Rock II: Rock Music from 1970 to the Present
Office: Ferguson 158
Phone: (612) 624-0385
Office Hour: Tuesday, 10:00-11:15
Book (available at the University Bookstore)
Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero (1985)
Other necessary material
A clipboard. We do not have desks in this classroom, and you will need something hard to write on--something that doesn't contain any writing--when the midterm and the final come along. This is your responsibility, and should be taken seriously.
Grove Music Online
You will be making regular use of articles in this resource. Though you can reach it from any computer, you cannot dial it up directly. This is a site to which the University of Minnesota has a paid online subscription. You reach it either through the course website described above, or by going to the music library webpage--http://music.lib.umn.edu/--clicking on "Music" in the left menu, scrolling about 35% of the way down the list that appears, then selecting "Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians" (just to the right of "Research Tools"), entering your UMN Internet ID and Password, then searching, selecting only "Grove Music Online" from the available list of sources.
Oxford Encyclopedia of Popular Music
Reach this site just as you do Grove Music Online, but on the final search screen, select "Encyclopedia of Popular Music" instead of "Grove Music Online."
This, too, is a subscription service reachable through the Music Library website. It is here that you can find the four articles from print sources we will be reading in the courses of the semester (three of them to which you will be writing written responses, as described below). You can reach these through the course website, or by going to the music library webpage--http://music.lib.umn.edu/--clicking on "Music" in the left menu, scrolling about 15% of the way down the list that appears, then selecting "MasterFile Premier." You will have to enter your UMN Internet ID and Password, then can search for relevant terms (the authors name and a few words of the title will usually bring up the article you want.
This course takes up the history of rock toward the end of what most historians consider its Golden Age. From the emergence of "progressive" rock in the early '70s, we will trace the course of rock and related styles to the present day, considering "arena" rock, punk, new wave, heavy metal, rap, grunge, and a range of "alternative" styles. Rather than a broad-ranging historical survey--in which we might attempt a fleeting, superficial coverage of all the major players in each particular era--we will be delving deeply into a small sampling of songs from a small selection of artists. You should thus not take offense if your favorite band never comes up; statistically speaking, it probably won't (that's what the last paper topic is for). Most of our attention will be focused on how selected individual songs make their effects, in particular, how the structure and language of their music interact with what they appear to have to say. But we will consider, as well, the uses to which rock and other styles have been put through this period, how they have contributed to ideas of youth culture, race identity, gender identity, and other social formations.
Much of this course turns on the relationship between "rock"--a concept that becomes harder and harder to keep in focus as the years go by--and postmodernism. The music video has been described by some as the most postmodern of all art forms, and MTV will figure prominently in our examination of rock in the 1980s and beyond. The '80s saw fundamental challenges, too, to the traditional understanding of rock as an intrinsically masculine music, and we will examine closely the work and significance of a range of female artists who brought about this change. At the same time, we will explore the meteoric rise of rap, a genre of music many believe displaced rock as the most urgent musical expression of alienated youth. Indeed, as we press into the '90s, the subject matter of the course begins to reflect more strongly the broad fragmentation of the popular music scene. Where it might have been possible to speak of a "main stream" of rock in the Woodstock era, the popular music market of the last 20 years has been diffused across countless styles and sub-styles. Grunge and the styles that grew directly out of it might represent a most easily discerned channel for the rock impulse since the early '90s, but rock now exists as only one genre among many, and we will consider a range of other popular styles alongside it.
What is being explored in this course is rock the way it actually is, not the way we might like it to be, and some of the material under discussion may prove objectionable on any number of grounds. Obscenity--including calculated blasphemy--is not uncommon, nor is explicit sexual content. Some of this material is likely to strike many as sexist, some of it may be perceived as racist. Please do not take part in this course if you have serious reservations about confronting music of this kind.
ASSIGNMENTS and GRADING GUIDELINES
1. There will be one midterm exam (worth 20% of your grade) and one final exam (worth 25% of your grade). These exams will consist of identifications and short answer questions.
2. 20% of your grade will be based on regular, meaningful participation in recitation. You need not talk at every recitation meeting, but you must establish a track record of substantive involvement. Included in this part of your grade are three brief writing assignments (under "Read and Respond" in the syllabus below). In each case, you should read the article under discussion and, in around a single double-spaced page, both summarize the article (briefly!) and offer a thoughtful response to it. In this response, you may draw out one or two issues that seem particularly thought-provoking, you may take issue with the article, you may reflect on what the limitations of the author's perspective teach us about the particular moment in history at which it was written, or you may take on any other approach that reflects thoughtful engagement with the author at hand.
3. You will submit four brief papers, each worth 9% of your grade. I will hand out specific topics for each of these papers early in the semester. You must turn in a paper of the required length at each of the deadlines indicated in the weekly schedule below, and three of these four papers must address the topics I hand out. But for one of the four--you can chose which--you are allowed to ignore my topic altogether, and write an interesting, imaginative, generally academically responsible paper on whatever topic you choose, assuming it covers material directly relevant to this course (you should present your topic to your TA--either verbally or in a very brief written form--for his or her approval before you write the paper itself).
Yes, that all adds up to 101%. You get one freebie.
You are expected to be at every lecture and every recitation meeting. If you have to miss one, please advise your TA -- in advance, if possible -- of the reason (make them good; "I overslept" doesn't work). You may miss two meetings (i.e., lectures or recitations) without an explanation. Your grade in the course will go down by one increment (e.g., from B+ to B, or from B- to C+) at your third unexcused absence, and will do so again at every odd-numbered absence after that (if you miss seven times, for instance, it's down a full letter grade).