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Soul Music

Tracking the Spiritual Roots of Pop from Plato to Motown

Joel Rudinow

Publication Year: 2010

Exceptionally illuminating and philosophically sophisticated. ---Ted Cohen, Professor of Philosophy, University of Chicago "In this audacious and long-awaited book, Joel Rudinow takes seriously a range of interrelated issues that most music theorizing is embarrassed to tackle. People often ask me about music and spirituality. With Soul Music, I can finally recommend a book that offers genuine philosophical insight into the topic." ---Theodore Gracyk, Professor of Philosophy, Minnesota State University Moorhead The idea is as strange as it is commonplace---that the "soul" in soul music is more than just a name, that somehow the music truly taps into something essential rooted in the spiritual notion of the soul itself. Or is it strange? From the civil rights movement and beyond, soul music has played a key, indisputable role in moments of national healing. Of course, American popular music has long been embroiled in controversies over its spiritual purity (or lack thereof). But why? However easy it might seem to dismiss these ideas and debates as quaint and merely symbolic, they persist. In Soul Music: Tracking the Spiritual Roots of Pop from Plato to Motown, Joel Rudinow, a philosopher of music, takes these peculiar notions and exposes them to serious scrutiny. How, Rudinow asks, does music truly work upon the soul, individually and collectively? And what does it mean to say that music can be spiritually therapeutic or toxic? This illuminating, meditative exploration leads from the metaphysical idea of the soul to the legend of Robert Johnson to the philosophies of Plato and Leo Strauss to the history of race and racism in American popular culture to current clinical practices of music therapy. Joel Rudinow teaches in the Philosophy and Humanities Departments at Santa Rosa Junior College and is the coauthor of Invitation to Critical Thinking and the coeditor of Ethics and Values in the Information Age.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Tracking Pop


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pp. ix-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

It would be more than arrogant of me to suppose that I might have anything new and original to contribute to the literature on “soul,” soul music, or on the soul. I doubt my capacity even to canvass this vast literature, let alone transform it. As I undertake to assay my topics I begin with this humbling realization. But I’m not going to let that stop me from working out what I have to say. For me, this book...

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pp. 1-7

As I write this introduction, America (and the world) has just witnessed the inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth president of the United States, our first “president of color.” Popular music was prominently used throughout the inaugural festivities and ceremonies, much of it representing the category known as “soul music,” a style of popular music that originated in post–World War II...

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1. What Is Soul? (And What Is Soul Music?)

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pp. 8-28

I’ve been a musician longer than I’ve been a philosopher. I started piano lessons at the age of seven. My teachers were all very serious and accomplished classical musicians, and I’m afraid I was something of a disappointment to them. I think the discipline required to perform the classical piano repertoire well was just too demanding and exacting for my youthful attention span and mischievous spirit. I stuck with it for about...

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2. The “Devil’s Music” (Can Music Be Evil?)

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pp. 29-53

An old Chinese proverb runs, “the music of a well-ordered age is calm and cheerful, and so is its government; the music of a restive age is excited and fierce, and its government is perverted.” This invites the chicken-and-egg question: Is the music a cause or an effect of its cultural and political circumstances? Does the music direct the culture along its trajectory or does the music merely re›ect...

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3. Between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (The Dark Night of the Soul)

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pp. 54-76

Writing about the birth of soul music, Nelson George refocuses attention from the adolescent concerns of emerging youth culture of the early 1950s onto more adult concerns re›ected in the music of the later 1950s. He writes: Most rock & roll historians...

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4. Blue Notes and Greek Philosophy (Pythagoras, Plato, and Spiritual Intonation)

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pp. 77-105

Searching out the roots of soul music leads quickly into areas of deep theoretical uncertainty. In the blues and the spirituals we encounter musical materials that challenge readily available theoretical frameworks. What theoretical apparatus is best suited to comprehending and illuminating these materials? A recognition...

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5. Bio-Rhythms (From Formalism to Somaesthetics)

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pp. 106-125

In chapter 4 the term formalism was introduced as the general name for theories that try to explain things on the basis of abstract formal structures or relationships. Plato is the primary source of formalist thinking throughout all of Western philosophy across all of its topical areas. Plato’s famous Theory of Forms, according to which pure permanent, unchanging, abstract formal entities, available only to intellectual contemplation, are more real than...

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6. Fake It Till You Feel It (Race, Ethnicity, Authenticity in Performance)

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pp. 126-151

I first got interested in the issue of the “authenticity” of white blues in the late 1960s. At the time, I was majoring in philosophy at the University of California. But, as committed as I was to my studies, what I really cared about was the popular culture of the moment—especially the music. Slogging through Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations was, let’s face it, a long...

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7. Speaking in Tongues (Isn’t This All Too Straussian?)

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pp. 152-172

The scene is Agathon’s house at dawn, amid the wreckage of an all-night drinking party. The three individuals who remain conscious enough to carry on a conversation are Agathon (who represents tragedy), Aristophanes the comedian, and Socrates—the comic figure and tragic hero of the Platonic corpus, who represents, in this exquisitely contrived context, a style or mode of communication unique in its capacity to embody the cleansing...

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8. Music as a Healing Art (Music and Medicine, Body and Soul)

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pp. 173-195

The use of music as therapy is a growing clinical practice in health care today. Music has been used to treat clinical depression, autism, stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and for the regulation and modulation of physiological functions, including respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. A recently published review study indicates bene‹cial therapeutic applications of music in neonatal care. This movement...


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pp. 197-218


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pp. 219-229

Recommended Listening and Viewing

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pp. 231-235


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pp. 237-250

E-ISBN-13: 9780472022793
E-ISBN-10: 0472022792
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051083
Print-ISBN-10: 0472051083

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Tracking Pop
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OCLC Number: 669512281
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Soul Music

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Music and philosophy.
  • African Americans -- Music -- History and criticism.
  • Blues (Music) -- History and criticism.
  • Soul music -- History and criticism.
  • Music -- Religious aspects.
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