Music and Politics (PCPC – Polity Contemporary Political Communication Series) Paperback – 14 Oct 2011
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"No, this is not another book about Sting, Bono and St Bob doing their good works while singing of the world′s troubles. Rather, it is a serious, intelligent and surprisingly comprehensive study of the complex interplay between music and politics ... This is a meticulously researched book, which makes a powerful case for the enduring importance of music and its vital role in politics."
Sydney Morning Herald
"Unearths a submerged tradition in political thought that gives music a central place. Exploring the politics of the star rating system, the ability of musical events such as Rock Against Racism to stir people into political action, censorship and music policy and the role of the musician as political advocate, Street argues that whenever music inspires collective thought and action, it becomes a political act."
"Dives into this world of power, influence and catchy choruses with gusto. Music and Politics is a great book. Readable, provocative and incredibly informative, Street walks the tightrope between academic and fan."
"No other scholar is better positioned or as well equipped as Street to tease out the manifold ties that bind together the musical and the political."
Music and Letters
"A thought–provoking analysis of the role of music in shaping how we see the world and how we organise ourselves. Whether music truly is politics, and politics music, is a matter of contention. What is clear is the political power of music as a force in our lives."
"A must read for scholars interested in music as well as politics, and also for those music lovers who are willing to learn more about topical participatory events of wester popular music like Woodstock, Rock Against Racism and Live 8."
Journal of Contemporary European Studies
"John Street′s Music and Politics is splendid. Drawing deftly on a unique blend of encyclopedic knowledge about popular music and mastery of political theories, Street helps us see how music matters, why culture counts, and how political affiliation emerges out of public processes and private practices."
George Lipsitz, author of Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music
"From ancient Athens to Zimbabwe; from Amnesty International and A+ albums to white supremacists and the songs of the Wombles; John Street confronts the serious and the silly. Blending passions of a pop fan with the skepticism of the scholarly critic, this book offers an indispensable guide to how musicians make politics and politicians manipulate music."
Keith Negus, University of London
"With a breadth and depth that one would expect to find in an edited collection, John Street′s Music and Politics argues for expansive definitions of music and the political without inflating them beyond all meaning. The book problematizes all the intricacies of the relationship between the two, even as it interrogates the crucial connections that make them inseparable."
Reebee Garofalo, University of Massachusetts
From the Back Cover
It is common to hear talk of how music can inspire crowds, move individuals and mobilise movements. We know too of how governments can live in fear of its effects, censor its sounds and imprison its creators. At the same time, there are other governments that use music for propaganda or for torture. All of these examples speak to the idea of music’s political importance. But while we may share these assumptions about music’s power, we rarely stop to analyse what it is about organised sound – about notes and rhythms – that has the effects attributed to it.
This is the first book to examine systematically music’s political power. It shows how music has been at the heart of accounts of political order, at how musicians from Bono to Lily Allen have claimed to speak for peoples and political causes. It looks too at the emergence of music as an object of public policy, whether in the classroom or in the copyright courts, whether as focus of national pride or employment opportunities.
The book brings together a vast array of ideas about music’s political significance (from Aristotle to Rousseau, from Adorno to Deleuze) and new empirical data to tell a story of the extraordinary potency of music across time and space. At the heart of the book lies the argument that music and politics are inseparably linked, and that each animates the other.
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Top customer reviews
Never let it be said that the author of this book merely regurgitates the status-quo (possibly an unfortunate turn of phrase here but never mind) and his opinions and findings are refreshing if not revelatory. No-one needs to be told about Blair's use of 'Cool Britannia' and the 'Britpop' stars he attatched to himself (possibly the most calculated yet revealing stunt in those early New Labour days of power), but this book puts an interesting slant on it, and demolishes some common myths.
It's not quite as boring as it should be, in fact I certainly didn't have any trouble finishing it, but certainly not a mass market or crossover crowd pleaser. I think anyone with an interest in politics, rather than music should read this book, but then if you're really into your music, the politics will surely follow.
Street does make many interesting points, there is a lot of in-depth analysis on each of the inter-related topics he highlights and his book is split into reasonably short, digestible chapters; he's clearly passionate about music, but the overall feeling is of reading a textbook.
