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Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music Paperback – February 13, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (February 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674661966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674661967
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #567,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

University professors of a generation ago scoffed at the idea of their students listening to the Beatles and Bob Dylan more intently than to their own lectures on history and philosophy. Nowadays universities offer courses in rock and roll and popular culture, which have become the history and philosophy of a very different era. The British Frith (Sound Effects) is the kind of scholar the best rock and roll deserves?a true fan first, a critic/cultural commentator later. Like his American counterpart, Greil Marcus, Frith sometimes waxes academic at the expense of his reader. But like Marcus, Frith's ideas are always important ones: What values justify "high" and "low" art? What mandates the various "genres" of pop music? What role does technology play in our appreciation of the music we hear? These and the other high-minded questions Frith examines don't necessarily find their final answer here, but the process is more fulfilling than the slick music magazines flooding the newsstand. Nowhere among his discussions of aesthetics does he offer answers about what it will be hip to listen to next week, but Frith's socio-philosophical quarrel with history about the value of pop music and popular culture more than earns its place among the growing canon of worthwhile pop culture texts.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Frith (English, Univ. of Strathclyde) here tries to uncover the nature of popular music. In introductory chapters, he explodes the oft-attacked distinction between high and low art, defines pop music as a marketable commodity rather than a type of music, and argues that genres represent markets rather than musical styles. In the second section, Frith contends that popular lyrics only have meaning as part of the musical experience and cannot be considered poetic texts. He also convincingly attributes the perceived difference between a cerebral classical music and a visceral pop to European racism and demonstrates how technological advances in recording have blurred the distinction between artist, producer, and listener. Frith concludes that popular music affects both the social climate and individual identities. Like Theodore Gracyk in his recent Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock (LJ 3/15/96), the author buries his sometimes compelling insights in a barrage of academic verbiage that may be difficult for any audience other than academics.?David Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Christopher W. Chase on September 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
There is a lot to say about "Performing Rites," or rather there is a lot to say about the many different trajectories cameoed as this book progresses. It is a work that deliberately seeks to question rather than to answer, offering provocatively fertile and arguable points rather than a systemic totalizing argument.

Keeping this in mind, the basic question Frith seeks out is: "Well, we know we make value judgments about popular music all the time. How and Why are these made?"

That's a tall order. And Frith seeks to start from the listener's "common sense" perspective, but also incorporates production as well. Of course the first problem is the notion of "value" in cultural studies--where words like "good" and "bad" are either spoken from a condescending sneer, highly interrogated, or avoided altogether. Rather than seeing value for music in its "popularity," Frith contends that music is always already deeply woven into schemes of value--and that's why it becomes both popular and inherently political. Music has authors, intentions, narratives, and these cannot be separated from questions of value. Challenging capitalistic market measures of measuring both popularity and value (such as Billboard), Frith takes a cue from Kant, seeking to discover and refine the logic in 'common-sense' responses to music--from genre rules, to poltical distinctions between noise and sound. Frith treats rhythm at length, and challenges the notion that rhythm is 'inherently' tied to erotics, seeking instead historical and postcolonial explanations for this.

Along the way, Frith demonstrates that much of the ninetheenth century cultural judgments and ideologies about music are still with us, albeit in mutated form.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Patricia A. Crane on December 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm always amazed with writers who can produce a whole book out of philosophical contemplation, creating a winding path of questions, some answers, opinions, quotes, observations, study results, and random but relevant thoughts ultimately exploring cultural responses, consumption of, perceptions of value, aesthetics and social patterns related to music whether originating in Africa, Western popular or classical "art" music, ritualistic music, and beyond. Frith does offer some "bottom lines" such as the need to dissolve perceived approaches to the various types of music. He relies on extensive research and historical context to develop his views and there is plenty of credible "food for thought." Meanwhile, his writing style is very approachable, sincere, and carefully crafted. I'm not certain that the book title does its contents justice - there is so much more than the parameters of the title. All in all, a worthwhile and intriguing read!
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By Janet Ashtree on December 23, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A good look at popular music and performance. If you are a musician or just like music and are interested in its relation to society you should read this book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ariane D. Holzbach on August 31, 2008
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This is an excellent book for everyone who like music. Simon Frith style is clear and all parts are interested. The best part is that the author hates all kind of prejudice in music, and makes a very good debate about it. There is no "bad" music for him.
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3 of 55 people found the following review helpful By R. N. Owen on February 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
I bought this book when it was first published some years back. A mistake. Frith takes a subject, pop/rock music, which offers so much joy, inspiration and pleasure then systematically removes all the fun with an over-educated academic hodge-podge of verbiage which should never have seen the light of day - let alone been put between the covers of a book. There are many books on popular music and culture which capture the rock'n'roll spirit or at least acknowledge it's existence, Frith should take his thesaurus and footnotes somewhere more suitable - maybe a study of nineteenth century novelists? Let's hope he's inflicted his last outrage on pop music.
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