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Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music

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Who's better? Billie Holiday or P. J. Harvey? Blur or Oasis? Dylan or Keats? And how many friendships have ridden on the answer? Such questions aren't merely the stuff of fanzines and idle talk; they inform our most passionate arguments, distill our most deeply held values, make meaning of our ever-changing culture. In Performing Rites, one of the most influential writers Who's better? Billie Holiday or P. J. Harvey? Blur or Oasis? Dylan or Keats? And how many friendships have ridden on the answer? Such questions aren't merely the stuff of fanzines and idle talk; they inform our most passionate arguments, distill our most deeply held values, make meaning of our ever-changing culture. In Performing Rites, one of the most influential writers on popular music asks what we talk about when we talk about music. What's good, what's bad? What's high, what's low? Why do such distinctions matter? Instead of dismissing emotional response and personal taste as inaccessible to the academic critic, Simon Frith takes these forms of engagement as his subject--and discloses their place at the very center of the aesthetics that structure our culture and color our lives. Taking up hundreds of songs and writers, Frith insists on acts of evaluation of popular music as music. Ranging through and beyond the twentieth century, Performing Rites puts the Pet Shop Boys and Puccini, rhythm and lyric, voice and technology, into a dialogue about the undeniable impact of popular aesthetics on our lives. How we nod our heads or tap our feet, grin or grimace or flip the dial; how we determine what's sublime and what's "for real"--these are part of the way we construct our social identities, and an essential response to the performance of all music. Frith argues that listening itself is a performance, both social gesture and bodily response. From how they are made to how they are received, popular songs appear here as not only meriting aesthetic judgments but also demanding them, and shaping our understanding of what all music means.


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Who's better? Billie Holiday or P. J. Harvey? Blur or Oasis? Dylan or Keats? And how many friendships have ridden on the answer? Such questions aren't merely the stuff of fanzines and idle talk; they inform our most passionate arguments, distill our most deeply held values, make meaning of our ever-changing culture. In Performing Rites, one of the most influential writers Who's better? Billie Holiday or P. J. Harvey? Blur or Oasis? Dylan or Keats? And how many friendships have ridden on the answer? Such questions aren't merely the stuff of fanzines and idle talk; they inform our most passionate arguments, distill our most deeply held values, make meaning of our ever-changing culture. In Performing Rites, one of the most influential writers on popular music asks what we talk about when we talk about music. What's good, what's bad? What's high, what's low? Why do such distinctions matter? Instead of dismissing emotional response and personal taste as inaccessible to the academic critic, Simon Frith takes these forms of engagement as his subject--and discloses their place at the very center of the aesthetics that structure our culture and color our lives. Taking up hundreds of songs and writers, Frith insists on acts of evaluation of popular music as music. Ranging through and beyond the twentieth century, Performing Rites puts the Pet Shop Boys and Puccini, rhythm and lyric, voice and technology, into a dialogue about the undeniable impact of popular aesthetics on our lives. How we nod our heads or tap our feet, grin or grimace or flip the dial; how we determine what's sublime and what's "for real"--these are part of the way we construct our social identities, and an essential response to the performance of all music. Frith argues that listening itself is a performance, both social gesture and bodily response. From how they are made to how they are received, popular songs appear here as not only meriting aesthetic judgments but also demanding them, and shaping our understanding of what all music means.

30 review for Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    Julio César

    De esos libros que siempre recordaremos. Todo investigador, todo científico, atesora en su memoria ciertos libros que cambiaron su manera de entender el mundo (o su especialidad, que vendría a ser lo mismo). Desde que me empecé a interesar en el arte tuve la suerte de toparme con un par: Los mundos del arte. Sociología del trabajo artístico, Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. Y ahora este. Bienvenida la traducción del clásico de Simon Frith, el cual conocía de cita De esos libros que siempre recordaremos. Todo investigador, todo científico, atesora en su memoria ciertos libros que cambiaron su manera de entender el mundo (o su especialidad, que vendría a ser lo mismo). Desde que me empecé a interesar en el arte tuve la suerte de toparme con un par: Los mundos del arte. Sociología del trabajo artístico, Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. Y ahora este. Bienvenida la traducción del clásico de Simon Frith, el cual conocía de citas y por artículos esporádicos aquí y allá (el gran "Música e identidad" en The Question of Cultural Identity). Muy bueno el trabajo de Fermín Rodríguez -se agradece el español aporteñado. Y el libro es una maravilla. Es de esos textos que a cada página te hacen pensar, te hacen ubicarte en tiempo y espacio y reflexionar en la cantidad de situaciones de tu vida en la que eso se aplica. Los análisis de la performance, de la importancia de la voz, de la música como individualista y social a la vez, son francamente inolvidables y magistrales. Faltan las palabras. Un libro esencial.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Simon Mcleish