What was missing for me was anything about the experience of making music, from a musician's point of view and of how different musicians relate to the idea of the political; Street does - commendably - note the difference between lyric-based musical forms, like pop music, folk, etc., and pure instrumental music and its power to express or embody abstract ideas that can be seen as ideological or subversive, but much of the book is taken up with historical socio-political events and groups like Rock Against Racism, Band -Aid, Woodstock et al.
It seemed to me that although Street references a wide range of music throughout the book, his main focus in each chapter is really rather narrow, rarely deviating from the dominating pop music culture, which left me feeling that there was less exploration of wider aspects of the cultural and business politics that creates this domination.
Perhaps my expectations of this book were unrealistic and for that reason I don`t want to give a low rating just because I didn`t engage with it; this is a book written by a political scientist and it reads as exactly that; I`m probably not amongst the readership its aimed at - for me, most of the material presented here was too dry and academic; it is probably of most use to a student of politics with a passing interest in music, rather than a musician interested in cultural politics.
To be fair this is a huge subject area and one has to commend John Street for even trying to tackle it, aside from anything else. And it has to be pointed out that this is, from the outset, an academic book. It's well researched, thoroughly referenced, and in certain sections clearly more of a `core study' book for certain parts of whatever social science courses musicologists do these days. People looking for a lively discussion of the politics and social actions of a range of top rock and pop stars [Springsteen appears temptingly on the cover], are, frankly, in for a disappointment.
And this in some ways is a shame. I couldn't help feeling whilst reading this book, that too often it wasn't sure exactly what sort of a book it should be. I found it a little disorganised and far too dry in too many places. For example the second chapter- an academic study of music policy throughout contemporary history and across varying governments in the world- was quite frankly extremely boring and although perhaps full of good hard information for the research student, I feel it happened way, way too early in the books structure to keep the curious, `leisure-time' reader on board, which I feel this book will attract.
There's also an uneven attention to particular subject areas. The chapter on Rock Against Racism and the ANL starts off informative and interesting, but in the end rambles on for too long. In another chapter, discursive analysis of Live Aid and Live 8 has been done elsewhere ad infinitum; it didn't really need any further picking over here, yet of course it has it's obligatory- over long- chapter.
There is also an over emphasis on Rock music, which even then, doesn't really seem to get tackled with any great passion. Jazz, Soul and Folk are mentioned and analysed to a certain extent, but it only feels as if in passing. Towards the end, the book touches on Rave and the wider Dance music phenomenon, but ends up going nowhere on what personally I think, is one of the most significant socio-political music phenomena of the past thirty years, and not including a more detailed discussion of this is a huge missed opportunity.
Street does offer an extremely interesting take on Britpop and the guitar-laden/US pseudo-punk rock, white-boy-rock movement of the past twenty years though, describing it as being exceedingly reactionary in its backward looking conservatism. When you look at the posturing of the Gallagher brothers et al, you can see how on the mark this observation is and it is when Street enters socio-political terrain like this, he is at his best.
Which is why it is such a shame this book ultimately disappoints, because I can't help feel John Street is holding back a great book that is really dying to get out. There is no reason why this subject should be so heavily dry and academic; in other areas, such as economics, some great, insightful books are being published that are both accessible and cutting edge. It doesn't need to be passionless and flat to be intellectually `acceptable.'
I really would have rather read about John Street's thoughts on soul, punk, rave and stadium rock, rather than have to plough through what too often- with its heavy handed referencing- reads more like a review of The Literature than a real, intellectual study of the shaping and use of politics in contemporary music.
There are some high points; the study of the star-rating system [and its inherent consumerist conservatism] is thought provoking, and Street's position that politics itself is an aesthetic process, a fashioning of self and wider beliefs that both reflect and represent the culture of a society's wider population, is wonderfully spot on, and why of course music can be such an important, integral element in the process of societal politics.
I just wish there'd been more insights like that, and this book had had more John Street in it, rather than a raft of references to other thinkers. That's a shame. Maybe next time.
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