The Western Gaze – Kate Sullivan

As Louise Meintjes points out, “this idea of collaboration presented by the music is understood differently by various interpreters” (37). The concept of collaboration and how it ties in different people and styles and cultures illustrate the variability of any production and in this case, the variability of Graceland. Paul Simon’s Graceland was made in collaboration with many different American and South African artists, and the collaboration was on a large international scale. Paul Simon explicitly stressed that he created this album as a sort of cultural collaboration, “a cultural sociological point of view,” and not in fact as a political statement which his critics attempted to define the album by (39). Simon refused to say what political party he was supporting: “I cannot really endorse one in particular” (39). His inability to define his stand about South African politics allowed Graceland to be ambiguous and up to interpretation, and different groups used the album to their advantage.

            Liberal white South Africans saw it as a cultural bridge between South Africa and the United States even the world, while conservative white South Africans “embraced Graceland because of the changes (in their terms ‘improvements) Simon has introduced” to these traditionally African sounds (55). Black South Africans that supported Graceland saw it as an opportunity for South African culture to be spread around the world and allow South African artists to gain a foothold in the international music industry, but black South Africans that condemned the project saw it as cultural appropriation and saw Paul Simon as a “colonizer” of African sounds (50). Each group interpreted Graceland in their own fashion because their interpretations are shaped by their individual backgrounds and what they have been exposed to.

  1. In the song, “Homeless,” how is Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s sound mixed with Paul Simon’s?
  2. Do you think Paul Simon’s world tour organization was meant to be philanthropic or more for the image of Paul Simon himself?
  3. How did the album help white South Africans “construct a history for [their] local identity?
  4. How has peasant history and folk tradition helped mold national identity? How should white South Africans have used the peasant history and folk tradition to help mold their local identity?
  5. Why would the South African state support Graceland and play it on state radio?
  6. How was Graceland useful to conservative white South Africans?
  7. How did Paul Simon help the South African musicians that he collaborated with?
  8. What affect does the United States having control over the music industry have on music produced outside of the US?
  9. How does Graceland fit in with the rhetoric surrounding the cultural boycott of South Africa?
  10. Was Paul Simon a colonizer that exploited the South Africans that collaborated with him on the album?

Abbie Abraham-Music Identity/Punk Rock

The 1970’s in Britain was a decade of instability marked by rising economic, political and social tensions. The Labour Party was not able to keep the promises made in the post war period, the economy of the UK was declining, racial tensions were immense, and riots continued to break out. Of course when there is tension and instability, there comes some form of radical opposition and alas the British punk movement was born. The punk movement was a way for youth to express their anger towards the system that had been failing them. Having little economic opportunity, the British youth took on a mentality that created a subculture of rage and aggression that was expressed through ripped and tattered clothing and bad behavior. With punk as the voice of the angry youth, the Sex Pistols emerged as a figure head to represent them. Using a basic rock style, the Sex Pistols added their aggression to it creating music that not even the Queen herself was safe from. This movement rejected previous mainstream rock claiming that The Stones and The Beatles are over, and the Sex Pistols created a new genre of rock with an added sense of danger. For a period of time, everything the Sex Pistols made was followed by controversy and negative headlines. Although, the bad publicity only enhanced their notoriety which allowed them to become bigger and later becoming icons of this era.

1.) What do you make of Julien Temple’s use of Shakespeare clips throughout the Documentary?

2.) The Grundy Show Incident (41:00 in the Documentary): why was it so controversial?

3.) How did this incident affect the Sex Pistols as well as the Punk Rock Movement? Did this incident hurt the Sex Pistols or Bill Grundy more?

4.) Regarding “God Save the Queen”, many people saw this song as an attack on the Queen and the Monarchy especially because it was released immediately after her Silver Jubilee or the marking of her 25 year reign, but song writer Johnny Rotten has been quoted “You don’t write ‘God Save the Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.”

5.)Why do you think the Sex Pistols would focus their attention on the monarchy rather than the government who was actually in charge?

6.) Although the use of the swastika was not used with the same meaning as Nazis, what do you think of punk rockers using this symbol?

