PERFORMING RITES by Simon Frith

PERFORMING RITES

On the Value of Popular Music
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A strained and frequently patronizing evaluation of ideological, rhetorical, and sociological elements in popular music. In this study of the relationship of individuals to their favorite performers and music, Frith (Sound Effects, 1982, etc.) takes a relatively simple subject and smothers it with facts and theory. Viewing the act of listening to popular music as a performance in its own right (``we express ourselves through our deployment of other people's music''), Frith identifies how music is categorized for consumption and, in turn, associated--by artists, producers, and, ultimately, by listeners--with larger social and cultural distinctions. But his tone, by turns pedantic and flip (questioning taste, he asks, ``Is the music right for this situation--the Trammps' `Disco Inferno' for a gay funeral? Whitney Houston's `I Will Always Love You' for everyone else's?'') is bound to turn off those readers who manage to keep up with the withering pace of his study. Frith veers off course somewhat in presuming to establish qualitatively and generically the ``aptness of different sorts of judgment.'' He observes: ``We can only begin to make sense of popular music when we understand, first, the language in which value judgments are articulated and expressed and, second, the social situations in which they are appropriate.'' While germane to the dispassionate study of the phenomenon of popular music, this suggestion, and this study as a whole, tells us little about what makes a young fan declare, ``Led Zep rules!''-- and why that is in itself a valid judgment.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0-674-66195-8
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1996