Listen Again

A Momentary History of Pop Music

Listen Again

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 13 photographs, 13 illustrations Published: November 2007

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Music > Popular Music

Arguing that pop music turns on moments rather than movements, the essays in Listen Again pinpoint magic moments from a century of pop eclecticism, looking at artists who fall between genre lines, songs that sponge up influences from everywhere, and studio accidents with unforeseen consequences. Listen Again collects some of the finest presentations from the celebrated Experience Music Project Pop Conference, where journalists, musicians, academics, and other culturemongers come together once each year to stretch the boundaries of pop music culture, criticism, and scholarship.

Building a history of pop music out of unexpected instances, critics and musicians delve into topics from the early-twentieth-century black performer Bert Williams’s use of blackface, to the invention of the Delta blues category by a forgotten record collector named James McKune, to an ER cast member’s performance as the Germs’ front man Darby Crash at a Germs reunion show. Cuban music historian Ned Sublette zeroes in on the signature riff of the garage-band staple “Louie, Louie.” David Thomas of the pioneering punk band Pere Ubu honors one of his forebears: Ghoulardi, a late-night monster-movie host on Cleveland-area TV in the 1960s. Benjamin Melendez discusses playing in a band, the Ghetto Brothers, that Latinized the Beatles, while leading a South Bronx gang, also called the Ghetto Brothers. Michaelangelo Matos traces the lineage of the hip-hop sample “Apache” to a Burt Lancaster film. Whether reflecting on the ringing freedom of an E chord or the significance of Bill Tate, who performed once in 1981 as Buddy Holocaust and was never heard from again, the essays reveal why Robert Christgau, a founder of rock criticism, has called the EMP Pop Conference “the best thing that’s ever happened to serious consideration of pop music.”

Contributors. David Brackett, Franklin Bruno, Daphne Carr, Henry Chalfant, Jeff Chang, Drew Daniel, Robert Fink, Holly George-Warren, Lavinia Greenlaw, Marybeth Hamilton, Jason King, Josh Kun, W. T. Lhamon, Jr., Greil Marcus, Michaelangelo Matos, Benjamin Melendez, Mark Anthony Neal, Ned Sublette, David Thomas, Steve Waksman, Eric Weisbard


"Those looking for an entertaining (if unrelated) collection of vignettes that illustrates pop’s scattered history will be fascinated. . . . [A] useful introduction to the range of approaches from which pop is presently being approached, and an indication of the unpredictability of its past (and future) development.” — Ian Inglis, Popular Music

“[An] illuminating collection of essays. . . . [T]he breadth and scope of this collection is worthy of recommendation  the essays are thought provoking academically while transmitting a real passion for music that both serious fan and student alike will connect with.” — Kieran Curran, Popular Music

“The contributors display subject expertise, and the writing is generally accessible and full of felicitous turns of phrase. . . . Evocative juxtapositions include philosopher Hannah Arendt with the Marx brothers and singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry with Camille Paglia. . . . Recommended for academic and music collections. . . .” — Library Journal

“[T]he papers featured in this volume are typically eclectic, eccentric and unorthodox while remaining highly readable and sometimes quite brilliant. . . . As original as it is refreshing and engaging, Listen Again and, by implication, the work of the EMP Pop Conference, represents an important contribution to the serious consideration of pop music—essential reading in an era in which our experience and understanding of music is fragmenting, mixing and morphing at a bewildering pace. “ — Alex Seago, American Studies

“After finishing this collection, one is left with an unshakeable sense of pop’s most admirable feature: its ability to joyously mash together disparate cultures.” — Tim Roberts, M/C Reviews

“Any topic is fair game and no Listen Again essay is any less amazing than any other. . . . Listen Again recasts yesterday’s boredoms, indignities, and wasted afternoons as today’s counter-cultural treasures.” — Raymond Cummings, Signal to Noise

“For those who regard music as a key to unlocking larger cultural truths . . . the title is sound advice.” — Edward Morris, Foreword Reviews

