listening to Reed’s music. One example, now available on vinyl as Words & music, May 1965, is a reel-to-reel tape that Reed sent to himself, likely as a “poor man’s copyright”. It contains a number of acoustic demos with Cale, some of which would develop into VU songs.
Peraino, Judith A. “I’ll be your mixtape: Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, and the queer intimacies of cassettes”, The journal of musicology: A quarterly review of music history, criticism, analysis, and performance practice XXXVI/4 (fall 2019) 401–436. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-9699]
Abstract: Tells the story of a cassette tape housed in the Andy Warhol Museum archives, a set of never-released (and rarely heard) songs by Lou Reed, and the tape’s intended audience: Andy Warhol. Warhol and Reed are giant figures in the history of 20th-century pop art and popular music, and their collaboration from 1966 to 1967 resulted in the acclaimed album The Velvet Underground & Nico. Based on extensive archival research and interviews, I discuss how this tape reflects Warhol’s and Reed’s failed attempt to collaborate on a stage version of Reed’s album Berlin (1973); Reed’s reaction to Warhol’s book, The philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and back again) (1975); and how elements of Warhol’s own audio aesthetics and taping practices find their way into Reed’s recordings around 1975. I also place this cassette in the context of the emerging common practice of creating and gifting homemade mixtapes of curated music, and demonstrate how such mixtapes function as a type of “closet media” (to quote theater scholar Nick Salvato) marked by private audience, disappearance, and inaccessibility. Drawing on William S. Burroughs’s conceptual spliced-tape experiments and their challenge to unified subjectivity, I explore the epistemological and ontological ramifications of sonically entangling the self with another person, and the queer intimacies of doing so on cassette tape.
Perhaps Reed’s “lyrics and poetry were kind of one and the same” (Don Fleming). In the early 1970s, in the direct aftermath of the VU, Reed follows a path towards literature and writing poetry.
Morris, Daniel. “Whose life is saved by rock and roll? An essay on the lyrics of Lou Reed”, Popular music and society XVI/3 (fall 1992) 23–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1992-4611]
Abstract: Reed’s lyrics are the work of a surreal, imagistic poet whose announced purpose is to chronicle public life in New York. His desire to embody the city through the description of a representative life diminished rather than enhanced the scope and quality of his writing over time. In lyrics from 1967, 1969, and 1989, Reed wrote a genuine public poetry by focusing his gaze with empathy and identification on the pain of others living on the margins of visibility. His best writing stems from an impersonal, Whitmanesque impulse to register the value of lives on the margin and not from the self-absorption that characterized his writing from 1972 on.
Rae, Casey. William S. Burroughs and the cult of rock ‘n’ roll (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-12562]
Abstract: William S. Burroughs’s fiction and essays are legendary, but his influence on music’s counterculture has been less well documented. Examining how one of America’s most controversial literary figures altered the destinies of many notable and varied musicians, this book reveals the transformations in music history that can be traced to Burroughs. A heroin addict and a gay man, Burroughs rose to notoriety outside the conventional literary world; his masterpiece, Naked lunch, was banned on the grounds of obscenity, but its nonlinear structure was just as daring as its content. The book examines Burroughs’s parallel rise to fame among daring musicians of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, when it became a rite of passage to hang out with the author or to experiment with his cut-up techniques for producing revolutionary lyrics (as the Beatles and Radiohead did). Whether they tell of him exploring the occult with David Bowie, providing Lou Reed with gritty depictions of street life, or counseling Patti Smith about coping with fame, the stories of Burroughs’s backstage impact will transform the way we see the U.S.’s cultural revolution and how we hear its music.
Metal machine music
Dault, David. “To the void: Karl Barth, Yvves Klein, and Lou Reed’s Metal machine music“, Secular music and sacred theology, ed. by Tom Beaudoin (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013) 3–15. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-2033]
Abstract: This chapter juxtaposes the music of Lou Reed with the theology of Karl Barth and the art of Yves Klein, so as to show how all three artists create works that try to name what exceeds naming. The ancient theological question of whether God can be comprehended in human turns is turned into a triptych of rock and roll, theology, and visual art, all trying to let that which is profoundly other appear through their respective mediums.
