This week at The Avid Listener: Joanna Smolko, “Springsteen and Human Rights: ‘Chimes of Freedom’”

Last week, on the night before the national election, Bruce Springsteen performed at a final Hillary Clinton rally. During the performance, he said “The choice tomorrow couldn’t be any clearer. Hillary’s candidacy is based on intelligence, experience, preparation, and an actual vision of America where everyone counts.”

This week’s essay by Joanna Smolko is about Springsteen’s struggle with Bob Dylan’s legacy, how Springsteen builds on that legacy to support progressive agendas, and how his commitment to progressive movements hasn’t wavered. Posting this now is certainly bittersweet. But we at TAL are committed to social justice, broadly defined, and we continue to hope. So this week’s essay reminds us that progression is a long game, dependent on stamina, not sprinting. And we can count on at least some musicians to give voice to the cause.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Since the beginning of his career, Springsteen has been haunted by his label as “the next Dylan.” Though promoted by John Hammond at Columbia Records (as Dylan had been), and admiring Dylan greatly (as he recently articulated while reflecting on Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature), Springsteen consciously chose to distance himself from Dylan’s musical style and forge his own path as a songwriter, embracing instead a carefully orchestrated, hard-rocking sound. In a 1999 interview withMark Hagen, Springsteen recounted that in his early twenties he began to avoid writing lyrics that relied on loosely strung-together images, a stylistic feature that was emblematic of Dylan’s music. However, from the late 1970s on, Springsteen covered songs written by Dylan, perpetuating—purposefully or not—the link between his work and that of Dylan.”

You can read the entire essay here. There’s more to come.

The Avid Listener: Listen, Write. Discuss. Repeat.

Discounted packages on coaching for Social Justice topics

Just added: a new coaching package for writing projects that focus on Social-Justice movements. Normally I offer 5 (60 minute) phone or Skype sessions for $300, or 10 (60 minute) sessions for $600. For a limited time only, I will offer these same packages for deeply discounted rates, in order to encourage more writing and scholarship in desperately-needed areas.

The discount: 5 (60 minute) phone or Skype sessions for $225. Packages must be booked by April 16 to receive discount, but sessions can extend for whatever time is necessary beyond that date.

I am especially interested in supporting projects in any of the following topic areas, broadly defined: pro-immigrant policies / amnesty movements; Black Lives Matter; resistance movements; LGBTQI movements / identities / politics; Native / Indigenous peoples; Latinx lives, history, and culture; Intersectional identities; Disability rights (oh, there’s so much here); and Feminisms and womyn’s history. I’m sure I’ve forgotten important topics. Don’t see your project defined here? Let’s talk. Help me broaden my definition.

About this service: Coaching is not editing. This services is intended to help you jump start a project. As a writing coach, I can help you break larger projects down into manageable tasks; set and reach short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals; begin projects and bring them to fruition; and think about where to publish and how to get there. Some clients might be interested in long-form writing–such as books or dissertations. Others might work on short-form writing–such as blogs or essays / articles. Coaching can help with both short-form and long-form projects. For most clients this service works best as a real-time discussion, either by phone or by Skype. If a different format is more accessible for you, please let me know.

Please note: because I have my own social justice project to finish, I have limited client slots available. I’ll make room for as many new clients as possible. LET’S WRITE. Let our pens be our swords.

This week at The Avid Listener: Reba Wissner,“Dedicated to All Human Beings”: Remix Culture, Fandom, and the Case of Radiohead’s “Reckoner”


Are there any Radiohead fans out there?

This week, The Avid Listener brings you another essay by Reba Wissner. In this new offering, Reba reflects on what she sees as a key moment in digital culture: Radiohead’s invitation to fans to remix songs from the 2007 album In Rainbows. Radiohead has been active for over three decades now. Their music has been both critically and publicly acclaimed. But in 2007, for their seventh album, they handed over some of their creative control to their fans, inviting anyone who was interested to remix songs from their newest album. As Reba discusses, this move opened up a number of questions. What does it mean when there is both a primary, definitive version of a song, as well as hundreds of sanctioned remixes? Why would an artist want to give up creative control and hand it over to the audience who will hopefully consume and pay for the music? What does the band have to gain?

Here’s an excerpt:

“A remix is the digital reinterpretation of a song by adding, removing, or altering its constituent parts such as beat, tempo, and instrumentation. Many artists remix their own songs, and DJs often remix the songs of other musicians. More and more frequently, artists are encouraging fans to make their own remixes by making the components of their music available online as a bundle of tracks, with each track isolating a single instrument or group of instruments. Fans are then free to manipulate and recombine these individual tracks in programs like GarageBand to create a new version of the song. The results can be astonishing in their variety and creativity. One of the best examples of fan-based remixing via Internet comes from the 2007 album In Rainbows by Radiohead, a group based in Oxford, UK…”

You can read the entire essay here. What do you think of these remixes? Did you participate in the initial contest? Join the conversation and share this essay with your favorite Radiohead fan.

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

This week at TAL: Stefan Sunandan Honisch, “Deaf-Blindness and the Avid Musical Touch of Helen Keller”

The Avid Listener is back!

This week we bring you a beautiful essay by Stefan Sunandan Honisch about Hellen Keller and music. In this essay, Honisch unpacks a new concept he has called avid touch. As a central, organizing question, Honisch asks: “what might it mean to cultivate an avid touch in our own musical activities?” Here’s a teaser:

“On April 24, 1916, the tenor Enrico Caruso sang Vois ma misère hélas! Vois ma détresse from Camille Saint Saëns’ opera Samson et Dalila in a private performance for Helen Keller. Keller experienced the music by touching Caruso’s vocal apparatus as he performed, reportedly telling the singer afterwards,“Though I cannot see your face, I can feel the pathos of your song.”