    Originally published on my blog here in November 1998. Performing Rites is an academic analysis of the meaning and role of music from the standpoint of a cultural studies expert who has also been a well-known rock-music critic (he was the chairman of the judges for the Mercury Music prize for some years, for example). Though ostensibly about popular music, much of what Frith has to say is based on classical musicology (for the obvious reason that there is far more material available in this field Originally published on my blog here in November 1998. Performing Rites is an academic analysis of the meaning and role of music from the standpoint of a cultural studies expert who has also been a well-known rock-music critic (he was the chairman of the judges for the Mercury Music prize for some years, for example). Though ostensibly about popular music, much of what Frith has to say is based on classical musicology (for the obvious reason that there is far more material available in this field). As a cultural theorist, Frith is fascinated by non-musical aspects of popular music culture - performance conventions, the role of intermediaries from producers to record shops, and so on. That he manages to pull such disparate material as that which covers these areas together with that of musicology is something in a triumph in itself. Considering his background, Frith's eventual conclusion is not a huge surprise: popular music, like other aspects of popular culture, is important to people because it confers identity, membership in a particular community. This may seem a little strange if it is a new idea, but you will probably find (as I did) that thinking back on when you first started liking particular kinds of popular music will confirm it to at least some extent. Certainly, to be a fan of top forty bands when I was at school would not have been a good way to become popular. The idea is really that if we regard different genres of popular music as equal in merit, musicality and power - and comparing the things people write about them, this seems almost inevitable to Frith - the major difference between reggae, heavy metal and disco (for example) is in the community of the genre's fans. Frith identifies companionship in such a community - conversations and arguments about the merits of different artists in a pub, fanzines, ideas of authenticity (the subject of arguments even in such artificial genres as eurodisco), and so on - as one of the main pleasures of popular culture. In a sense, this reverses an idea of C.S. Lewis (in The Four Loves), that the particular pleasure of friendship is in shared interests. To Lewis, the interests bring the friendship; to Frith, the desire for friendship determines the interests. The book is thought provoking throughout; worth reading for anyone interested in popular music culture who feels they can keep up with the dense academic style.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Markgroner

    Its hard to review this. In some ways its great, but you have to work to separate the good from the bad.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jehnie

    A sociological analysis of popular music which takes a lot of the traditional theory about classical music and applies it to rock 'n' roll. It is dated, having being published pre-transition to digital. It is digestible for a non-academic, but includes all the key theorists necessary for analysis. A sociological analysis of popular music which takes a lot of the traditional theory about classical music and applies it to rock 'n' roll. It is dated, having being published pre-transition to digital. It is digestible for a non-academic, but includes all the key theorists necessary for analysis.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kurtzprzezce

    Fragmenty bliższe teorii estetyki niż socjologii muzyki podobały mi się zdecydowanie mniej, ale i tak jest to bardzo wartościowa książka.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Lamp

    Frith offers an accessible and engaging account of my the music we cherish matters, focusing on philosophical and sociological accounts of how we socially define ourselves, create identity and community, and develop our systems of value and personal morality through the music we listen to. Due to the dearth of good scholarship on popular music and culture at the time of writing this book (it was written in 1996), Frith often relies on analyses of classical music, jazz, and other "art" forms to ma Frith offers an accessible and engaging account of my the music we cherish matters, focusing on philosophical and sociological accounts of how we socially define ourselves, create identity and community, and develop our systems of value and personal morality through the music we listen to. Due to the dearth of good scholarship on popular music and culture at the time of writing this book (it was written in 1996), Frith often relies on analyses of classical music, jazz, and other "art" forms to make his case. Some of the insights drawn are useful and very astute, but others seem ill-fitting, as Frith has to stretch arguments about musics that are used and consumed in very divergent ways to popular music. Too, the book only focuses intensely on popular music examples in a few short sections. These parts are the best, where Frith as a writer of prose, as a rhetorician, and as an academic, really shines through. Listening to Music, as Frith argues persuasively, is a highly subjective experience. I would've loved to get greater insight into the music he loves and appreciates and how it has been meaningful to him. The book is also, due to the rapid technological explosion that has occurred in the early 2000s, somewhat dated. Frith's arguments make the most sense in a world where music is purchased as CDs and cassette tapes and listened to through boomboxes and Walkmans. Without being able to dissect how our listening habits have changed and become more cosmopolitan and fragmentary in the age of the digital download and the streaming service, this book can't help but seem out of date. Still, this is a highly enjoyable, smart, and well-written book on why music matters and why we care so much about which bands, artists, records, and songs we think are the best.

