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.

TAL #TBT and Digest for September and October

In honor of the recent publication of “Colloquy: On the Disability Aesthetics of Music” in The Journal of the American Musicological Society (about which I hope to write more in the future), for this week’s #TBT I offer you Andrew Dell’Antonio’s essay “Intentional Inauthenticity: Performing Disabled Bodies, Disabled Bodies Performing.” Remember this?

“…various kinds of bodily configurations have been understood differently in different historical and geographical circumstances, and musicians have helped to shape those understandings while also working within them. Each body (and thus every operatically performed body) has unique strengths and weaknesses. Some are understood as compatible with the individual’s social role or with the “authentic” performance of a character, while others are perceived as problematic. For example, a character might wear eyeglasses with no influence on the dramatic flow of the opera, despite the visual impairment that is either acted or real, because eyeglasses are common enough prosthetic devices in contemporary society that they pass unnoticed (or might make a character/singer look bookish, nerdy, or intelligent). Indeed, a singer’s visual impairment might be completely invisible to the audience through the use of contact lenses. But other bodily differences are more explicitly displayed and understood as significant by audiences and artists alike.”

Several of Andrew’s essays delve into issues of bodies, disability, and music. We’ll have more about dis/ability in the coming months. If you like to plan ahead, you can find the full list of essays we’ve already published along with our publication schedule for the rest of September and October here, on our September-October digest. Stay tuned!

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

The Avid Listener Launches year 3!

Celebrate with us! Today we launch The Avid Listener‘s third year! We invite you to celebrate / contemplate Labor Day and our third year with a new essay by Joanna Smolko, the first of a four-part series about Bruce Springsteen. This essay, called “Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger: ‘This Land Is Your Land’,” examines a chain of music and social justice work that runs from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen has long been a champion of workers’ rights; longtime Springsteen fans are no doubt familiar with his political songs. In this essay, Joanna traces the lineage of Springsteen’s performances of “This Land is Your Land.”


Here’s a teaser: “On January 18, 2009, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang together at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by Seeger’s grandson Tao Rodríquez-Seeger and a choir. Seeger invited the crowd to sing along, reflecting his lifelong commitment to group singing; even in staid places like Carnegie Hall, his concerts were less about performing than about community music making. The song they chose was Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” a song much-beloved by both musicians. As they prepared for the event, Springsteen asked Seeger on how he wanted to perform the song. Seeger replied, “Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote. Especially the two that get left out: about private property and the relief office.”

Joanna has found amazing videos to accompany this essay, including a very charming video of President Obama singing “This Land” to his daughters during his 2008 presidential campaign. Read the whole essay here, and don’t forget to share. We’ll be back in 2 weeks with the next essay in the series.

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


TAL #TBT: “If Music History is Written by the Victors”

In preparation for our September 5 re-launch of The Avid Listener, I offer one of our most popular essays, Sara Haefeli’s “If Music History is Written by the Victors,” as this week’s #TBT essay. Remember this?

“Winston Churchill claimed that ‘history is written by the victors.’ If this is true of our history of music, then who won? What does ‘winning’ mean? Why is it that musicologists have historically chosen to focus on what we generically call ‘classical’ music (or ‘art’ music, or—even worse—’serious’ music) and not on all the other musical practices around us?”

This essay is a useful tool to get discussions going about how certain bits of music and certain composers (and heck, even certain countries and traditions) make it into our music history classrooms and textbooks, while others don’t. Who makes those decisions? How did we get to the narrative(s) we have?

This fall we’re going to move to a publishing schedule of two essays per month. We’ll kick off our third year with two essays by Joanna Smolko about Bruce Springsteen. If you are new to The Avid Listener and want to take a look at our back catalogue, take a look at our most recent digest in .pdf form. Each title is hyperlinked to the online essay. Essays are open access (no fee, no paywall) and aimed at a non-specialist audience. Please share widely and often, pitch us essays, and adapt for classroom use (for college-level classrooms, here’s a Guide to Integrating TAL into the Classroom; for high-school classrooms, here’s a guide to using TAL to meet Common Core ELA standards).

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

Integrating The Avid Listener into your classroom

Attention high-school and college / university teachers! If you use TAL in your classroom or would like to, we’ve got handouts just for you!

For post-secondary classrooms, we’ve updated our Integrating The Avid Listener in the Classroom Handout. This is essentially a list of suggestions with a description of who we are and what the site is about. For high-school teachers, we’ve updated our handout that links TAL to Common Core ELA standards. We realize that Common Core isn’t used in every state and that in the coming year or two as ESSA goes into effect, Common Core may lose its place in state requirements. But the standards themselves–such as citing sources, identifying main ideas, determining point of view, integrating a range of sources, etc.–will continue to be relevant. We’re aiming particularly at Language Arts teachers here, but these standards could also be addressed across the curriculum in Music and Social Studies classes. If you teach high school and are looking for fresh curriculum materials, take a look!

Remember: we’re always on the hunt for new authors. Got a great idea? Contact me. 🙂

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

TAL #TBT: What’s an Avid Listener?

This week we’re taking it all the way back to our very first post, Andrew’s exploration of Avid Listening. Remember this?

“Our bodies hunger for sound. Listening is so important to our self-definition that American Deaf culture has developed the concept LISTEN-EYES to describe the process of receiving and interpreting through sight information that would otherwise be acquired through sound. The rhythm of a song and its flow of emotional intensity, for example, can be conveyed both by musicians and by trained interpreters through a wide variety of physical gestures and facial/bodily expressions, allowing Deaf audiences to view and join in the physical manifestation and understanding of music. This kind of listening is a point of cultural pride among those who might be thought of as “unable” to enjoy sound—those, in other words, who have been disabled by mainstream assumptions about what “normal” listening might look (!) like.”

In retrospect, Andrew’s post set the tone for one two of our major TAL themes: the many ways of listening, and music and disability studies. Want to refresh your memory? Here’s our latest digest, which includes links for all of the essays we’ve published to date. Since our site’s search function is still less than optimal (blerg), this digest is also a helpful tool for educators in the midst of creating fall syllabi who want to incorporate TAL essays.) We hope to start bringing you new essays in late August, and we’ll have educational materials for both college and high school level available soon.

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

#tbt (sort of): TAL and Next Level Diplomacy

(I meant to post this on Thursday night. Fail. Let’s just call this Snap-back Saturday instead.)

It’s been just about 2 years since I first wrote about the Next Level Cultural Diplomacy Program led by my friend Mark Katz. They are now in their third year and recently announced their year 3 residencies and artists last week. In the coming year, artists and educators will travel to Tunisia, Algeria, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, and Indonesia. If you want to know more about the roster for each residency, check out the Next Level Facebook page.

Curious about where all of this started? Well, today we offer a #TBT tribute essay: the first of my four-essay series about next level. On the bottom of that page, you can get to part 2, and so on. 🙂