Music

Top 40 Democracy

November 19, 2014
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Top 40 Democracy

Eric Weisbard’s Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music considers the shifting terrain of the pop music landscape, in which FM radio (once an indisputably dominant medium) constructed multiple mainstreams, tailoring each to target communities built on race, gender, class, and social identity. Charting (no pun intended) how categories rivaled and pushed against each other in their rise to reach American audiences, the book posits a counterintuitive notion: when even the blandest incarnation of a particular sub-group (the Isley Brothers version of R & B, for instance) rose to the top of the charts, so too did the visibility of that group’s culture and perspective, making musical formatting one of the master narratives of late-twentieth-century identity.

In a recent piece for the Sound Studies blog, Weisbard wrote about the rise of both Taylor Swift and, via mid-term elections, the Republican Party:

The genius, and curse, of the commercial-cultural system that produced Taylor Swift’s Top 40 democracy win in the week of the 2014 elections, is that its disposition is inherently centrist. Our dominant music formats, rival mainstreams engaged in friendly combat rather than culture war, locked into place by the early 1970s. That it happened right . . .

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Excerpt: From the Score to the Stage

December 6, 2013
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Excerpt: From the Score to the Stage

An excerpt via From the Score to the Stage:

An Illustrated History of Continental Opera Production and Staging by Evan Baker

Composers frequently involved themselves in the frenetic activities at the theater leading up to the first performances of their new operas, constantly fine-tuning the score and the libretto during the rehearsals. As happens in today’s productions, composers in the eighteenth century would modify the music to accommodate a singer’s strength and weaknesses. These changes often affected the staging and the production itself. The circumstances surrounding Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s preparations for the premiere of his newly commissioned Idomeneo, re di Creta (Idomeneus, King of Crete) at the Munich Residenztheater in January 1781 were no exception.

The last months of 1780 found the composer in Munich completing his work. Thanks to the extant correspondence between Mozart and his father, Leopold, we are able to read about three of the many problems he encountered: the lack of stage presence on the part of several singers despite their musical talents; the questionable theatrical and dramatic effectiveness of Idomeneo’s first entrance; and difficulties with the final scene, Neptune’s proclamation and judgment of Idomeneo. . . .

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Introducing UCP’s Summer Shorts

June 18, 2013
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Introducing UCP’s Summer Shorts

“Still longer than a tweet and still shorter than A River Runs Through It—”

SUMMER CHICAGO SHORTS

Publication Date: June 18, 2013

The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce the launch of our summer series of Chicago Shorts—distinguished selections, including never-before-published material, off-the-radar reads culled from the University of Chicago Press’s commanding archive, and the best of our newest books, all priced for impulse buying and presented exclusively in DRM-free e-book format.

Aimed at the general reader and running the gamut from the latest in contemporary scholarship to can’t-miss chapters from classic publications, Chicago Shorts continues to turn the page on the twenty-first-century reading experience.

With summer upon us, we’ve selected a group of shorts that offer all the pleasures you look for in that season: they’re light, funny, and engaging; they stoke our dreams of faraway places and outdoor adventures; and like summer itself—they leave you wanting more.

Among the Summer Shorts, you’ll find:

Ain’t Love Grand! From Earthworms to Elephant Seals by Marty Crump God: The Autobiography by Franco Ferrucci (trans. by Raymond Rosenthal) Spiral Jetta Summer: Swimming in the Great Salt Lake by Erin Hogan It’s Alive! The . . .

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2012: A Year in Books

December 21, 2012
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2012: A Year in Books

In wrapping of the year’s best-of-2012 lists, we couldn’t help but single out the University of Chicago Press titles that made the cut as reads worth remembering. With that in mind, here’s a list of our books that earned praise as cream of the crop here and abroad, from scholarly journals, literary blogs, metropolitan newspapers, and the like. If you’re looking, might we (and others) recommend—

        

A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

made the Philadelphia City Paper’s Best of the Year list named one of the best books of the year by the Houston Chronicle included in Bookriot’s list of the five most overlooked books of 2012 picked as the book of the year by a bookseller at the Oxford Blackwell’s: “ feel so evangelical about I want to run around screaming ‘YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK OR YOUR LIFE WILL BE INCOMPLETE,’ in Billy Graham style.” named one of the ten best fiction books of 2012 by the Wall Street Journal named by Wall Street Journal fiction editor Sam Sacks as one of his own favorite fiction books of 2012 named by Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker as . . .

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Art Shay on Muddy Waters (including a previously unpublished photograph)

August 6, 2012
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Art Shay on Muddy Waters (including a previously unpublished photograph)

Muddy Waters and his wife Geneva in Chicago, 1951. Image copyright and courtesy of: Art Shay.

Thanks to Paul Berlanga of the Steven Daiter Gallery.

***

From our editorial director Alan Thomas:

The 100th birthday of the great bluesman Muddy Waters arrives next April, but a recent encounter with an extraordinary (and previously unpublished) photograph of Waters prompts us to start the celebration early. It was made in Chicago in 1951 by photographer Art Shay, who himself celebrated a birthday this past spring—his 90th. Shay is a favorite of ours; his prodigious body of work includes the most memorable images we have of Nelson Algren’s Chicago. He shared his recollections of this photograph for us:

“The editor of the New Yorker ended his review of the new Keith Richards book Life with a plangent line from Richards asserting he could never be as good as Muddy Waters or as black. I met the generally acknowledged Father of Rock and his wife Geneva in 1951. Time magazine had sent me to the south side club in which he was performing. I arrived early as usual and there he . . .

