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.
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.
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.