banding together, later

My colleague Eric Weisbard was kind enough to review my first book, Banding Together, at the Journal for Popular Music Studies. [Behind a paywall, I’m afraid.] This made me extremely happy, not only because of the respect I have for Eric and his knowledge of American popular music, but also because this brings the book into a conversation with music specialists, an extremely smart and important audience for my ideas.

I have, thus far, not responded to reviews of the book, and for several reasons. Primary among them is my belief that readers are entitled to their opinions and if I feel they have the wrong opinion about my work, my time is better spent improving my arguments (and prose?) to ensure that my future pieces are more clear and less open to mis-interpretation.

I was moved to respond to Eric’s review on social media because there’s a sort of ‘tradition’ (if you can call it that) of lively intellectual discussion among music experts on these status threads. And once I had written a thank you and a comment I thought: why not post it on WITW?

I apologize to those of you who don’t have access to the [gated] review; I can’t repost it here or I’ll violate the intellectual property rights of at least the journal, if not also Eric. If I can clarify anything to help this make sense, just pop into the comments.

Here’s my response (omitting the totally sincere thanks that open my comment on the thread):

Just to clarify my position: musical styles (and the borders between them) are not ‘out there’ in the world, as objective entities, but are rather produced by music communities which include fans, music journalists and academics, Billboard chart makers, record industry professionals, club owners and so forth. The book is based on a careful analysis of how they (musical communities) carve up the world of sound, and how that changes over time. Musicological genres are neither natural nor inevitable, and I hope the book demonstrates how a messy and wonderfully complex world of sound ends up being presented to us (by so many otherwise smart people) as if it were always neatly bundled into these things called ‘genres.’ The fact that musicological boundaries are subject to dispute, and are mutable, is one of the reasons I propose a substitution of those (mutable, musicological) categories with a sociological definition of genre–one that the AgSIT trajectory illustrates in the U.S. case. [And I’m eager to note that I devote a substantial amount of text to non-U.S. cases.] So I was surprised and disappointed to read that you felt I “offer little historical periodization of the development of popular music genres across stylistic categories.” Were I to describe the book’s primary purpose, I couldn’t find a better sentence. I would have instead expected non-sociologists to complain that my substitution of the sociological definition for genre places it “beyond music” and looses something as a result. And my response to that, of course, is that thinking orthogonally about such things is often generative, as I’m glad you’ve found in the case of Pete’s work. And while I am very much in debt, personally and intellectually, to Pete, I’d like readers to understand that my book–whatever it’s merits–are the result of my own labor (a content analysis of over 300 books [ed: I should have said ‘books and articles’] on 64 styles of 20th century music) and not derivative of the work of some (forgive me Pete) smart white guy.


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