A Subversive History
Musician, jazz critic and music historian Ted Gioia takes on the history of music but rather than dragging us through a litany of stodgy old men in powdered wigs, Gioia digs deep into music and the forces that shape it. From the beginning, music combines the forces of social control and the forces of creative destruction and he sees the history of music as the interaction of these forces. The forces of social control represent the masculine, mathematical and ordered point of view while the forces of creative destruction embody the feminine, ecstatic, emotional and feeling point of view. He sees the evolution of music as following a process of innovation, co-option or transformation and empowerment as the powers of social order absorb the musical innovation and strip it of its threatening qualities. Gioia locates the origins of music in ritual, magic, sex and fertility. Through the co-option and transformation process, songs of famous men, tyrants and the powerful supplant the songs of sex and ritual. He begins in the ancient past with music as a communal, collective activity and carries us up to modern music marketed to lifestyle categories with artists rising to the top based on their visual impact rather than artistic ability. In the process we learn about the invention of the singer, the rise of the audience and the impact of different audiences – the state, the church, the nobility, the emerging middle classes, and the modern market driven audiences – on music. Gioia makes the point that often musical innovation comes from outside groups such as the descendants of black slaves, backward rural areas, and the urban poor and he describes how this music evolves and eventually becomes mainstream. New music styles often emerge from urban areas and port cities where different cultures and groups mix and interact. Gioia weaves economic, social, political and technological forces into his narrative making for a comprehensive and fascinating story. Lovers of music will love this book as will those who look to understand modern culture through the lens of music. All readers will learn to appreciate music as a creative social force and will better understand and appreciate current music styles. This is an important book and well worth reading.