Moore, Thurston. “Towards a sonic machine music”, Lou Reed, Metal Machine Trio: The creation of the universe, ed. by Christopher Scoates (Bloomfield Hills: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2015) 63. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-19624]
Abstract: Personal recollections of the guitarist and founding member of Sonic Youth on his encounter with Lou Reed’s Metal machine music (1975), particularly the way in which the seminal album validated feedback as a compositional element.
Spelman, Nicola. “Recasting noise: The lives and times of Metal machine music“, Resonances: Noise and contemporary music, ed. by Michael Goddard, Benjamin Halligan, and Nicola Spelman (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013) 24–36. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-6206]
Abstract: Many of Lou Reed’s fans purchased his double-album Metal machine music (1975) assuming its contents to be of a similar ilk to his previous albums. With limited pre-listening opportunities, they were effectively lured into an auditory experience few were prepared for. Thus followed an unprecedented number of album returns and the record’s withdrawal just three weeks later. Although many accounts of the album’s unpalatable nature rest on attempts to describe its arresting sonic properties, the discrete sounds and techniques of timbral manipulation explored with MMM (heavy distortion, feedback, amplifier hum, use of tremolo units, varied tape speed, EQ, reverb and tone controls) were already standard fare by the time of its conception and release. As such, the distinctly experimental aspects of Reed’s noisescape are located not within the sounds themselves, but rather in how and where they were presented, and in the way they were creatively and unconventionally employed. Here, through examination of the original album and its subsequent transformations—moving from recorded composition to score/arrangement and finally to an improvised performance exploring the compositional techniques used in the construction of the original work—an attempt is made to pinpoint shifts in perception resulting from this successive recasting of noise.
Steintrager, James A. “Metal machines, primal screams, horrible noise, and the faint hum of a paradigm shift in sound studies and sonic practice”, Musica humana III/1 (spring 2011) 121–151. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2011-10305]
Abstract: In the mid-1970s there emerged both in pop music practice and in theoretical discourse a paradigm that extended liberating, ecstatic value to noise. For noise in practice, Lou Reed’s LP Metal machine music has been cited as seminal; in theory, Jacques Attali’s Noise: The political economy of music (see RILM 1977-1976 for the original French version; the first English translation is cited as RILM 1985-7455) stands out. Both of these important moments, however, have deep and often complex genealogies. Moreover, once we grasp the historical constitution of the noise paradigm, we can better understand why and how the promise of liberating noise—noise as revolutionary violence or subjectivity-shattering ecstasy—has in recent sound theory been treated as an unnecessarily limiting discursive trap. This has been most emphatically the case with Michel Chion’s suggested abandonment of the concept of noise as pseudo-scientific and roughly ideological. This abandonment, moreover, has been echoed in sonic practice—in the onkyō scene in Japan, for example—where an emphasis on subtle sound processing, gently modulated feedback, and bare audibility have put into question the relevance of noise as previously conceived and produced.
And then there was more Reed solo…with a little help from his friends
Furman, Ezra. Transformer. 33 1/3 (New York: Bloomsbury, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-6807]
Abstract: Lou Reed’s most enduringly popular album is described with varying labels: it’s often called a glam rock album, a proto-punk album, a commercial breakthrough for Lou Reed, and an album about being gay. And yet, it doesn’t neatly fit into any of these descriptors. Buried underneath the radio-friendly exterior lie coded confessions of the subversive, wounded intelligence that gives this album its staying power as a work of art. Here Lou Reed managed to make a fun, accessible record that is also a troubled meditation on the ambiguities—sexual, musical, and otherwise—that defined his public persona and helped make him one of the most fascinating and influential figures in rock history. Through close listening and personal reflections, the author explores Reed’s unstable identities and the secrets the songs challenge us to uncover.
Thompson, Dave. Your pretty face is going to hell: The dangerous glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (New York: Backbeat Books, 2009). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-8003]
Abstract: Sketches the intertwining, outrageous lives of three rock legends. When Lou Reed and Iggy Pop first met David Bowie in the fall of 1971, Bowie was just another English musician passing through New York City. Reed was still recovering from the collapse of the Velvet Underground, and Iggy Pop had already been branded a loser. Yet within two years they completely changed the face of popular music with a decadent glamour and street-level vibe. With Bowie producing, Reed’s Transformer album was a worldwide hit, spinning off the sleazy street anthem “Walk on the wild side”. Iggy’s Raw power, mixed by Bowie, provided the mean-spirited, high-octane blueprint for punk rock. Bowie boosted elements from both Iggy and Reed to create his gender-bending rock idol alter-ego Ziggy Stardust. Here, the story of these friendships, and the musical productivity and rock star debauchery that emerged from their three-fold alliance is told—a triple helix of sexuality, glam rock, and drugs as seen through the eyes of the people who made it happen.
