Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time

Article excerpt

Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time. Edited by Ian Inglis. (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series.) Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005. [xvi, 205 p. ISBN 0-7546-4056-6. $99.95.] Bibliography, index.

Imagine reducing rock history to a handful of moments, linchpins on which a whole genre might have turned, or as editor Ian Inglis states in the introduction, "signposts to the turbulent, unpredictable and constantly surprising history of rock'n'roll" (p. xvi). This is, in essence, Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time (part of the Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series): an exploration of the context surrounding fifteen formative moments in popular music. Inglis hopes to correct academics' "neglect" of live popular music performance, a regrettable but perhaps understandable tendency in scholarship considering the availability of sound and video recordings of popular musicians and the ever-increasing cost of live concerts.

The authors of this collection are a varied group, and it shows in their approaches to the recurrent themes of authenticity/ identity and audience reaction/response: a little over half of the contributors have a background in the social sciences and this is reflected in the cultural studies bent in most of the essays. Approaches range from feminist studies to analysis based on camera angles and television production. The performances themselves are representative of several popular music genres including folk, pop, punk, glam, and grunge, although newer genres such as rap and hip hop are noticeably absent.

The essays are arranged in chronological rather than generic or thematic order, beginning with Laurel Sercombe's analysis of The Beatles' performance on The Ed Sullivan Show of 9 February 1964. Lee Marshall addresses the circumstances surrounding Bob Dylan's performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, explaining the issue of Dylan's folk authenticity with grace. Marshall's opinion that Dylan's split from the folk scene represented "an increasing emphasis on individualism" in life and music (p. 24) is well argued. Sarah Hill's essay on Otis Redding's performance at the Monterey Pop Festival gives a good background of the social and economic issues surrounding Monterey. She argues that while several African American artists were invited to the festival, only three (the others being Jimi Hendrix and Lou Rawls) actually performed, becoming an obvious minority that affected history's view of their performances. Inglis' discussion of Elvis Presley's conflicting images in the 1968 Comeback Special posits a "counterfactual analysis" of the choices he made after 1968 that affected his life and career (p. 49). What would have happened had he performed at Woodstock? Inglis's essay, by considering similar what ifs, convincingly argues that the Comeback Special was a significant turning point, one that had a profound impact on Presley's career.

Jimi Hendrix's name resurfaces, this time as the focus of an essay by Mike Daley, who examines the background and impact of Hendrix's performance at Woodstock in 1969. Norma Coates' contribution on the Altamont debacle debunks the rock myth that turned The Rolling Stones into devils incarnate. Her description of the historical events leading to the Stones' free concert and the bad press they received on the United States tour clearly demonstrates the path that led to the death of one concertgoer and the beating of several others.

Significant performances of the 1970s are discussed in Philip Auslander's article on David Bowie and the "death" of Ziggy Stardust at Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, and Sheila Whiteley on Patti Smith performing for The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1976. Both speak loudly to issues of identity in popular music: David Bowie made a career out of playing characters who transgressed boundaries of gender and sexuality, and Whiteley defines Patti Smith as a performer "whose image embodied androgyneity, and who redefined women's role in rock" (p. …