7.) What is your interpretation of The Clash’s White Riot… is it really politically ambiguous?

8.) Punk didn’t necessarily endorse anarchy, but they often reference it in order to create a shock factor as well as to take a hit at authority figures. How effective was this tactic?

9.) Why was RAR so successful and why was punk considered the heart of it?

10.) Although Punk is often labeled as corruptive especially to youth, what are some of the positive influences it can have on society?

Punk Rock

In comparison to David Bowie, who was political more so as a person than through his music, punk rock emerged as a political genre of music. This was the case due to the struggle between fascists and anti-fascists in the 1970’s in Britain. With the 1970’s largely being a decade of instability in Britain, it seems as if punk rock was the perfect genre to convey these frustrations and uncertainty. The Sex Pistols, with songs like “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen,” were one of these punk rock bands that chose to demonstrate their political stances through their music. Though Bowie was still performing at the same time and even said in his interview that he believed in “himself, sex, and politics,” I wonder why punk rock artists like the Sex Pistols chose to make their music political while other rock artists like Bowie chose to not. Perhaps, this was simply the nature of punk rock music; as a genre of the working class, artists may have began making music in order to spread their political frustrations whereas artists like Bowie were simply artists. It just seems surprising to me that there were artists like Bowie making general music while there was such political unrest at the time, but that may be why punk rock was so short-lived whereas other rock music stood the test of time.

David Bowie – Marissa Whitby

Today we will be talking about a very famous person named David Bowie. This man is many things, I would definitely describe him an interesting person. He started his career in 1962 and ended around 2016 around when he passed away. He was mainly known as a Rock and Roll artist. He called himself and liked to think of himself as an actor, which was pretty accurate considering the different types of characters he created/performed as. His most famous character was Ziggy Stardust. This was portrayed in 1972 through his album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. This persona was the start to a successful career for David Bowie. He continued to come up with more and more personas as time went on; he made it his “thing” and he loved it. Some other personas he created were Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, The Goblin King, and The Blind Prophet. 

David Bowie was many things/personas but one thing that he did was he just went with the flow. Many people were making assumptions of him, saying he was being gay or crazy. Yet, none of this fazed him. He’s iconic for not really caring about what others say. All he cared about was doing what he loved. Bowie explained in an interview with Cameron Crowe that his fans need to understand his progression with music. What’s funny is that Bowie didn’t give the people what they were asking for exactly, but what he wanted to be his own person which makes him even more unique. Bowie either knew what he wanted and produced it, or just simply went with the flow. 

  1. Do you think David Bowie would have been as famous as he was if he was just like any other rock singer?
  2. Do you think he was well respected considering the way he perceives himself?
  3. How did David Bowies queer sexuality and characteristics affect peoples perspective of him? Did this affect his fan base, or his life outside of these characters is? 
  4. Since Bowie claims he is an actor, do you think he was playing the role of Ziggy Stardust or is he Ziggy Stardust?    
  5. After reading about some of the characters David Bowie portrayed, do you believe some or all of these characters made up a little bit of him as a person? 
  6. How does he tell a story through his songs differently than other rock bands or musical artists? 
  7. Throughout Auslander’s article, how does Auslander describe David Bowie’s performances in theatrical ways? How does this translate after seeing it onstage? In the show, it shows David Bowie being a little funny and theatrical in a scene at 1:06:49; after reading the article and seeing him through this performance, do you believe he was an actor, performer, artist, or all of these?
  8. How was lighting used as a special effect in his shows? Do you believe this was effective through his show? Some specific places light was used dramatically were in,18:40 37:33 , 48:12, 1:01:47. Specifically in the Auslander article he talks about a moment that happens in 35:34 of the show.
  9. In Auslander’s article, he talks about Ronson and Bowie’s relationship. In the show, there is a clip at 50:55 to 56:12 that is talked about in Auslander’s article. What characteristics are they presenting? Does this show any characteristics that Bowie is perceived as having? What type of characteristics does Ronson show? How did this effect Ronson’s character on stage? 
  10.  After reading the interview by Cameron Crowe, I noticed that Bowie wasn’t really complying during the interview. He would either give very blunt statements or completely redirect the topic to something not as similar as what the interviewer was asking him. If David Bowie was going to be noncompliant why did he agree to do the interview in the first place? Why do you think he was being very incompliant?

