thesis vomit 1

January 30, 2012

My thesis is currently a lead sandwich in my stomach, a thorn in my side and a big pounding headache that prevents me from doing anything else except stare at a blank page and attempt to write it. Luckily some of my other class material coincides with the various things I’m thinking about and I am required to blog about it. So consider this first in a potential series of idea vomits that are helping me trudge through both my thesis and my class simultaneously.

Tia DeNora’s “Music in Everyday Life” focuses mostly on the findings of field work conducted among indvidual listeners and their interactions, uses, embodiments and semiotic relationship to music. Because my research interests lie prior to fan interaction–in the people and places that result in the creation of music–I became discouraged that this book would have little to help me as it was looking at the process through a different lens entirely. But through interviewing Long Beach musicians for my thesis, I realized that all music creators are also music listeners and if I thought of musicians’ outputs as extensions of their musical selves, then DeNora’s concept of a musically constructed self is extremely useful.

Though we are all not defined exclusively by our musical tastes, there are many ways in which “musical materials are active ingredients in identity work” (p. 68). DeNora’s book does not specifically analyze the importance of place in these musical/identity practices, however, she does acknowledge that if someone listens to a wide range of music, it is in “relation to their self identity and socio-cultural situation” (p. 73). To me, this takes into account the fact that listening to a wide range of music is a socio-cultural privelage, based on access to different kinds of music either through traveling, internet familiarity or interaction with various musical forms in everyday life.

For musicians from Long Beach, I see it as a combination of the three. In honor of DeNora’s use of field work quotes, I will let the words of one of my thesis subjects, Dennis Owens, prove this point for me.

“People always talk about how the Beatles were a paradigm shift and they were, but James Brown is equally as important. It’s apples and oranges. To me, he’s my Beatles. That was the music that changed me and blew my mind initially. That and punk. They’re both energetic music. Punk is moving at its most basic level, just look at the dancing involved in it. It makes kids lose their shit. Made me lose my shit. Fuck, man, when you’re 14 years old and you listen to Bad Brains and Minor Threat, that shit is the best music in the world. You can’t even fuck with that. Everything else sucks. Except for the Specials and Selectra and all that. When I first heard Group Sex by the Circle Jerks and In God We Trust, Inc. by Dead Kennedys when I was a kid, I can’t even describe it. I’d never heard anything like that. I just knew when I heard it, this is for me right here. This is it. Everything else on the radio just doesn’t compare.”

With so many different styles of music influencing him so greatly, Owens is a consummate Long Beach musician. Growing up in a diverse port town attached to the growing International city of Los Angeles in the late 80s/early 90s, he had access to a wide array of music with which to use as a “material rendering of self-identity” (p. 69). He was provided with “material markers of his multi-faceted personality that allowed him to spin the tale of ‘who he is’ to himself and others” (p. 72) and with that musically formed identity, Owens went on to influence others through his musical endeavors. Since 1990, Owens has remained a pillar in the music scene first as the singer for influential 3rd-wave ska band Suburban Rhythm, then as a DJ at his monthly funk club Goodfoot and currently by playing bass for the experimental jazz/hip-hop/dub/indie-rock band Free Moral Agents.

In shorter terms, Owens’ identity as described through the music that affected him is comprised of classic funk bands, local and national hardcore punk bands and underground 2nd wave ska. And the music he has made reflects that diverse identity, formed through his listening and meaning making of the music he discovered as a teenager.

Below is a sonic result of Owens’ musically formed identity, an early song by Suburban Rhythm–the best Long Beach band that never made it! (Owens is crowdsurfing in the photo on the album cover).


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