The Rock History Reader

By Mazullo, Mark | Notes, March 2008 | Go to article overview

The Rock History Reader


Mazullo, Mark, Notes


The Rock History Reader. Edited by Theo Cateforis. New York: Routledge, 2007. [xvii, 360 p. ISBN-10: 041597500X; ISBN-13: 9780415975001. $95.] Bibliographic references, music examples, index.

As Theo Cateforis acknowledges in his preface to The Rock History Reader, teachers of courses on popular music have a wealth of materials at their disposal in the form of anthologies. Whether it be the history of jazz, of hip hop, or even of rock criticism itself, chances are that an anthology exists that can serviceably guide students through the relevant issues and introduce them to some of the significant personalities involved. Cateforis's new collection is geared specifically towards the history of rock, and while it therefore intersects with several existing alternatives-the most relevant being David Brackett's The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader: Histories and Debates (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)-it holds its own among the competition as a thorough, conscientious, and engaging guide to rock's history since the 1950s.

The Rock History Reader includes fifty-nine readings in total, arranged by decade in six sections (the 1950s to the 2000s). These readings take a variety of forms: first-hand accounts from within the music industry, academic analyses of musical repertories and cultural formations, newspaper and magazine editorials, serious criticism from the popular press, reminiscences by fans, primary-source legal documents, and so on. The range of topics is equally broad-from issues of censorship and piracy, to rock's aesthetics and formal content, to the politics of identity, to rock's relationship to capitalism, to questions of race and cultural imperialism. Such breadth was of course carefully worked out: in the preface, Cateforis makes clear his desire to provide a relevant and useful pedagogical tool for instructors from a variety of disciplines within the fine arts, social sciences, and humanities. He is also fully engaged with issues of diversity and multiculturalism: welcome entries on such topics as Chicano rock, country-based rock, reggae, queer identity in rock, and several articles offering feminist perspectives on rock will surely make significant headway in getting future students to challenge the lingering whitemale authority of rock culture.

Because of this collection's breadth, an instructor wishing to stress any single perspective over others would likely want to supplement it with additional readings. Those with deeper historical inclinations, for instance, might balk at the fact that the anthology includes little that contextualizes early rock and roll within the diverse music industry from which it sprang; rock's most important progenitors are strangely absent. A reading from Philip H. Ennis's still relevant study, The Seventh Stream: The Emergence of Rocknroll in American Popular Music (Middle town, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1992) would be useful in this regard. Music historians trained in classical music might wish to expand upon the aesthetic dimension. I personally missed the voice of Brian Eno on questions of production, and a discussion of Buddy Holly's innovative recording techniques in the section covering the 1950s. On the same subject from the academic side, I often thought that excerpts from Albin Zak's insightful essay "Sound as Form," from his book The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records (Berke ley: University of California Press, 2001) would have made an excellent addition (or at least a relevant citation). But it is easy to make such complaints with any anthology. Far more important is this one's well-roundedness and the inspired creativity that clearly lay behind its selection process. Cateforis again admits that supplementation of the kind suggested above was a necessary part of his thinking while compiling his excerpts.

Interestingly, none of the pieces that bring musical issues to the fore would be especially alienating to students without a background in traditional music theory. …

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