The following is a brief excerpt from the introduction of I’m Not Like Everybody Else: Biopolitics, Neoliberalism, and American Popular Music (October 2018) by Jeffrey T. Nealon. This is the latest book in the Provocations Series which takes a strong stand on contemporary debates and issues within the humanities.
This book has a dual origin—first in a provocation, and then in a subsequent thought experiment. The provocation comes in a single line from Lawrence Grossberg, the dean of cultural studies scholars of popular music. Looking back on the field in his 2002 essay, “Reflections of a Disappointed Popular Music Scholar,” Grossberg wrote that especially where it pertains to critical theory, “I do not think that writing about popular music has significantly changed (to say nothing of ‘progressed’) in forty years.” Well, I think to myself, let’s see if, more than a decade later, we can do something about that (and the recent emergence of “sound studies” has gone a long way toward offering consistency to the field). Second, the thought experiment: what if we take popular music to be the spine of American cultural production in the late twentieth century (and beyond), rather than treating it as the frivolous younger sibling of literature, museum art, classical music, art- house cinema, or architecture? If we take popular music seriously as artistic production, if we follow popular music on its own terms rather than comparing it (unfavorably) to other art forms, what happens to the cultural stories we’ve told ourselves about the latter part of the American twentieth century—about art versus commodity, high versus mass culture, artistic authenticity versus sold-out popularity?
In short, I’m Not Like Everybody Else attempts to rethink recent American cultural production through a primary, unapologetic emphasis on the history of popular music.
This Friday in Lincoln at Indigo Bridge Books, you can join Nealon and the series editors for the book launch party! Event details can be found here.