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Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music Paperback – May 15, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0226039596 ISBN-10: 0226039595 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 461 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226039595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226039596
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,062,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bayles, former TV and arts columnist for the Wall Street Journal , takes the title for her book from the old saying, "If you don't like the blues, you've got a hole in your soul." The author of this wide-ranging study of American popular music maintains that the African American tradition--blues, jazz, gospel--is this country's "distinctive musical idiom . . . truer to civilized values" than punk, heavy metal, rap and other antisocial impulses descended from the late-19th century European avant-garde trends in art that led to futurism, surrealism, dada and ultimately to music whose aim is to shock. It is a powerful thesis, but Bayles obfuscates her arguments by forcing all types of music and art into such rigid categories as "introverted modernism" and "extroverted modernism." She calls the tendency to shock, for example, "perverse modernism" and claims that this antiart, together with racial stereotypes, has kept African American music, which should be a humanizing antidote to the brutal and the obscene, out of the mainstream.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Impressively researched and organized, this work explores historical, cultural, and sociological factors that figure in the evolution of American popular music. Bayles, an educator and arts critic, leaves few stones unturned in her effort to shed light on the current state of pop music. She begins by contrasting European and African American musical influences and defining musical modernism. She then factors in race, politics, sex, radicalism, religion, and commerce while evaluating the relative importance of each to the musical scene. Her approach is richly complex: a mixture of in-depth reflection, history, quotes, and analyses of styles and performers within the idioms of jazz, blues, rock, country, punk, rap, and the like. For large music collections with a scholarly readership.
- Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, N.J.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Her style is very clear, and her argument quite engaging.
Mark N Packer
I agree that some popular music can be art, but the business of popular music is sales.
M. Bromberg
Martha Bayles's Hole in our Soul is cultural criticism at its best.
James Seaton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Reginleif II on August 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
Did Randy Gelling read the same book I did? He's taking Martha Bayles to task for rejecting in a "reactionary" manner "anything that may express true dissatifaction with the status quo." Bayles seems to consider the blues one of the two highest forms of American music (the other being jazz), and so much of the blues is trenchant social criticism � as she makes clear many times in her book.
She certainly is no apologist for Springsteen; she states more than once in her short (less than a full page) passage on him that she considers his musical abilities "limited." What must have annoyed Gelling was Bayles' acknowledgment that many, many people enjoy Springsteen's music. I agree with the point she somewhat obliquely makes in that acknowledgment: if he's been pleasing both a loyal fan base and new, young ears for three decades, that's good enough, as far as such things go. Why the heck do we need to read a "lowdown" on the political implications of his discography?
I haven't listened to enough BoyzIIMen to see if Bayles might be right in that they're a cut above New Kids on the Block or other vapid boy bands. Gelling's exclamation point after the band's name seems to say, "What a ridiculous idea! They're a popular, mass-culture group, so OBVIOUSLY they must suck."
Which is just the attitude that Bayles tried to combat by writing "Hole in our Soul": that if your music pleases the ear and you treat your audience with respect, you're a "sell-out;" and that the uglier and more inaccessible your sound is to the average person, the more "sophisticated" it is, and behaving obnoxiously on- and offstage only adds to your "mystique."
In my opinion, it's a GOOD thing Bayles is "no Adorno.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus on March 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Martha Bayles is a conservative. I am not, at least as the term has been perverted in the contemporary USA (but if conserving the natural environment is the most conservative position of all, then I'm a radical conservative!). Despite this ideological difference, I find her aesthetic position on American popular music quite compelling.

Her saving grace is her love of African-American music! The core of her analysis is her distinction among three types of modernism: introverted, extroverted, and perverse. The book is motivated by her outrage at such recent youth music genres as gangsta rap, heavy metal and punk, which she sees as the outcomes of perverse modernism. (I tend to agree with her that much of heavy metal and rap are reactionary, but part ways with her on punk.)

She tours the 20th century, though, only dealing with these contemporary forms toward the end, and her treatment of blues, rhythm and blues, and soul is excellent, showing her love of and respect for the music and the musicians. Her analysis of Chuck Berry and Elvis is one of the highlights. Don't expect much coverage of jazz. She respects it (putting it in the category of extroverted modernism), but doesn't seem to listen to it much.

Without agreeing with all her judgements, I strongly recommend HOLE IN OUR SOUL to anyone interested in popular American music, and the African-American tradition in particular.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Most writing about popular culture is deeply flawed, ruined by one or more of several bad things: flackery, philistinism, highbrow condescension, smirking transgressivism, or, worst of all, pretentious and self-absorbed pseudo-academicism. Martha Bayles avoids all these pitfalls in this passionate, knowledgeable, opinionated book. It's a gust of fresh air. Not only is it fabulously well-written and unfailingly intelligent, but it is animated throughout by the author's genuine love of her subject. She really believes in the possibilities of popular culture, and knows what she's talking about. Anyone who wants to think more clearly about what it means to have a vibrant democratic culture, and why we don't have one today, ought to begin here.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By W. C. Rice on May 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
Martha Bayles's highly accessible study of popular music is a fine read, intelligently controversial, pandering to no crowd, deeply and broadly informed. It's not only important for those of us who care about her subject and enjoy a well-crafted argument, it's also a fine tonic for those--especially academics--who are put off by the barbed-wire prose of culture studies professors and their Marxist progenitors Benjamin, Adorno, et al. If you can't get through more than a cryptic, knowing page of Greil Marcus, try Bayles. You'll learn a lot, you'll be challenged, and you'll make a friend.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Chi-Town Flash on May 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is the best appreciation available of American pop music and what has become of it in our time--indeed it is the best one imaginable. It is written in the tradition of the great classics on American pop culture by Henry Pleasants, Constance Rourke, Gilbert Seldes, and Albert Murray. Rich in the detailed knowledge that only the most refined and loving sensibility can gather, it is free of jargon and cant. Bayles writes with greater erudition and sophistication than anybody, but no one who reads her will confuse her with the snooty elitists who write about culture on the right or left. Nor does she steer away from controversy into a mushy center. Rather, she writes with invigorating independence and originality.
Bayles complains that the "popular" music of our day has lost beauty and meaning. But she does not turn her nose up at popular tastes--she avoids the errors of Allan Bloom, whose embarrassing ignorance of the culture of his fellow Americans is still widely shared among "conservatives," and helps explain why he and they cannot reach the masses they claim to want to save.
With a greater knowledge of the history of both classical and popular music, Bayles insists that popularity is compatible with refinement and innovative genius. (The popularity of Shakespeare and Duke Ellington, among others, ought to make this immediately clear.) Bayles clearly loves the best of jazz, pop, R&B, rock 'n roll, soul, and other parts of what she (following Henry Pleasants) calls the Afro-American tradition. She recognizes that snobbery cannot cure the tendency of our culture to substitute outrageousness for genuine innovation. Highbrow disdain only encourages bad musicians to think that their shock-tactics really challenge bourgeois morality.
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