David Bowie and Glam Rock

David Bowie and Glam Rock created a platform for music to be experienced in a different way than had been previously seen within “mainstream” music. He believed that every performance was a way to express himself, and he relied on various personas to make his music come alive, rather than solely performing as himself to an audience. As we saw in the video “Ziggy Stardust” he experiments with various makeup looks and costuming for his musical performances. I found it interesting that Bowie’s Glam Rock performances seemed to be so well received by the audience in the “Ziggy Stardust” video. I think my surprise came from the fact that my understanding of Rock and Roll was always that it was for younger generations of people who wanted to “stick it to the man”, to use a colloquial phrase. However musical theater, at least to me, was always perceived to be for wealthy people of an older generation. In the book Performing Glam Rock, the author Auslander states that musical theater and Rock and Roll had a tepid relationship beginning in the 1960s. As we had discussed in class before, Rock and Roll became an outlet for expression regarding the problems in the world, especially for the younger generations. Whereas, like Auslander states, the musical theater had longtime reflection a conservative political view that often aligned with political leaders’ ideological propaganda. So, for me to see these two things come together and be so popular it was very interesting. Now Bowie did gain some criticism because people from the rock scene didn’t buy his authenticity as a rock artist. Reading that people critiqued his music because they didn’t believe that he was dedicated enough to Rock and Roll music is where the connection to the other content from class solidified for me. Throughout our discussions, we have been trying to pinpoint how these different genres of music resonate with people politically, and even in some cases try to decide what “good” music is. Where Bowie is concerned I feel like people were trying to do the same thing to his music, but he wanted to create a piece of artwork that wasn’t supposed to be anything but entertaining. He even says that “what I’m doing is theater and only theater,” meaning it was meant to entertain an audience and allow him to take on other personas that weren’t is own. This does not mean that his music did not elicit any sort of political ideals. Bowie’s music, as well as his interactions with the media, spark discussions about sexuality, gender norms, and self-identity, unlike anything that was really seen before. In his interview with Playboy that is quoted in “I Have No Message Whatsoever,” Bowie discusses his sexuality, and how people have these many misconceptions about bisexuality. He also discusses how gender norms became apparent when he went to the U.S. and everyone just assumed he was gay because he had makeup on. I found this particularly interesting because in class we have seen gender appear before, but it was only in terms of binary genders and their corresponding gender norms. Where Bowie uses the term androgynous alluding to the possibility of gender as a spectrum. He even states that he was really the first person to start these conversations with an open dialog. It was fascinating to see the progression music has made from where we began to this current time period circa the late 1900s. I think it would be interesting to discuss these ideas that Bowie raises about gender and sexuality. Also, I’m curious to see if others in the class had any thoughts on the role of media and technology in Bowie’s Rock and Roll career.

David Bowie – Glam Rock

Through all of the detailed readings and the performance as Ziggy Stardust, I am still left wondering who David Bowie really is. In his own interview, I am left feeling that he has contradicted himself many times, perhaps due to his own uncertainty in who he really is as he was quoted saying “I honestly don’t know where the real David Jones is. It’s like playing the shell game. Except I’ve got so many shells I’ve forgotten what the pea looks like.” He was quoted saying disco is a dirge, and then said he loves disco. He was quoted saying he believes in himself, among other things, yet is also quoted saying he is not an original thinker and even describes his own music as plastic. In the beginning of the interview, he discusses how he “exploits”his bisexuality while later stating that he was exploited. However, these contradictions seem to make Bowie the artist he is. Above all, what came through in both Bowie’s interview and performance is a confidence bordering on arrogance (explicitly seen in the way he calls out Elton John and proudly states “I get away with murder”) and a love for the theatrics. Despite Bowie cycling through characters, in his performance it is evident that the audience connects with him, as several cried and many sang along. While Bowie himself was impossible to pin down, it should not be overlooked how he not only challenged rock culture, but the idea of sexual identity at the time.