Contemporaneous newspaper reports make much of the fact that Keller’s fingers did what her ears could not, thereby rendering her touch as silent. An equally noticeable tendency in the press reception of Caruso and Keller’s musical encounter is skepticism. Commentators doubted that Keller could experience music in the ways she herself claimed, waving away the sensations she described as figments of a deceptive touch…”

But her touch was not “deceptive,” as Honisch shows. There’s a complex play here between the emotional and physical aspects of “feeling.” To see how Honisch develops this argument, read the entire essay here.

Avid readers of our blog may see connections here between avid touch and two major themes of our blog: disability studies and listening to / experiencing music (in a word: musicking). Here are some related essays:

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

IASPM-US officer and board nominations now being accepted!


In the spirit of election season, the US Branch of The International Association of the Study of popular Music is gearing up for officer and board elections. We need a new President and Vice-president (alas, my term as Vice-President of IASPM is coming to an end), and 3 new board members. IASPM members: here’s your chance to get involved!

Here’s the call:

The US branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular
Music is seeking applications for the following positions:

· President
· Vice President
· Open Seat, Executive Board
· Open Seat, Executive Board
· Open Seat, Executive Board

The committee is accepting self-nominations as well as recommendations of
fitting nominees that we should approach to apply. For descriptions of
specific duties for each position, please consult the IASPM-US by-laws ( ) Please
note: People elected to positions in the organization are expected to
attend the IASPM-US conferences that lie within their terms, beginning with
the 2017 conference (February 23-26). Let us know if this presents a
financial hardship—we may be able to help. A list of past and present
executive committee members can be found on the IASPM-US website ( )

To apply for one of the positions on the Executive Committee please submit
the following materials to by November 10, 2016:

(1) Statement of Interest: a 500-word biography detailing your interest and
experience with IASPM-US. Indicate specifically what you hope to bring to
the organization, and how your experiences in the field of popular music
studies will shape your leadership position on the executive committee.

(2) Curriculum Vitae

Attachments should be sent as separate files, using the following format
(lastname_IASPM_Statement.doc, or lastname_IASPM_CV.doc). Please e-mail
questions to the IASPM-US 2017 Election Committee via

We look forward to reading your applications!

*IASPM-US 2017 Election Committee*

Eric Weisbard, Committee Chair
Associate Professor
University of Alabama
American Studies

Robert Fink
Department of Musicology

Anthony Kwame Harrison
Associate Professor
Virginia Tech

Heather MacLachlan
Associate Professor
University of Dayton

Tiffany Naiman
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Musicology

This week on The Avid Listener: Joel Zigman, “‘Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)’: Building (trans)Masculinity Through Top 40 Country Music”

This week at The Avid Listener, we’d like to introduce you to yet another new author: Joel Zigman.* Joel’s essay, called “‘Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)’: Building (trans)Masculinity Through Top 40 Country Music,” is personal, a reflection of his love affair with Country music, a love affair that bloomed at a transitional moment in Joel’s life. This essay is about Top 40 Country, but it’s also about how gender, class, and place work in Country music. It’s about Texas, and cowboys / cowgirls, and self-representation. And it’s about the ever-relevant truth that music helps to shape how we see our connections to society.

Here’s a teaser:

“Country music is the communal property of this proud, resisting working class, belonging to the everyday life of its primary audience far more so than the Nashville stars and executives that produce it. It also serves as a cultural symbol and proxy for the country persona. This means that all who care to listen are served an open invitation to take ownership of and participate in the fantasy of the country boy or girl. Because country music sounds out a working-class subjectivity, it projects all the aspects of that perspective. For example, because working-class people often perform jobs that involve manual labor, they tend to rely more on nonverbal communication through gestures and body movements. This focus on actions makes gender in country music practical, performed, and tangible. There’s a transparent formula to follow: beer, whiskey, femme worship, trucks, hats, sweet tea, boots.”

Read the entire essay here. Stay tuned for our next essay, “Deaf-Blindness and the Avid Musical Touch of Helen Keller” by Stefan Sunandan Honisch. This essay is scheduled to be published on October 17.

As a reminder: we are always looking for new authors. If you have an idea, you would like to pitch, contact me!

*Avid readers may recall that another essay was slotted for publication today. We had to make a substitution and moved Joel’s essay up by 2 weeks in the schedule. We apologize to readers who depend on the digest for class preparation. We will adjust the digest in the coming weeks to reflect the changed publication schedule.

The Avid Listener. Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

This week at The Avid Listener: Joanna Smolko, “Politics and Protest in Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.'”

This week we bring you part 2 of Joanna Smolko’s series about Bruce Springsteen. (If you missed the first essay, you can find it here.) In this essay, Joanna takes on Springsteen’s hit song “Born in the U.S.A.,” a song that has been appropriated for many different expressions of patriotism. What did Springsteen originally have in mind for this song?

Here’s a teaser:

“I liked Springsteen before he became political,” a friend of mine commented on Springsteen’s performance at the 2009 Super Bowl. But in actuality, Springsteen has always been political. From the outset, he infused his music with elements of working class identity: unions and families, steel and rust, coal and dust, machines that bind you to a community and way of life, and machines that allow you to ride away in a cloud of exhaust and defiance. But there was a specific moment that galvanized Springsteen’s self-identification as a political spokesperson. As Marc Dolan narrates, “Born in the U.S.A.” was used as an anthem in Ronald Reagan’s 1985 campaign without Springsteen’s permission, and in a speech, Reagan cited Springsteen as a beacon of the “American dream.”

Read the entire essay here. Stay tuned for our next essay, “The Accidental (Musical) Tourist” by Virginia Anderson!

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.