Posts Tagged ‘interpretation’


July 9, 2008

Popular music cannot be owned by the “experts” and the critics in the way that classical music is. It resists that elitist tendency (but not always—see Sue Wise, “Sexing Elvis” in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, 390-98, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin [London: Routledge, 1990] and other writings that attack the cock-rock canon of popular music). Critics at Rolling Stone or other magazines and journals may make pronouncements concerning the value and worth of certain songs and artists, but we all know that if it does not match our view, we can seek out a sympathetic source or we can declare the critic absurd, out of touch, or “not one of us.” And then we can “vote” by buying the song or album, by attending a concert, or by repeatedly listening to the artist or song, thereby defying (in our little microcosm) the supposed expert. If it weren’t for these two aspects—freedom of choice and repeatability—there would not be the multitudes of popular music genres, styles, and artists. The volume alone testifies to the marginality of the expert.

Because of the lack of an authoritative voice, we can each listen to a song and form our unique interpretation, reinforcing Abbate’s concern over the “promiscuity” of interpretation that exists (Carolyn Abbate, Unsung Voices: Opera and the Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991]). The accumulation of one’s life’s experiences affect the interpretation, as do many other factors such as current events. Listening to a song twice in a row can yield multiple interpretations because various musical elements and textual items move forward and backward in our consciousness.