Youth in the Cold War West – Music

With these five songs, we can see that the western influence of rock and roll has swept over the entirety of Europe. Similar to the Soviet rock and roll from Tuesday’s class, each song has a strong and openly political message addressing the common concerns and crisis of the time. I found the fourth song particularly interesting due to its seemingly strong support for communism. While we recently have been discussing the Soviet people’s growing discontent for their controlling government and see that reflected in their music, this German song had lyrics singing about how different places “belong to us” under communism and even sang “out of the way, capitalists, we’ll win the last battle.” I wonder if the Soviet discontent was only beginning and had not yet reached the people of East Germany, or if following the destruction of World War II, the people saw a benefit to communism at least in its early stages. All of the songs had a revolutionary sentiment and what we would consider leftist views, suggesting that coming out of fascist governments these people of both Germany and France would like to gain freedom and agency once again in their lives.

Youth in the Cold War West Wk.10

Great civil unrest was a reality in France in May 1968. The protests began as student protests against capitalism and consumerism. In search for revolution alternative forms of government were considered, which included Trotskyism and Maoism. During the turmoil, musicians used rock music, a new genre which broke genre boundaries and sparked intense debates, to express their frustrations and to motivate the masses to push for social change. Johnny Hallyday introduced this genre to France with his singles released in the early 1960’s. Rock was heavily criticized for its “ability to promote violence,” which was seen in November 1961 at the Troisiéme festival de rock, where a riot broke out. The genre enjoyed widespread success, “Rock music both reflected, and participated in, the search for the revolutionary subject around 1968; but it also reflected the diversity of aims and means with which this search was conducted” (Brown, 89). Revolution songs (chanson révolutionnaire) were written with the purpose of giving the masses a voice and identity. New groups with extreme left (Gauche prolétarienne) ideologies formed, which intensified the wants for revolution. Dominique Grange is one such influential rock musician who belonged to such groups. Also, rock musician Léo Ferré was in his 50’s when his forward-thinking and boundary-breaking work Lété 68 (Summer 68) gained great success. West Germany also was experiencing civil unrest and protests. Anti-authoritarianism was at the core of the West German protests and rock music mirrored these conflicts. Class, culture, and the questioning of existing institutions were three facets by which rock flourished during 1968 West Germany. Leftist ideas were gaining ground in Germany. The SDS “Socialist German Students League” ran from 1965-1968. After 1968, two groups became the figureheads for the leftist anti-authoritarian search: the K-Gruppen and Basisgruppen. Bands such as Ton Steine Scherben flourished in the 1970’s. They wore colorful masks and costumes and encouraged the audience to come on stage and participate. Their goal was to “liberate the consciousness of young workers and apprentices in order to facilitate their political action” (Brown, 77). Their flagship single was “Rita and Paul,” and the group saw great success after seizing the George von Rauch Haus (previously Martha-Maria Haus, the name was changed after von Rauch was killed). The house was a haven for revolutionaries and also cast light on the issues of urban space in Berlin, which can still be seen today. 

Timothy Scott Brown, “Culture, Class, and, Communism: The Politics of Rock in the West German 1968,” Twentieth Century Communism 2015, Issue 9, pp. 77, 89. 

  1. Do you think the complex feelings and ideas of the French and West German people would have been effectively communicated without rock music? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think rock music was at the core of the revolution’s ability to attract people to the cause?
  3. Do you believe that changes in social relations affected/reflected changes in musical genres? 
  4. In what ways was the social atmosphere reflected in music? 
  5. In what ways was rock music able to better reflect the feelings of the masses than yéyé? Or, do you refute this claim? 
  6. How effective was Ton Steine Scherben in relating with the protesting masses? Do you think their engagement with the audience helped this?
  7. Why do you think a push for anti-authoritarianism came so long after WW2? 
  8. In what ways was rock music, and the breaking down of conventional musical genres in general, counterproductive to their cause? Or, do you believe it was not counterproductive at all?

