Rubber Souls: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination

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Rubber Souls: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination

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Title: Rubber Souls: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination
Author: Hamilton, John C.
Citation: Hamilton, John C. 2013. Rubber Souls: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation explores the interplay of popular music and racial thought in the 1960s, and asks how, when, and why rock and roll music "became white." By Jimi Hendrix's death in 1970 the idea of a black man playing electric lead guitar was considered literally remarkable in ways it had not been for Chuck Berry only ten years earlier: employing an interdisciplinary combination of archival research, musical analysis, and critical race theory, this project explains how this happened, and in doing so tells two stories simultaneously. The first is of audience and discourse, and the processes through which a music born of interracialism came to understand whiteness as its most basic stakes of authenticity. This is a story of the deeply ideological underpinnings of genre formation, and the ways that the visual imagination of race is strangely and powerfully elided with the audible imagination of sound. The second story is of music's own resistance to such elisions, and examines a transatlantic community of artists including Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and others to fashion an interracial counter-history of Sixties music, one that rejects hermetic ideals of racial authenticity while revealing the pernicious effects of these ideologies on musical discourse. Ultimately, this dissertation provides a new way into the topic of race and popular music--long dominated by essentialist claims of cultural ownership on one hand, and a romantic "colorblindness" on the other--by demonstrating that racial thought is both a producer and product of expressive culture. Rarely has this been truer than in the 1960s, when both popular music and racial ideology underwent explosive transformations that were never entirely separate from each other. Rock and roll music, I argue, did not become white as a result of the music that people made, but rather as a result of discursive forces that surrounded, celebrated, and too often drowned out the music that people heard.
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