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From the Sex Pistols and Eminem to Bonnie Raitt and Ani DiFranco, rockers contribute to our cultural capital

I Wanna Be Me

Rock Music and the Politics of Identity

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Theodore Gracyk

Co-Winner of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music Book Award, 2002

"I Wanna Be Me is a fine book that grapples with a number of contemporary debates about the cultural significance of rock music, as well as broader issues of interpretation of texts and artworks. It challenges some of the influential but extreme views that have dominated discussions of political identity in connection with art. Not everyone will agree with Gracyk at every stage. He is more comfortable with the mass art character of rock than are many culture critics. I applaud the book for taking strong, but considered stances on issues of interest within a number of fields."
Kathleen Higgins, Professor of Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin, and author of The Music of Our Lives

As someone who feels the emotional power of rock and who writes about it as an art form, Theodore Gracyk has been praised for launching "plainspoken arguments destined to change the future of rock and roll," (Publishers Weekly). In I Wanna Be Me, his second book about the music he cares so much about, Gracyk grapples with the ways that rock shapes—limits and expands—our notions of who we can be in the world.

Gracyk sees rock as a mass art, open-ended and open to diverse (but not unlimited) interpretations. Recordings reach millions, drawing people together in communities of listeners who respond viscerally to its sound and intellectually to its messages. As an art form that proclaims its emotional authenticity and resistance to convention, rock music constitutes part of the cultural apparatus from which individuals mold personal and political identities. Going to the heart of this relationship between the music's role in its performers' and fans' self-construction, Gracyk probes questions of gender and appropriation. How can a feminist be a Stones fan or a straight man enjoy the Indigo Girls? Does borrowing music that carries a "racial identity" always add up to exploitation, a charge leveled at Paul Simon's Graceland?

Ranging through forty years of rock history and offering a trove of anecdotes and examples, I Wanna Be Me, like Gracyk's earlier book, "should be cherished, and read, by rockers everywhere" (Salon).

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction and an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"With his knowledgeable and well-presented arguments, he challenges readers to reconsider the stereotypes that many modern titans of cultural studies have slapped on rock music.... To its great credit, this book also convincingly counters the charges of Timothy Taylor (among others) that Paul Simon's use of South African music and musicians in creating his lauded Graceland is blatant neocolonialist cultural exploitation.... This book belongs on the shelf of almost every academic library and will also be an outstanding asset to either popular music or cultural studies collections."
Library Journal

"Theodore Gracyk brilliantly examines Rock as mass art and how it affects us by helping to mold our personal identities.... [a]n excellent discourse on the subject. It is essential for anyone who cares about what they take in and what they take to heart as their own. A thoughtful and thought provoking read which is refreshing in the face of others on the subject which concentrate on the negative connotations of the music."
Rapport

"I Wanna Be Me looks at rock as a mass art, drawing people together in communities of listeners who respond viscerally to its sound and intellectually to its message. From the Sex Pistols and Eminem to Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones, Gracyk says, rock music contributes to our cultural capital. In a nutshell, he argues: What you listen to is who you are, but the context in which you listen alters what the meaning of what you listen to."
Popular Music and Society

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Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Sex Pistols' "I Wanna Be Me"

Part I: Frameworks
1. Like a Rolling Stone
2. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood: Issues of Meaning
3. Heard It through the Grapevine
4. You've Really Got a Hold on Me: Paradigms

Part II: Issues of Appropriation
5. All You've Got to Do Is Pick It Up
6. Don't Play That Song
7. Message in the Music
8. Speaking in Tongues

Part III: Gender
9. Act Naturally
10. Cosė Fan Tutte Meets Tutti Frutti: Rock Performs Gender
11. Rebel Rebel: Proliferating Identities
12. Hello Stranger: Reaching the Uninitiated

Notes
Sources of Chapter Titles and Subheadings
Index

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About the Author(s)

Theodore Gracyk is Professor of Philosophy at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, and the author of Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock.

Subject Categories

Music and Dance
Sociology


In the series

Sound Matters, edited by Michael Jarrett.

Using music as the entry point for cultural analysis, books in the series Sound Matters, edited by Michael Jarrett, seek to articulate the values, beliefs, and dreams of the societies that create it. This series invites project proposals whose interdisciplinary approaches to music and cultural analysis will result in innovative, provocative, and accessible results.

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