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ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

"The Song Remains the Same".

On creativity in popular music.aniviolo.gif (8222 octets)Clic and Listen to music.mid 
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  "The Song Remains the Same".

How is this transformation actuated? Here, a new concept must be postulated, that of misreading (or aberrant reading). "All reading is necessarily misreading"  writes J. Hillis Miller  (126). Many aspiring artists try consciously or not to imitate an existing style, to read, or re-read it, but whatever their desire to be faithful (which is besides not always the case as some deliberately play with codes) no re-reading or imitation can be a true copy of the original. 

A difference is introduced, an alteration creating heterogeneity: a new style has emerged. Applied to American popular music, the theory reads as such: black Rhythm & Blues, which had itself incorporated and secularized Gospel music and white Country & Western is "misread" by Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Let us not forget that Berry's first hit, Maybellene, was an overt attempt at Country & Western, while Elvis covered (i.e., re-recorded) for his first two singles, a blues ("That's Alright Mama", by bluesman Arthur Crudup) and a Country & Western number ("Blue Moon of Kentucky" by Bill Monroe). Elvis can also be construed as a misreading of Dean Martin: the low, warm voice with the hiccup characterized Dean Martin before Elvis turned it into the trademark of Rock & Roll singing, together with the 4-piece background vocal group which served as a model for Elvis's Jordanaires.

Then, early Rock & Roll and American folk music were misread by Dylan and the Beatles, art pop and reggae by the punks, while rap and techno artists, thanks to the technique of sampling, misread the whole history of popular music... Thus was music conventionalized, moving from a narrow- to a broad-cast, while at the same time the conditions of its renewal and of creativity were assured. With this theory, American popular music history can no longer be perceived as a linear succession of styles supplanting one another through a series of coups and revolutions, but rather as a kind of hodge-podge, where all the forms from the past are available at once in a synchronic process.

   Obviously, misreading successfully is a perilous exercice; one has to steer a delicate course, avoiding two pitfalls. One is mere repetition which would lead to redundancy, the other is excessive deconstruction which entails incomprehensibility. Nevertheless, the effort is worthwhile. According to Michael Jarret it is "the essence of creativity" (179), and he adds: "teaching people to analyse means teaching them to reread, but teaching people to invent means teaching them to misread" (179). Many scholars express an opinion similar to Gracyk's, for whom we should be "better off avoiding biological metaphors of growth and reproduction that presuppose teleological interpretations" (xii). The decay theory is however a particularly relevant tool to our understanding of cultural artefacts. For instance, interpolated with the concept of intertextuality, it opens new vistas for the analysis of authors who do not simply quote or plagiarize but incorporate and recycle other writers' work, making it theirs and appropriating it.

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° Rubrique About The World