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Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music / Edition 1

Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music / Edition 1

by Simon FrithSimon Frith
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Who's better? Billie Holiday or P. J. Harvey? Blur or Oasis? Dylan or Keats? And how many friendships have ridden on the answer? Such questions aren't merely the stuff of fanzines and idle talk; they inform our most passionate arguments, distill our most deeply held values, make meaning of our ever-changing culture. In Performing Rites, one of the most influential writers on popular music asks what we talk about when we talk about music. What's good, what's bad? What's high, what's low? Why do such distinctions matter? Instead of dismissing emotional response and personal taste as inaccessible to the academic critic, Simon Frith takes these forms of engagement as his subject--and discloses their place at the very center of the aesthetics that structure our culture and color our lives.

Taking up hundreds of songs and writers, Frith insists on acts of evaluation of popular music as music. Ranging through and beyond the twentieth century, Performing Rites puts the Pet Shop Boys and Puccini, rhythm and lyric, voice and technology, into a dialogue about the undeniable impact of popular aesthetics on our lives. How we nod our heads or tap our feet, grin or grimace or flip the dial; how we determine what's sublime and what's "for real"--these are part of the way we construct our social identities, and an essential response to the performance of all music. Frith argues that listening itself is a performance, both social gesture and bodily response. From how they are made to how they are received, popular songs appear here as not only meriting aesthetic judgments but also demanding them, and shaping our understanding of what all music means.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674661967
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 02/06/1998
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Simon Frith, Tovey Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh, has written extensively on pop music and culture for the Village Voice and the Sunday Times of London. He is the author of the contemporary classic Sound Effects.

Table of Contents


Music Talk

The Value Problem in Cultural Studies

The Sociological Response

Common Sense and the Language of Criticism

Genre Rules

On Music Itself

Where Do Sounds Come From?

Rhythm: Race, Sex, and the Body

Rhythm: Time, Sex, and the Mind

Songs as Texts

The Voice


Technology and Authority

Why Music Matters

The Meaning of Music

Toward a Popular Aesthetic



What People are Saying About This

Richard D. Leppert

Frith's book is bound to make a splash not least because it summarizes enormous amounts of related research, and pushes hard against the boundaries of popular music study's dominant paradigms. In essence, Frith outlines a discourse network through which a popular musical aesthetic acts as a mediating force in music's production, performance, and consumption. He investigates culturally loaded critical language and its effects--the discourses surrounding 'authenticity,' 'originality,' 'creativity,' 'good and bad.
Richard D. Leppert, University of Minnesota

Andrew Ross

This is Simon Frith's long-awaited book about value and popular aesthetics. He starts off from a sociologist's assumptions about musical taste--that taste is socially formed--and moves toward a theory of popular aesthetics where value judgments carry enough ethical weight to serve as shapers of community and individual identity. Aside from the book's valuable and controversial arguments with cultural studies, it is a courageous model of what to do with sociology itself. In making social observation the basis for aesthetic inquiry, it takes the kind of risks that are rarely found in the field of sociology of culture. To say that Frith's approach is interdisciplinary is prosaic. His command of musicology, discography, cultural theory, journalistic savoir-faire, and political pragmatism provides a blend of the scholarly and idiosyncratic that is quite unique, even in a field as eclectic as cultural studies.
— New York University

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