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Music, Race, and America

Josh Kun (Author)

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Ranging from Los Angeles to Havana to the Bronx to the U.S.-Mexico border and from klezmer to hip hop to Latin rock, this groundbreaking book injects popular music into contemporary debates over American identity. Josh Kun insists that America is not a single chorus of many voices folded into one, but rather various republics of sound that represent multiple stories of racial and ethnic difference. To this end he covers a range of music and listeners to evoke the ways that popular sounds have expanded our idea of American culture and American identity. Artists as diverse as The Weavers, Café Tacuba, Mickey Katz, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bessie Smith, and Ozomatli reveal that the song of America is endlessly hybrid, heterogeneous, and enriching—a source of comfort and strength for populations who have been taught that their lives do not matter. Kun melds studies of individual musicians with studies of painters such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and of writers such as Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes. There is no history of race in the Americas that is not a history of popular music, Kun claims. Inviting readers to listen closely and critically, Audiotopia forges a new understanding of sound that will stoke debates about music, race, identity, and culture for many years to come.
Introduction: Strangers
among Sounds
1. Against Easy Listening, or, How to Hear America Sing
2. The Yiddish Are Coming
3. Life According to the Beat
4. Basquiat’s Ear, Rahsaan’s Eye
5. I, Too, Sing América
6. Rock’s Reconquista
Conclusion: La Misma Canción

Josh Kun is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, the Village Voice, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and the Boston Phoenix. He has recently co-founded Reboot Stereophonic, a non-profit record label dedicated to excavating lost treasures of Jewish-American music.
“Filled with rich details, this clever and provocative book combines America’s cultural fabric with that of its popular music.”—Mark S. Thompson Multicultural Review
“In engaging, passionate prose, Kun offers his own postmodern academic version of High Fidelity. Trotting out a fascinating array of allusions, both famous and obscure, to American literature, art, and music, Kun argues that music has seven as an instrument for musicians, poets, painters, ands others to form their own person “audiotopias”—musical utopias in which they project new, often liberating visions of American racial and ethnic identity.”—James Loeffler Nextbook
“With Audiotopia, Kun emerges as a pre-eminent analyst, interpreter, and theorist of inter-ethnic dialogue in US music, literature, and visual art. This book is a guide to how scholarship will look in the future—the first fully realized product of a new generation of scholars thrown forth by tumultuous social ferment and eager to talk about the world that they see emerging around them.”—George Lipsitz, author of Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture

"The range and depth of Audiotopia is thrilling. It's not only that Josh Kun knows so much-it's that he knows what to make of what he knows."—Greil Marcus, author of Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century

"The way Josh Kun writes about what he hears, the way he unravels word, sound, and power is breathtaking, provocative, and original. A bold, expansive, and lyrical book, Audiotopia is a record of crossings, textures, tangents, and ideas you will want to play again and again."—Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation

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