On the Value of Popular Music
What is it that makes us nod our head in time with the rhythm, tap our feet, grin, grimace, flip the dial? What is it that makes music "good" and what leads us to make these myriad critical decisions about popular culture each day? This text considers these questions and seeks to uncover the meaning which is manufactured by popular music. From Toscanini to the Pet Shop Boys, "Performing Rites" ranges over and beyond popular music in its exploration of the influence of popular aesthetics. Value judgements are made constantly in all our life-decisions, monumental and mundane, intellectual and apathetic. Simon Frith seeks the root of these decisions which inform our apprehensions of the very culture we daily construct.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
A strained and frequently patronizing evaluation of ideological, rhetorical, and sociological elements in popular music. In this study of the relationship of individuals to their favorite performers and music, Frith (Sound Effects, 1982, etc.) takes a relatively simple subject and smothers it with facts and theory. Viewing the act of listening to popular music as a performance in its own right ("we express ourselves through our deployment of other people's music"), Frith identifies how music is categorized for consumption and, in turn, associated - by artists, producers, and, ultimately, by listeners - with larger social and cultural distinctions. But his tone, by turns pedantic and flip (questioning taste, he asks, "Is the music fight for this situation - the Trammps' 'Disco Inferno' for a gay funeral? Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You' for everyone else's?") is bound to turn off those readers who manage to keep up with the withering pace of his study. Frith veers off course somewhat in presuming to establish qualitatively and generically the "aptness of different sorts of judgment." He observes: "We can only begin to make sense of popular music when we understand, first, the language in which value judgments are articulated and expressed and, second, the social situations in which they are appropriate." While germane to the dispassionate study of the phenomenon of popular music, this suggestion, and this study as a whole, tells us little about what makes a young fan declare, "Led Zep rules!" - and why that is in itself a valid judgment. (Kirkus Reviews)