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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, distil 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 centre of the aesthetics that structure our culture and colour 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 poplar 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 judgements but also demanding them, and shaping our understanding of what all music means.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780192880604
ISBN-10: 0192880608
Format: Paperback
(236mm x 153mm x 23mm)
Pages: 360
Imprint: Oxford Paperbacks
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publish Date: 16-May-1998
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » A strained and frequently patronizing evaluation of ideological, rhetorical, and sociological elements in popular music. In this study of the relationship of individuals to their favorite performers and music, Frith (Sound Effects, 1982, etc.) takes a relatively simple subject and smothers it with facts and theory. Viewing the act of listening to popular music as a performance in its own right ("we express ourselves through our deployment of other people's music"), Frith identifies how music is categorized for consumption and, in turn, associated - by artists, producers, and, ultimately, by listeners - with larger social and cultural distinctions. But his tone, by turns pedantic and flip (questioning taste, he asks, "Is the music fight for this situation - the Trammps' 'Disco Inferno' for a gay funeral? Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You' for everyone else's?") is bound to turn off those readers who manage to keep up with the withering pace of his study. Frith veers off course somewhat in presuming to establish qualitatively and generically the "aptness of different sorts of judgment." He observes: "We can only begin to make sense of popular music when we understand, first, the language in which value judgments are articulated and expressed and, second, the social situations in which they are appropriate." While germane to the dispassionate study of the phenomenon of popular music, this suggestion, and this study as a whole, tells us little about what makes a young fan declare, "Led Zep rules!" - and why that is in itself a valid judgment. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Simon Frith

Simon Frith is currently a Professor of English and Director of the John Logie Baird Centre at Strathclyde University. He has been rock critic for the Village Voice, the Sunday Times (1981-4), and the Observer (1984-8). and Chairman of the Mercury Music Awards.

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