moments before the wind.

April 30, 2006

EMP Pop Conference #5

Filed under: authenticity, business, folk, labels, marketing, music, writing — alimarcus @ 4:07 pm

A couple of different papers either explicity or tangentially dealt with the role and meaning of Jewish participation in the music industry.  From Ronald Cohen's survey of Jewish involvement in music to Jody Rosen's discussion of Irving Berlin, mixed in with the oft-discussed similarities between Jewish and African-American culture and even an article in today's NY Times about Jew's sympathetic interest in Darfurian refugees, the issue of Jewishness and music and assimilation has been present pretty consistently all weekend, at least in my head.

Rosen, in his lecture about the gray areas of ragtime, made a distinction between the earliest Tin Pan Alley music and the later tunes, explaining that second generation immigrants didn't have ethnicity issues to work out 'and all of a sudden all the songs were 32 bars and 'I love you.'"  He cited Berlin vs. the Gershwins as a prime example of this.  Now I don't know what to make of this example because I am not incredibly knowledgable on any of these men's lives and works.  But they were born within a few years of each other, and while Berlin was born abroad and came to the US at the age of 5, Gershwin was born in New York to immigrant parents.  There is a separation here, but not really that many years, and not really at an age where conscious appreciation of culture is in great effect.  I wonder if you really can find a lot of harmonic and structural difference between the songs they wrote. 

I wonder, in fact, if you can make such a claim about Tin Pan Alley.  Despite the issues with the actual example, ther larger point that Rosen made is I think that somewhere along the way, due to ethnic assimilation, industry consolidation of power and marketing channels, and a growing trend away from blues and jazz towards country, folk and rock (i.e. from complex to simple), among other things, the character of Tin Pan Alley changed for the worse.  For the commercial.

My perspective on Tin Pan Alley is that it has always been about the business of the music.  The factory aesthetic of the way the production worked always carried, for me, that idea of a kind of corporate structure, a manifestation of that central industrial revolution revelation – the assembly line – in the music world.  So first, that Rosen distinguished between different eras made me more curious about it, and second, that his ideas about this supposed change have to do with jewish assimilation in American popular culture were certainly thought provoking.  Does Jewish culture continue to have a significant role in the music industry?  How much of it continues to have to do with assimilation of a marginalized culture, if we are into 4th and 5th generations down the line?

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1 Comment »

  1. […] This article in today’s paper – in the Style section, strangely enough – is about Jewface and pop culture assimilation. Interscope’s Courtney Holt, Warner’s David Katznelson, the Annenberg School’s Josh Kun, and Slate’s Jody Rosen are attempting to emerge as the leaders of the popular culture rebirth of Jewish vaudeville music.  I saw Rosen speak about Jewish assimilation and Tin Pan Alley at this past year’s EMP Pop Conference, was intrigued by some of the ideas he brought to the table, and am still more intrigued by his continuing pursuit of a nostalgic Jewish identity. As in, maybe it’s not so nostalgic after all. […]

    Pingback by ain’t no one going to turn me ’round « moments before the wind. — October 29, 2006 @ 11:15 am


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