“Instead of focusing on broad movements or now canonized albums or artists, the articles look to singular events and pockets of, according to some of the authors, authentic expression and musical discovery. Here one can find incredibly detailed perspectives about the history and influence of a single song or musical event.” — Mathew J Bartkowiak, Popular Music and Society

“This collection of essays on subjects ranging from ORCH5, a Stravinsky phrase turned synthesizer blip that helped forge the sound of early hip-hop, to James McKune, a record collector who single-handedly invented the Delta-blues genre, deftly analyzes marginal and telling moments in pop history. Listen Again is a brilliant reimagining of last century’s most accessible art form.” — Nick Moore, LA Weekly

"Listen Again has the guiding vision and rigorous analysis that so much current journalistic and scholarly writing on popular music lacks. . . . The eclecticism on display here isn’t distracting; the book benefits by drawing on many perspectives. Instead of reading as a throwback to music criticism’s glory days, Listen Again maps a future for the field." — Geeta Dayal, Bookforum

"Time and again, I found myself putting down the book to download a song or to search YouTube for a dimly recalled performer evocatively discussed here. But this isn't a book of pop trivia, a scholarly version of TV nostalgia shows. Anyone who wants to revisit the pop past will find enjoyment in Listen Again, but learning and scholarship too." — David Hesmondhalgh, Times Higher Education

“The EMP papers are a text radio, spilling out evidence of so many strange brilliant forays into the starry night of our common culture. Here’s where my American history—and yours—goes to find itself.” — Jonathan Lethem, author of You Don’t Love Me Yet


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eric Weisbard is the organizer of the annual Experience Music Project Pop Conference. He was a curator and senior manager of the Experience Music Project from 2001 until 2005. Before that, he worked as an editor and contributing writer at Spin and The Village Voice. He is the author of Use Your Illusion I and II and the editor of This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project and the Spin Alternative Record Guide.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Eric Wesibard 1

1. Whittling on Dynamite: The Difference Bert Williams Makes / W.T. Lhamon, Jr. 7

2. Searching for the Blues: James McKune, Collectors, and a Different Crossroads / Marybeth Hamilton 26

3. Abie the Fishman: On Masks, Birthmarks, and Hunchbacks / Josh Kun 50

4. The Kingsmen and the Cha-Cha-Cha / Ned Sublette 69

5. Ghoulardi: Lessons in Mayhem from the First Age of Punk / David Thomas 95

6. Magic Moments, the Ghost of Folk-Rock, and the Ring of E Major / David Brackett 103

7. Mystery Girl: The Forgotten Artistry of Bobbie Gentry / Holly George-Warren 120

8. “Is That All There Is?” and the Uses of Disenchantment / Franklin Bruno 137

9. Ghetto Brother Power: The Bronx Gangs, the Beatles, the Aguinaldo, and Pre-history of Hip-Hop / Benjamin Melendez, as told to Henry Chalfant and Jeff Chang 150

10. Grand Funk Live! Staging Rock in the Age of the Arena / Steve Waksman 157

11. The Sound of Velvet Melting: The Power of “Vibe” in the Music of Roberta Flack / Jason King 172

12. All Roads Lead to “Apache” / Michaelangelo Matos 200

13. On Punk Rock and Not Being a Girl / Lavinia Greenlaw 210

14. The Buddy Holocaust Story: A Necromusicology / Eric Weisbard 219

15. ORCH5, or the Classical Ghost in the Hip-Hop Machine / Robert Fink 231

16. White Chocolate Soul: Teena Marie and Lewis Taylor / Marc Anthony Neal 256

17. Dancing, Democracy, and Kitsch: Poland’s Disco Polo / Daphne Carr 272

18. How to Act Like Darby Crash / Drew Daniel 286

19. Death Letters / Greil Marcus 296

Acknowledgments 307

Contributors 309

Index 313
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4041-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4022-5
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