  7. 4 out of 5

    jamie

    Ever the champion of popular music and its social importance, here Simon Frith suggests what we should listen for in all genres of pop, and also how we should listen. Frith wants us to listen for and consider the meaning of different 'voices' in pop, how technology affects recording, how sound affects space and time, performance, and others. He's not here to suck the fun out of music for us though; Frith ultimately advocates a dismantling of the elitist high-low culture split, an integration of Ever the champion of popular music and its social importance, here Simon Frith suggests what we should listen for in all genres of pop, and also how we should listen. Frith wants us to listen for and consider the meaning of different 'voices' in pop, how technology affects recording, how sound affects space and time, performance, and others. He's not here to suck the fun out of music for us though; Frith ultimately advocates a dismantling of the elitist high-low culture split, an integration of our intellectual and sensual responses to music, attention to issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and an approach that is critically rigorous without forgetting that the point of music is to enjoy it. Frith is still an academic though, and his text shows it. His writing is clearly intended to be accessible to non-academic, and might even be more geared to listeners who are not trained as musicologists, but he refers to many theorists who are far less accessible to non-students, and his long, intense chapters can at times feel interminable. His ideas are worth it though, and all those who can are encouraged to try and power through it. Highly recommended to anyone who likes to think about popular music of any genre, especially aspiring critics and music journalists.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tiny Pants

    This book is a little bit patchy, but like the little girl with the little curl, when it's good it's very very good. Frith does a wonderful job of justifying the study of popular culture, and also for explaining some of the different issues one has to contend with in doing so. Also, he makes you put up with his weird musical taste throughout the book, which I can respect cause I could see myself doing that, too (so like every third example winds up somehow being about the Pet Shop Boys, regardle This book is a little bit patchy, but like the little girl with the little curl, when it's good it's very very good. Frith does a wonderful job of justifying the study of popular culture, and also for explaining some of the different issues one has to contend with in doing so. Also, he makes you put up with his weird musical taste throughout the book, which I can respect cause I could see myself doing that, too (so like every third example winds up somehow being about the Pet Shop Boys, regardless of how appropriate they are). And P.S. BTW, that's Metallica's James Hetfield on the cover.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    Frith's writing is informative and tackles complex issues of tastemaking in pop music, but never fails to entertain on a more relatable level. This isn't the purposely exclusive academia that one can sometimes get with pop music studies. Frith treats his subject with great respect, passion and detail, and we the reader are better off for it. Frith's writing is informative and tackles complex issues of tastemaking in pop music, but never fails to entertain on a more relatable level. This isn't the purposely exclusive academia that one can sometimes get with pop music studies. Frith treats his subject with great respect, passion and detail, and we the reader are better off for it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I love this book--there are some particularly thought-provoking points about the sociological dimensions of following particular kinds of music.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Seth Little

    This was an excellent academic look at popular music from a leading sociologist's perspective. Very helpful for the curious pop musician who wants a glimpse into some of the science of the art form. This was an excellent academic look at popular music from a leading sociologist's perspective. Very helpful for the curious pop musician who wants a glimpse into some of the science of the art form.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Reece Allan

  13. 4 out of 5

    Juliette Gagne

  14. 4 out of 5

    Fraser

  15. 4 out of 5

    Yuri Cunha

  16. 5 out of 5

    Fred Maciel

  17. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Brockman

  18. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Keilty

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anushree

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lija

  21. 5 out of 5

    George

  22. 5 out of 5

    Julia

  23. 4 out of 5

    Karla Zavala

  24. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Håvard Bamle

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kat_D

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christophe

  28. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Acton

  30. 5 out of 5

    Trent Hill

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