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The Cybernetic Brain: Gregory Bateson, Zen Schizophrenia, and Captain Beefheart

June 13, 2012
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The Cybernetic Brain: Gregory Bateson, Zen Schizophrenia, and Captain Beefheart

Did you know that in a game of cultural touchstones, it’s only a gesture or two that takes us from this:

To this:

To this:

“We do not live in the sort of universe in which simple lineal control is possible. Life is not like that.”—Gregory Bateson, “Conscious Purpose versus Nature” (1968, 47)

Today, we regard Gregory Bateson as the Kuhn-ian impresario behind systems-theory-based cybernetics—a friend of Jerry Brown’s and the ex-husband of Margaret Mead, Bateson was also the first to credit Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh as originating our modern concept of the double bind. Bateson wrote about somatic practices and linked the functions of the body to other epistemological systems, ultimately focusing on man’s capacity for scientific arrogance and purpose-driven, autocratic understanding. Interestingly enough, Bateson made a name for himself outside of cybernetic circles through his association with Stewart Brand’s CoEvolution Quarterly in the mid-to-late 1970s (other contributors included Witold Rybczynski, Wendell Berry, and Ursula K. Le Guin), which popularized the ideas of space- and media-based practices, often in a New Journalism-inspired style. The other star of CQ? Lewis Mumford, whose talk influential talk “The Next Transformation . . .

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Bob Dylan | Bob Dylan

May 24, 2012
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Bob Dylan | Bob Dylan

Robert Allen Zimmerman (b. May 24, 1941)

GEMINI

GEMINI

GEMINI

GEMINI

GEMINI

“Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble,/Ancient footprints are everywhere./You can almost think that you’re seein’ double/On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs.”—”When I Paint My Masterpiece” (1971)

On August 30, 1964, a Sunday, Manhattan lay swathed in the heat of a summer afternoon. In their air-conditioned luxury suite high above the intersection of Park Avenue and 59th Street, the Beatles could hear the faint screams of fans who had gathered reverently on the sidewalks around the Delmonico Hotel, hoping to catch a glimpse of Paul, George, John, or Ringo peering from behind a curtain. Those screams had rung in the Beatles’ ears for seven months as the cresting wave of Beatlemania rose higher and higher with no end yet in sight. In April the top five places in Billboard Magazine’s Top One Hundred chart were Beatles songs. On August 12, the film A Hard Day’s Nighthad opened in more than 500 theaters nationwide, earning more than $1.3 million its first week and making Beatlemania a performance for millions of . . .

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The Wonderful World of Chemistry

May 23, 2012
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The Wonderful World of Chemistry

“With Antron and Nylon and Lycra and Orlon and Dacron, the world’s a better place. You know we all have a smile on that started with Nylon and stretches across each happy face.” King of the jingle (and prince of the cabaret), Michael Brown wrote and directed DuPont’s “industrial musical” The Wonderful World of Chemistry, which would air an unprecedented 14,600 times, or 40 times per day, during the two-year run of the 1964–65 World’s Fair in New York City. (It should be pointed out that a bit of research on Timothy D. Taylor’s forthcoming The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture led us here. The book hones in on the indiscriminate blurring between advertising copy and popular music, unearthing an as-yet unclaimed piece of our cultural history—the musical aesthetics of consumerism, and its buzz-buzz-buzzing.) Brown was a children’s book author, lyricist, and producer, who penned tales about Santa Mouse and put the words, literally, in Carol Channing’s mouth during a run of Sugar Babies. The Wonderful World of Chemistry was his masterpiece, among songs scribed for notable Broadway musicals (like “Lizzie Borden” in Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952) and other “industrial” pieces. Even his . . .

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The Voice of Egypt

January 31, 2011
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The Voice of Egypt

It’s nearly impossible to turn away from the tumultuous events in Cairo, and to make sense of rights and freedoms on the line from an international vantage. We’ve been following the feeds at the Guardian and most recently reading PEN International’s statement, released this morning, and thinking about the March of Millions planned for Tuesday. In trying to stay present with the coverage and assessing where to begin to solidify our understanding of a nation’s culture and a movement for its people, we came across the music of Umm Kulthum, whose fallahah (peasant) perspective imbued her life and work, offering insight into the cultural and political studies that Egypt faced only a generation or two before.

Kulthum, the “voice of Egypt” (also “the Star of the East” and the “Nightingale of the Nile”), was one of the most celebrated performers of the twentieth-century Arab world. The idiom she created from local culture and traditions helped her to develop a populist musical practice that was heralded as a crowning example of a new, yet authentically Arab-Egyptian culture, during tumultuous changes mid-century.

Perhaps most pressingly, Kulthum’s music and public persona helped to contribute to the artistic, societal, and political forces . . .

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A tribute to Puccini and Patti Smith

December 15, 2010
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A tribute to Puccini and Patti Smith

Did anyone else watch Patti Smith on the Colbert Report Monday night? We’re Luddites without a TV, we admit, and this pales in comparison to her insanely gracious impromptu live appearance with the Tiny Cover Band at Columbia College in Chicago, but. . . . Sigh. Ms. Smith. May all of our cultural heroes continue to inspire with such ferocity. Speaking of: if you haven’t read Just Kids yet, why are you waiting? In the book’s opening, Robert Mapplethorpe is dying—going, going—and then (heart wrenches): gone. Smith wakes up, knowing and undone, to “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca: “I have lived for love, I have lived for art.”

I admit to having read Just Kids three times over within 72 hours of purchase. I admit to my own repeated listening to the music that informs the work, Smith’s own life: Puccini; Tim Hardin; an awkward, failed reevaluation of the Doors; Radio Ethiopia again and again. But the Puccini—there must be something in the air.

One-hundred years ago, this past Friday, Puccini’s la Faniculla del West (adapted from David Belasco’s play, The Girl of the Golden West) premiered at the Metropolitan Opera. From the New York Times‘s recent centenary commemoration:

. . .

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