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1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This to Sing About

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 198
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In a tour de force of lyrical theory, Joshua Clover boldly reimagines how we understand both pop music and its social context in a vibrant exploration of a year famously described as “the end of history.” Amid the historic overturnings of 1989, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, pop music also experienced striking changes. Vividly conjuring cultural sensations and events, Clover tracks the emergence of seemingly disconnected phenomena--from grunge to acid house to gangsta rap--asking if ”perhaps pop had been biding its time until 1989 came along to make sense of its sensibility.” His analysis deftly moves among varied artists and genres including Public Enemy, N.W.A., Dr. Dre, De La Soul, The KLF, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, U2, Jesus Jones, the Scorpions, George Michael, Madonna, Roxette, and others. This elegantly written work, deliberately mirroring history as dialectical and ongoing, summons forth a new understanding of how “history had come out to meet pop as something more than a fairytale, or something less. A truth, a way of being.”

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94464-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. prologue
    (pp. XI-XIV)

    In 1989, Paris sang “La Marseillaise.” The new opera house was consecrated near the site of the Bastille prison, stormed two hundred years before, on July 14, 1789.

    The Bicentennial coincided with the G7 Summit, opening in Paris that day. Led by tricolor-draped diva Jessye Norman, the finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations and the assembled heads of state served as a chorus for the triumphal singing of the revolutionary anthem in the Place de la Bastille, signaling the Bicentennial as an occasion for the whole of the First World. The spectacle of statecraft was orchestrated by...

  5. INTRODUCTION: The Long 1989
    (pp. 1-22)

    This is not a history book. How could it be, when history famously ended in the year in which the book is largely set? Perversely, the events that magnetize the present study—the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, for which the fall is absolute metonymy—are the very events said to have secured the end of history.

    That last phrase, with a terminal but convictionless question mark (“The End of History?”), is the title of Francis Fukuyama’s essay first published in theNational Interestin the summer of 1989, wherein is declared “the...


    • CHAPTER 1 The Bourgeois and the Boulevard
      (pp. 25-50)

      “1989! the number, another summer!” So begins Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” opening the soundtrack to the Spike Lee filmDo the Right Thing. The charged and confrontational movie opened on June 30, 1989, amid a maelstrom of controversy—in part for its ending with a Brooklyn race riot triggered by the film’s protagonist Mookie, played by Lee himself.

      Public Enemy was, in that moment, at the height of its powers. The year before, the group had released what was then the most influential album in hip-hop’s history:It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The densely...

    • BRIDGE: da inner sound, y’all
      (pp. 51-52)

      In 1989, the album of the year (per the broadest and most respected critics poll in the U.S., the U.K.) was hip-hop, but neither Black Power nor gangsta: De La Soul’s3 Feet High and Rising.¹ The trio helped found the Native Tongues Posse, a collective with a long-standing relationship to the Zulu Nation that imagined a kind of third way (“three … is the magic number,” one De La song insisted) both in social form and in social commitments: a “playful Afrocentricity” that was nonconfrontational and nonexclusive, neither cadre nor gang, neither radical politics nor black-on-black...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Second Summer of Love
      (pp. 53-70)

      It’s all structure, but not the kind you can touch: structure like the economy or like belief, not like a factory. Postindustrial disco. At normal volume, the song is a bit otherworldly and curiously pacific, even flattened: a loping Afro-Latin rhythm built on a Roland 808 drum machine and 303 synthesizer, with a reverberating but somewhat distant woman’s voice repeating careful syllables without sense, a spectral chant. It may be that she’s been hypnotized. One male voice occasionally interjects “la-ter!”; a second, more frequent and varied, seems to be saying “voodoo ray.”

      That’s the song: “Voodoo Ray,” assembled in Manchester...

    • BRIDGE: I Was Up Above It
      (pp. 71-72)

      For all acid house’s roots in U.S. dance music, the specificity of the U.K.—its racial and interurban dynamics, its place in the circuit of European cosmopolitanism, the stone-gray particularities of the postindustrial landscape, of Thatcherian economics—must have much to say about how the rave became an adequate, even sublime response to the moment. An imitative rave culture gained little purchase in the native soil of house, techno, and garage.

      The points of intersection, of oblique relation, will have their own say. Perhaps most suggestive among them was the later electronic apparition of “industrial,” a metal machine music splayed...

    • CHAPTER 3 Negative Creep
      (pp. 73-89)

      “Learn not to play your instrument,” Kurt Cobain wrote in his notebook in 1990, a slogan handed down from indie rock dogmatist Calvin Johnson.¹ That Cobain should cleave to this dictum has a certain aesthetic irony, given that he turned out to be an idiosyncratically remarkable guitarist. A further irony is that highly accomplished technical proficiency lay at the core of the metal genre that provided one of Nirvana’s foundations; by all accounts, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were formative influences, along with the more errant black metal of Celtic Frost. Nirvana’s epochalNevermindwould be mixed by Andy Wallace,...

    • BRIDGE: Just a Stop Down the Line
      (pp. 90-91)

      Grunge’s inward turn is replicated beyond the confines of the genre, most evidently in the adjacent but more capacious arena of “modern rock” (into which grunge and “alternative rock” would shortly be folded). When grunge arrived, U2 had nearly a decade of hypertrophied success on the books; it remains striking that their finest album (by a considerable measure) was released in 1991, openly influenced by both grunge and electronic dance music. Both of these emergent genres left sonic traces and donated some elements of their structures of feeling, but the former more decisively infected the album’s emotional tenor. From the...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Billboard Consensus
      (pp. 92-110)

      The period around 1989 saw the greatest run of pop hits since 1962, that belle époque of the single before the ascent of the Beatles and the rule of the album.

      There can be no evidence for this claim. What can be argued is that pop music, not a genre itself and thus ineligible for emergence in the sense we’ve been using, can nonetheless be a sign of the times. As the tautologically dominant, indexed directly to popularity (and thus to economics’ final determining instance), it is still positioned to register changes in the psychic life of shared culture.¹ Such...


    • CHAPTER 5 The Image-Event and the Blind Spot
      (pp. 113-140)

      The end of this story requires a return to the beginning, to a song and a sentence. The former is “Right Here, Right Now,” by Jesus Jones; the latter is that of the Retort collective, naming how “American victory in the Cold War was rendered in retrospect magical, unanalyzable, by the mantra ‘The Fall of the Wall.’”

      We can seek to understand this claim in several ways, all of them worth pausing over. There is the matter of actual events, timelines, lived experience: how they vanish in the collapse into a single episode. Inextricable from this, there is the matter...

  8. epilogue
    (pp. 141-146)

    The Berlin Wall is a piece not of music but of architecture, of a particularly purposive sort. It divides space and sight. This was ever explicit; if its first function was to prevent travel between East and West, its second was underscored when Kennedy visited in 1963 for his “Let them come to Berlin” speech. He arrived to discover that the Brandenburg Gate, looming over the Wall, had been hung with banners to block the view into the East. What was there to see, really? The empty zone between barriers, the apartment houses, perhaps a perspectival glance down the Unter...

  9. acknowledgments
    (pp. 147-148)
  10. notes
    (pp. 149-166)
  11. works cited
    (pp. 167-174)
  12. index
    (pp. 175-187)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 188-188)