And Lou Reed the humorist
Hamelman, Steven. “‘I never said I was tasteful’: Lou Reed and the classic philosophy of humor”, The Routledge companion to popular music and humor, ed. by Thomas M. Kitts and Nick Baxter-Moore. Routledge music companions (New York: Routledge, 2019) 177–185. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-12616]
Abstract: Lou Reed is rarely considered a humorist. Yet, the author identifies the humorous impulse in Reed, which he sees as dry and ironic, raunchy and tasteless, and dark and cynical. He draws on the three main theories of humor (superiority, incongruity, and relief) to explicate songs like Dirt and The gift, Reed’s laughter at the end of the original recording of Heroin, and his on-stage monologues.
_____. “Why is this man laughing?”, Rock music studies III/2 (2016) 180–191. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-25331]
Abstract: There is a good deal of humor, from dry and ironical to raunchy and tasteless, in the music and live monologues of Lou Reed, both as a member of The Velvet Underground and as a solo artist. To examine Reed’s wide-ranging humor in terms of the three major categories comprising the philosophy of humor (superiority theory, incongruity theory, and relief theory) is to appreciate the nuances of a rock humorist who could at one point be heard laughing at the end of a song about heroin’s destructiveness and at another point delivering a scathing but hilarious attack on well-known rock journalists who annoyed him. As this analysis demonstrates, the diversity of tone, subject matter, and manner of delivery of Reed’s humor reflects an artist who satisfied, in terms defined as much by courage as by literary skill, the three classic divisions of humor, suggesting that despite his reputation for writing dark and often cynical songs about taboo topics, Lou Reed enjoyed hearing the sound of laughter, sometimes his own, when he gave free expression to his comic genius.
Reed, Lou. Lou Reed: The last interview and other conversations (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-81311]
Abstract: A revealing collection of interviews with one of the greatest artists in the history of rock ’n’ roll—as brilliant, punchy, and blustery as the man himself. In this collection of interviews given over 30 years, including his final interview, Lou Reed oscillates between losing patience with his interviewers (he was famous for walking out on them) and sharing profound observations on the human experience, especially as he reflects on poetry and novels, the joy of live performances, and the power of sound. In conversation with legendary rock critics and authors he respected, Reed’s interviews are as pithy and brilliant as the man himself.
Finally, take a listen to some of the music that Reed liked in “Listen Like Lou Did”, a playlist curated by NYPL.
And definitely take a second to get what is surely the coolest, most New York, free library card that has ever existed.
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The Brazilian recording star Luiz Gonzaga made a career of singing about the drought-plagued northeastern Brazil countryside, where he is still revered as emblematic of the region.
For individuals who predict the weather based on natural patterns in the northeastern backlands, Gonzaga’s music continues to lend credibility, clarity, and local significance to the practice known as rain prophecy.
For example, his Acauãclearly conveys the meaning of the laughing falcon’s cry for the region’s inhabitants: it augurs and “invites” drought. “In the joy of the rainy season/sing the river frog, the tree frog, the toad/but in the sorrow of drought/you hear only the acauã.” The song ends with Gonzaga mimicking the bird’s call, evoking a sound that arouses powerful emotions in the region’s inhabitants.
When northeastern rain prophets cite Gonzaga’s songs, they add credibility to their own expertise, framing it in a context that most Brazilians can comprehend. Enhanced by his national fame and legendary status, Gonzaga’s voice continues to play a significant role in the maintenance of traditional ecological knowledge.
This according to “Birdsong and a song about a bird: Popular music and the mediation of traditional ecological knowledge in northeastern Brazil” by Michael B. Silvers (Ethnomusicology LIX/3 [fall 2015] 380–97).
Today is Gonzaga’s 110th birthday! Above, Gonzaga performing in the traditional costume of the northeastern rancheiros, in 1957 (Arquivo Nacional, public domain); below, his 1952 recording of Acauã.
BONUS: Gonzaga performs Acauã in a film intended for television broadcast. In his introduction he compares the local significance of the laughing falcon’s call with that of the purple-throated euphonia, which heralds rain.
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Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →