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Chicago's famous blues scene is a world of grungy bars set in upscale neighborhoods, where affluent white tourists bask in the musical tradition of the black working class. According to Grazian's fascinating study, this fertile stew of contradictions makes for a cultural Rosetta Stone that helps us decipher the relations between art, business and postmodernity's quixotic search for the real. The ironies go on forever. As fans flock to blues venues in search of authentic black culture, they are served up a commodified and caricatured "minstrel show" of endlessly repeated blues standards punctuated by off-color jokes; inevitably, a backlash sets in amongst aficionados, who set off to ever smaller bars in ever poorer neighborhoods where the truly authentic blues are said to reside. Sociologist Grazian is less interested in finding authenticity than in understanding the "symbolic economy of authenticity" by which we accrue social status and seek out an "idealized reality" that "might render our lives more meaningful." If that theory sounds stuffily academic, be assured that Grazian's approach is anything but. Much of his research methodology consists of hanging out in blues joints, drinking beer, striking up conversations, occasionally sitting in with the band on the sax. The result is a elegantly written exploration, both skeptical and sympathetic, journalistic and erudite, of the many diverse subcultures, both black and white-tourists, regulars, bartenders, impresarios, musicians-that stake a claim to the blues. Photos. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Grazian (sociology, Univ. of Pennsylvania) has turned a quest for some good blues music in the Windy City into this revised doctoral dissertation. Visiting numerous clubs throughout the city, he discovered that their patrons entered the doors with preconceived notions of the blues. Through a number of interviews with these customers, Grazian learns that most of them look for black bands that play blues standards by Robert Johnson, B.B. King, or Muddy Waters because they believe that white bands have neither the musical ability nor the social experience to play the blues. As a result, white bands are often heckled. Grazian concludes that authenticity is a socially constructed phenomenon that affects the expectations we have about almost any product that we consume. That is precisely why cities such as Chicago, Memphis, and Nashville cater to visitors by offering them music clubs and musicians that match the tourists' ideas of authentic blues, jazz, or country music. This postmodern take on our experience of music is more a sociological examination of the idea of authenticity than an informed exploration of the blues. Grazian's jargon-filled prose and his conclusions about our cultural constructions of music provide little useful insight, either into the Chicago blues scene or the idea of authenticity in music. Recommended only for university libraries.-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Edward Sapir's celebrated characterization of culture as "genuine" or "spurious" is germane. Sociologist Grazian (Univ. of Pennsylvania) studies "spurious blues," i.e., those blues that no longer serve a vital function for the society that created them, but instead serve as entertainment for tourists and other "outsiders." They are akin to tourist voodoo in Haiti: performance of traditional cultural forms divorced from the cultural meanings and social functions that made them both sacred and necessary. The author expresses little understanding of either the postmodernist character of these blues or the history of genuine blues culture. Indeed, Grazian and his subjects' search for authenticity is in itself an obvious sign that genuine blues culture has evolved, and the older forms now popularized globally no longer serve the cultural needs of African Americans in Chicago. Like fiction, Grazian's "ethnography" informs readers of his subjects' inner thoughts and secret motives. His tone is supercilious and his ethnographer's voice self-absorbed (e.g., the hardship of having to drink Budweiser rather than his preferred microbrews for fear others would find him inauthentic). Includes poorly reproduced and identified black-and-white photos. To borrow a phrase from the blues review literature: for completists only. ^BSumming Up: Optional. Specialists. F. J. Hay Appalachian State University