Soviet Rock and Roll

Leading up to the Soviet Union’s political and social climate in the 1970s there were many historical events that lead to the separation of the Soviet Union from the rest of the world, especially the United States. After World War Ⅱ the Soviet Union feared another takeover as they incurred with Germany, so they sought to protect their communist ideals at all costs. They also heavily rejected any Western influence. Politically they were also trying to show their dominance. This combination of factors made them a political pariah, even with other communist nations like China. Paralleling the Soviet Union’s political alienation, the Soviet population also felt this divide from the rest of the world. In the readings for today, Yurchak mentions this elusive “Imaginary West”. This concept is all about how the Soviet population almost fetishized what the West is because they don’t have physical access to them. The Soviet’s find the West’s celebration of the class system and capitalism unappealing but praised them for their internationalism. Mainly though we see that the Soviet Union black and white thoughts on Western culture restrict its own countries’ cultural growth and diversity. Through the critics that emerge during this time from people like Khruschev and Zhdanov, it easy to assume that while Communist leaders tried to assert what cosmopolitanism was, they didn’t truly have a clear sense of what “bad” music or art was. This vague definition of what music should and should not be was seen before in the Soviet Union when discussing social realism. It’s difficult for lasting music to emerge from regimes like this where even the artist is confused about what kinds of music they are allowed to make. I found it interesting that academic Western input was considered okay, but more criticism came of art, film, and music. I think this criticism comes from what we know about music as a political tool, and that’s backed up by the Soviet’s criticism of Rock and Roll as a capitalist tool in the fight of capitalism versus communism. I personally think that Rock and Roll was a perfect outlet for the people of the Soviet Union who had gone through these politically challenging times and felt oppressed. Ultimately I believe that the spread of Rock and Roll and its subculture contributed to the dissolve of the Soviet Union.   

1) How do you feel the Soviet Union’s political climate affected the citizens socially? 

2)What issues do you find with the Soviet Union’s lack of cosmopolitanism, and how did this impact artistic production?   

3) Can you relate the idea of cosmopolitanism to social realism? If so how? 

4)Why do you think the Soviet Union was more critical of artistic Western works and less so of academic ones? 

5) What motivations do you think the Communist party had for trying to learn more about Rock and Roll?

6) What appeal do you think Rock and Roll had to the youth in the Soviet Union? 

7) How did modernized technology impact rock music and its subculture? 

8) What was the role of the Komsomol, and what impact if any did they have on the Soviet youth’s thoughts on Rock and Roll? 

9) Do you think the lyrics “Dolls are so tough controlled by him, and we believe naively

that a doll can speak.” have a deeper political meaning? What is it? 

10) What contributions do you think Rock and Roll music had to the fall of the Soviet Union? What implications does this genre of music have? 

 Yurchak, Alexei. 2006. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More : The Last Soviet Generation. In-Formation Series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Soviet Rock & Roll

If any music we listened to so far was obviously political, it would be these five songs. Every one contained a political message, from comparing people to dolls suggesting they were being controlled with lyrics like “dolls are so tough controlled by him” to repeatedly singing “don’t shoot,” the motive for each song was to convey a political message. They seemed to be calls by the Soviet people against the government and each highlighted a problem with the status quo. I especially found the fifth song interesting, speaking kindly of Lenin singing “only our grandfather Lenin was a good leader.” The lyrics went on to compare their following leaders to Korean leaders and even noted that things will be great once they get communism. This suggests that although they see their current government as very flawed, they do not view their current government as communist in the way that Lenin envisioned it. Despite the hardships the Soviet people faced, they still see the communist government as an option. Perhaps, they truly appreciate the idea of all being treated as equals as communism states or maybe they simply are not aware of how other styles of government function, as can be seen in the reading with popular Soviet jokes being made like “I want to go to Paris again” despite never having been to Paris. This lack of awareness of the outside world seems to greatly contribute to their frustrations with their situation as well as the lyrics in Soviet rock and roll.