What We Talk About When We Talk About Music

A series of posts discussing how I see music, how most people seem to, why the difference matters to me, and why I think it should be important to you, too.

Perhaps ironically, the person I wrote it for skimmed it and never commented on it—a telling moment in our relationship—but these ended up being among my most-commented posts ever.

Modern Day Vaudeville

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series What We Talk About When We Talk About Music
I‘ve been trying to stay off Facebook, but somehow this has just gotten me started answering questions on Quora. Frying pan, fire, right?

The funny thing is, sometimes I’ll answer a really stupid question there, just because it gets me thinking about things in a new way. And then I realized something about my whole long-ago post on popular music as a hybrid performance art, rather than a musical genre:

The whole popular music paradigm is, in some sense, just the modern-day form of vaudeville. Popular music (a term I use for basically all the stuff North Americans think of as “music”—rock, pop country, hip-hop, showtunes, lounge, and even a fair amount of vocal jazz—is essentially repackaged vaudeville, and indeed, rock music concerts are basically just repackaged vaudeville shows. There’s nothing new about them. It’s a cultural tradition that goes back into the 1800s in recognizable form, and the changes essentially entered the form at precisely the moment when American youth began to seek, en masse, alternate “brands” beyond their given ethnic or regional identity, with which to identify themselves… alternate groups to which to belong and along whose lines they could model their identity, self-presentation, attitude, and style.

Of course it’s vaudeville, just as vaudeville is a remixing of older forms of hybrid performance. (Such hybrid performance genres have anyway been around as long we’ve been recording history, really.)

Anyway, for those who are curious how I arrived there, it was a snarky question about Eddie Vedder:

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