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Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning among Springsteen Fans [Paperback]

by Daniel Cavicchi
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 29, 1998 0195125649 978-0195125641
As rock critics have noted in the past, Bruce Springsteen's songs exist in a world of their own--they have their own settings, characters, words, and images. It is a world that even those who know only a handful of Springsteen's lyrics can instantly recognize, a world of highways and factories, loners and underdogs, hot rods and patrol cars. And it is a world that stretches far beyond the New Jersey state line. Indeed, Springsteen's attention to the ideals and struggles of ordinary Americans has significantly influenced American popular culture and public debate. As a rock-and-roll troubadour, "the Boss" speaks not only for his many fans but to them, and often with a directness or sincerity that no other performer can match.

But what can be said of the fans themselves? Why and how do they relate to Springsteen's words and music? Based on three years of ethnographic research amid Springsteen's fans, and informed by the author's own experiences and impressions as a fan, Daniel Cavicchi's Tramps Like Us is an interdisciplinary study of the ways in which ordinary people form special, sustained attachments to a particular singer/songwriter and his songs, and of how these attachments function in people's lives. An "insider's narrative" about Springsteen fans--who they are, what they do, and why they do it--this book also investigates the phenomenon of fandom in general. The text oscillates between fans' stories and ideas and Cavicchi's own anecdotes, commentary, and analysis. It challenges the stereotypes of fans as obsessive, delusional, and even mentally ill, and explores fandom as a normal socio-cultural activity. Ultimately, this book argues that music fandom is a useful and meaningful behavior that enables us to shape identities, create communities, and make sense of the world--both Bruce's and our own.

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Editorial Reviews


"A worthy addition to popular music scholarship....Cavicchi's dialogic and reflexive style of presentation is right at the heart of current cultural studies and ethnomusicological thinking....He is able to take complex theory and make it readily accessible for a nonacademic reader."--Rob Bowman, York University

"Cavicchi manages to convey enthusiasm [about] his subject without losing his critical stance...and he writes in an accessible, clear, and engaging style. It is a pleasurable and fascinating study that will make a significant contribution to the study of popular music."--Sara Cohen, Institute of Popular Music, University of Liverpool

"This is an original area in music studies [which] grows out of the author's pioneering work in popular music as people use it in daily life. Cavicchi takes a scholarly approach to understanding fandom as community, and his research among Springsteen fans has been quite thorough....The book's readability is a very impressive and appealing feature."--Jeff Titon, Brown University

From the Author

From the Preface - This book began as my Ph.D. dissertation in American Civilization at Brown University; I conducted the bulk of my fieldwork with Bruce Springsteen fans from spring of 1993 to spring of 1995, while I was a graduate student. There are few dissertations on music in the field of American civilization (or American studies, as it is known elsewhere) if only because people who are interested in studying music usually do so in music departments. But I learned early on that my interest in popular music and my reluctance to learn a symphonic instrument made me unwelcome at most American university music departments; instead, I drifted into American studies which, in encouraging a broad interdisciplinary study of the culture and history of a geographical area, allowed me the flexibility to study musical life as I pleased. This is not to say that I abandoned any notion of working in the field of music; I spent much of my time at Brown in the Music Department, taking courses on ethnomusicology, attending recitals and lectures, reading musicology journals in the music library, and teaching courses about American music. But at the same time, I was doing a lot of thinking about ideas from my other classes in anthropology, history, and literary studies. This book is clearly a product of my eclectic studies at Brown.

I also see this book as a continuation of the work I did as an interviewer and editor in the Music in Daily Life Project at the State University of New York at Buffalo, while a masters student in the late eighties. The project was a six year-long investigation of the ways music worked in the day-to-day existence of ordinary people. Along with thirty or so other interviewers, I asked relatives, friends, and others the simple questions, "What is music about for you?" and listened carefully. The project was the first one of its kind--no one had explored the ways in which ordinary people used and understood music in the United States before--and it opened my eyes to new ways of studying music based not on aesthetics and history but rather on ethnography and culture. In this book, I like to think that I have continued the exploration of music in daily life; instead of talking to people in general about their musical experiences, I have focused on a particular group of people who have made participating in the world of popular music a central part of their lives.

Overall, I hope this book will find a place among the growing number of works about music audiences. I am still shocked when I go into major bookstores and find plenty of books about musical performers but none about music listeners. One can always find a biography of Beethoven but rarely an engaging account of what it was like to attend the performance of one of his symphonies. One can always find all sorts of analyses about the Beatles' lives and recordings but very little about all the people who used the music to get through the day, week after week, year after year. Indeed, the academic field of music seems to be one of the last of the arts disciplines in the humanities to experience a revolution akin to the rise of reader-response criticism in literary studies, where the prevailing paradigms about the importance of authorship and the structures of a work have been challenged by new concerns with how people use and understand those works. In music, it is still the creation of music which reigns supreme; everyone is expected to be a musician or composer and be concerned with musicianship and composition.

