Music is Subversive? – Elements of Rebellion

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There are many ways of telling things, many ways of telling stories. Also, that of music. The critic, historian and also musician Ted Gioia, until now the author of books focused mainly on sounds of African-American roots (jazz, blues …), has decided to go one step further in his work and proposes in his latest work a history of the music from the origins to practically today, and also brings an unprecedented point of view. Gioia challenges the stories that consider music basically as entertainment to try to show that what has made it develop and evolve is its subversive, rebellious, transformative character. And to support his thesis, he elaborates a journey that begins in prehistory and the origin of sounds as songs until it reaches the most innovative musical forms, substantially determined by technological advances in terms of musical creation and reproduction.

In the music. A subversive story we discover how sex and violence are the constants most revisited by musicians (some statistics indicate that up to 92% of the songs talk about sex); we see how rebellion has been the habitual food of musicians; We note how, beyond fun, music has often pursued ecstasy and trance … And it is these elements of rebellion, of subversion, in the face of the desire to control power (political, religious, economic) that have really made music evolve and transform it, while exercising a power of social transformation. In the history of Gioia this has been the case from Neanderthals to ancient Greece, from Mesopotamia to China or India, in the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance, Romanticism or in the 20th century, either with rock’n roll. or hip hop. A story in which the troubadours, Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, the slaves who brought their laments in the form of songs to America, Robert Johnson and Louis Armstrong, Elvis, the Beatles and the punks are found.

Elvis Presley

Gioia’s proposal may seem debatable, risky and daring, but the author supports it with numerous bibliographic references, studies, investigations, figures, case analyzes … which mean that, at the very least, it should be taken into consideration, since his work is full suggestive ideas. For example, in his references to the relationship of classical philosophers with music. For example, deciphering a series of dualities in which musical production has developed since its origins: femininity / masculinity, marginality / institutionalism, sacred / profane, science / magic … Or when he says that “with regard to music, what personal is political and always has been”. Or when he analyzes the figure of the musician as an anti-hero. Or the relationship of rock with the ritualization of violence …

In short, there are numerous threads that converge on one idea: that the main changes in the history of musical culture are caused by the marginalized; that musicians transmit subversion to society through their music. And also, that radicalism always ends up being part of the status quo … until the arrival of a new wave of rebellion.

Gioia ends his journey by questioning his own thesis in some way, when he recognizes the latest musical subversion in rappers and hip hop and denounces that, since the eighties and nineties of the last century, “the real revolutions in the field of music take place in the offices of companies and research departments in Silicon Valley rather than in gambling dens in Mississippi or clubs in Liverpool. ” Music swallowed up by business. But finally, the author is not an apocalyptic and, in his conclusion, he comes to tell us that, despite the algorithms, he continues to rely on creativity and music as a subversive engine of change.

Click here for downloading Ted Gioia’s book “Music: A Subversive History”.

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