Popular Music, Gender, and Postmodernism: Anger Is an Energy

Article excerpt

Popular Music, Gender, and Postmodernism: Anger Is an Energy. Neil Nehring. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 1997. xxi + 204 pp. Introduction, notes, index. $21.95 paper; $48 cloth.

Rock music is, at its heart, a music of passion, spontaneity, fire. So why is it that many academics and music journalists dismiss the political and social value of emotion in popular music? Neil Nehring has the answer-and, he thinks, the antidote.

The problem, Nehring argues in Popular Music, Gender, and Postmodernism, is postmodernism. Critical writings on 1990s grunge, punk, and Riot Grrls groups typically ridicule performers' rage as rock-and-roll scream therapy at best, or a calculated pose at worst. But, according to Nehring, such dismissals of angry music stem more from a postmodernist contempt for genuine emotion than from an understanding of how pop music functions both for performers and listeners.

To restore emotions such as anger to their rightful place in discussions of rock music, Nehring suggests the antidote lies in feminist philosophy. Just as Riot Grrls groups such as Bikini Kill and Hole (led by Courtney Love) have relied on unfettered emotion to make their point on stage, feminist philosophy argues that "emotions are rational judgments formed out of social interaction...and that anger is the `essential political emotion"' (107).

The first half of Popular Music, Gender, and Postmodernism is an unrelenting indictment of the anti-emotion strain in music criticism. Nehring blames this "willful fatalism," in which anger is seen as just another marketing ploy by the culture industry to seduce jaded youth, on Marxist academics and other mass-cult bashers. Nehring argues that postmodernism's bleak productivist tendencies make it a poor tool for studying pop music. Focusing on rock music as text, he asserts, neglects how the music is experienced, and it is in that experience that the music shows its authenticity-and its ability, through expressions of anger, to give voice to political and social objectives. …