In both the Music in Daily Life Project and my research with fans, the people to whom I spoke were often taken aback when I approached them; several were astounded that I would even be interested in their musical activities. Yet when they decided to tell me about music in their lives, they spoke with enthusiasm and clarity, recounting experiences which were rich in emotion, memory, and complexity, sharing with me whole realms of meaning about which no one in the modern university seems to care. On the whole, I hope this work will further the idea that studying music must include not only the exploration of musical performances and performers but also those who are performed to. I hope it will show that we need more studies of audience in order to achieve a more complete understanding of the ways in which cultural production is useful and important, not only in abstract aesthetic terms like "truth" or "beauty" but also in everyday life, as a means of education, communication, pleasure, memory, identity, and community. In the end, I hope that this work will show that seriously engaging the cultural experiences and activities of a majority of people in modern society has value and can move scholarship into a better position for the purpose of aiding and intervening in the problems and concerns of those people. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 11 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195125649
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195125641
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Daniel Cavicchi is the Dean of Liberal Arts at Rhode Island School of Design. His books include Listening and Longing: Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum, Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning Among Springsteen Fans, and (as co-editor) My Music: Explorations of Music in Daily Life. His public work has included the curriculum accompanying Martin Scorsese's The Blues film series; Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom, an inaugural exhibit at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles; and other projects with the Public Broadcasting System and the National Park Service.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I no longer have to write an autobiograpy February 2, 1999
By A Customer
The book arrived from amazon yesterday and I never put it down. Having been a Bruce Springsteen fan for the last 15 years it was uncanny reading. I could relate to almost every aspect of this work as if the author was describing me. The experiance of being a Bruce Springsteen fan has never been easy to relate to people, I no longer have to, I will just lend them the book. Being a New Zealander it has been a mammoth excercise keeping up with Bruce Springsteen, seeing shows, waiting for albums and the like, we are just so far away, but this book showed me that the experiance of being a fan is the same world-wide. Imagine a book which describes you and your experiances and passions so well that you begin to wonder if someone has been following you for the last two decades taking notes...freaky.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like TRACKS, this is one for the real fans. December 19, 1998
This book came to me as a gift from a friend who knew of my fanaticism for the Boss's music. It is part scholarship and part testimonial, written in the style of the best New Yorker journalism: not quite high brow but a cut above ROLLING STONE et al. It's just great to know that there are deep and abiding tramps like us who can publish a book that talks the talk of ones who have walked the walk, from Asbury Park to L.A. . . . and back again. And now that Bruce & the Band are going to hit the road again, this is JUST the book to prepare for a summer of staying in line for tickets . . . as long as it takes. If you love the Boss and you love good writing, you'll love this book. Thanks Bunny! m.d.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They All Listen To The Same Boss March 30, 2004
If you judge the book by its cover, it looks like a Bruce book. This isn't a book about Bruce Springsteen, nor is it about specific Bruce fans MORE than it is an academic study of people who all like the same artist. It's technical, scientific, and just happens to use specifically-Springsteen fans as the control group.
I believe Bruce was used because his following happens to be notoriously massive, including several generations. This is probably because his music often centers around middle class life.
Several issues:
+ Conversion of a fan - when a person has not always been fond of an artist but turns into a fan. Religious comparisons included.
+ The live experience - what kinds of physical things typically happen, and interviews of psyched concert-goers
+ Community - friendships formed based on fandom, internet communication, etc
+ Participation - things fans outwardly do/behavior study
Now, it's all based on fans of the same subject, so there is a constant reference to Bruce. The people are talking about Bruce - but THEY are the subject of the book.
Know that, before you decide whether or not you want it. I adore these kinds of studies and happen to love Bruce, too - so naturally, I dug this book. But if you're looking for Bruce-specific information, grab something like his Rolling Stone interviews collection.
"In the end, while fans' feelings may fluctuate, connecting with Springsteen means that he becomes a part of each fan, a continuing presence to which they may turn again and again. On the whole, fandom is not some particular thing one has or does. Fandom is a process of being; it is the way one is." --Daniel Cavicchi, the author
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, well thought out March 4, 2014
By Jess S.
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Used this book as part of a research paper. Love the stories of fans and the massive amount of research put into this book. Music industry peeps and Springsteen fans alike should read this book, you'll definitely get something out of it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Read for Fan-Minded People January 19, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you ever felt like you were alone or perhaps abnormal for being a fanatic, this book and the studies Daniel has conducted, and continues to expand on at RISD being a professor, will make you feel absolutely normal. Fans use their hobbies to connect to others, find themselves and get through the day. It's wonderful when someone can put into words what fan culture/anthropology is.
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