Tag Archives: creative economy

What kind of fuckery is this? Amy Winehouse & the destructive economy of popular music

No-one’s got the emotional tools to deal with being looked at by a million people. Live the dream? Live the nightmare.—Robbie Williams, Take That

There are industry-specific conditions, which tend to target certain kinds of pop workers: singers—frontmen and women—appear most vulnerable. Why the singers? Perhaps because there is arguably a closer relation between their instrument, which is the voice, and the body; perhaps because they are the focus in the band of fans’ attention, and feel the adulation and pressure more; perhaps because the singer is often also the lyricist, who writes the band’s subjective and expressive text. In Laurie Stras’s view, ‘the jazz or pop singer has a privileged and vital role … as an agent through whom identification becomes easier, less intellectual or abstract, more corporeal’.

Pop stardom is an illness that can seriously, even fatally, threaten health and undermine ability; to do well in this career is frequently to be or to get a bit or a lot fucked up. Its workers employ medical terminology to express the condition. His then manager described the unattractive transformation of Ian Dury, following the chart-topping success of the single ‘Hit me with your rhythm stick’ in 1979, as the result of him suffering ‘a very bad attack of number one-itis’.

Deborah Curtis notes that, round the same time, as Joy Division became more successful in late 1970s Britain, her husband and that band’s frontman ‘Ian [Curtis] contracted what was known as LSS (Lead Singer Syndrome)’. Number one-itis and LSS are the medical metaphors that describe the industry’s sheer damagability, which may be focused most on, but is not restricted to, those who make it. The pop and rock industry has a notable capacity to facilitate the ruination of its workers; it’s a high-risk, hi-vis workplace culture where one is never quite safe.

English jazz-pop singer Winehouse’s sung question, ‘What kind of fuckery is this?,  the opening verse line from ‘Me and Mrs Jones’, a song on the hit album Back to Black, contains a startling tabu neologism for a pop lyric—one of the signs of Winehouse’s freshness, her creative innovation, of course—which resonates in the context of her lyrics’ self-dramatising commentary on her life and her love life, yes, but also I suggest on her position in relation to the industry. Back to Black is, after all, the album that famously (perhaps now we must say notoriously) opens with a song and a hit single called ‘Rehab’, in which the young woman, barely into her twenties, recounts, to a fabulous retro 1960s-soul-style dance track, the twin pop lifestyle pressures of health and hedonism. ‘Rehab’ is in fact a refusal of treatment, a rejection of advice, with listeners singing along to its refusing chorus—no, no, no; we are complicit.

The control / rock ‘n’ roll dialectic I discuss elsewhere in Shakin’ All Over when looking at the out-of-control performing pop body is relevant here too, in the context of the industry’s treatment and behavioural expectations of its own lead workers. If we speak the cultural policy language of creative industries or creative economy, we should acknowledge too that there is and has long been a destructive economy at work in popular music.

In the discourse of popular music, and perhaps especially of rock (via jazz), a romantic eschatology has developed and endures, which can in some genres become an extreme and urgent ending, though in others it is melodramatic or pathetic. This is confirmed by the favoured perspective of the media industries on young musical death, in which, for example, as Jeffrey S. Sartin notes in an essay called ‘Contagious rhythms’, ‘popular movies were made about Mozart, Charlie Parker[, Ian Curtis, Amy Winehouse] and Kurt Cobain, not about Aaron Copland (died age 90) or Eubie Blake (died age 96)’.

Live fast, die young. Bird lives. And now he’s gone. I hope I die before I grow old. Time takes a cigarette. Goodbye my friend, it’s hard to die. No future. Death disco. Is there life after birth? Do it, do it. I hate myself and I want to die. It’s better to burn out than to fade away. When we’re dead they’ll know just who we are. I’m just gonna close my eyes. Teenagers scare the living shits out of me. No, no, no.

[extract from Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability]

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AHRC Carnivalising the Creative Economy project

Well not quite a project perhaps, but funding for an event and to make a short film. I have been awarded a small grant (£7270) to support a contribution to what sounds like a terrific day at the cool spaces of King’s Place, London, on March 12. This is the AHRC’s Creative Economy Showcase, where research projects that collaborate with the creative sectors, in processes of knowledge exchange, are being showcased.

London Jazz Festival logoThe event I’m leading has a panel discussion of academics and leading jazz festival organisers, the academics having been funded by AHRC for their jazz and festivals-related research, and the organisers coming from festivals that value including academic content.

We are also producing a short film, by filmmaker Gemma Thorpe, featuring interviews with both sets of people.

Our academics:

  • Prof Martin Cloonan, Culture & Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, PI/Co-I live music and jazz festivals projects
  • Prof Tony Whyton, Music, University of Salford, PI Rhythm Changes project
  • Alison Eales, University of Glasgow, CDA PhD candidate.

Our festival partners:

Our filmmaker:

  • Gemma Thorpe (made the wonderful film of Cumbrian hill-farmers, A Break in the Clouds, for Connected Communities archaeology/heritage project in 2013).

Glasgow JF logoWe draw on five research projects across music festivals funded directly or indirectly (HERA) by AHRC, and all of which have a central impetus around knowledge exchange / co-production:

  1. Developing Knowledge Exchange in the Live Music Sector project (2012-13)
  2. AHRC Connected Communities Leadership Fellowship (2012-15)
  3. 25 Years of the Glasgow International Jazz Festival: Urban Regeneration, Regional Identity, and Programming Policy CDA (2011-14)
  4. HERA Rhythm Changes: Jazz Cultures and European Identities project (2010-13)
  5. The Promotion of Live Music in the UK: a Historical, Cultural and Institutional Analysis project (2008-11).

These projects represent a significant investment by AHRC in at least five current or recent jazz and related music festival-centred research projects, including one of the world’s the leading jazz festivals (according to The Guardian), London. Also included in the events is an AHRC strategic partner (Cheltenham Festivals). They are high-profile organisations. The festivals featured have very different organisational structures and yet each has an established track record of working with universities on KE projects.

Cheltenham JF 2014 announcementKey aims are to explore these issues and to produce the following:

  • International perspectives to KE: working with European festival agencies and the benefits of networking and collaborating with pan-European networks, HERA leading A&H KE practices across EU.
  • Co-production: how useful are academics to festivals, and festivals to academics? What knowledges can they bring for each other? Evaluation (including Qualia), intellectual content for festivals, creative links with music departments, public engagement …
  • Articulating policy / regeneration / urban dialogue between researchers and leading festival organisers.
  • Working with an (AHRC-)experienced filmmaker to produce and show a short film about festivals / HEI collaborations, to be also made available on festivals’, HEIs’ and filmmaker’s websites.
  • Creative KE: where’s the (jazz) music here? How might or do musicians / composers engage in this (new) dialogue?

AHRC-logo-croppedWho will it be of interest to?

Festival and events managers, policy makers, regional and national arts administrators, media organisations, academics and evaluators, music and arts journalists, musicians, the festival-going public.

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