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Rock Star

The Making of Musical Icons from Elvis to Springsteen

David R. Shumway foreword by Anthony DeCurtis

Publication Year: 2014

"All stars are celebrities, but not all celebrities are stars," states David Shumway in the introduction to Rock Star, an informal history of rock stardom. This deceptively simple statement belies the complex definition and meaning of stardom and more specifically of rock icons. Shumway looks at the careers and cultural legacies of seven rock stars in the context of popular music and culture—Elvis Presley, James Brown, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen. Granted, there are many more names that fall into the rock icon category and that might rightfully appear on this list. Partly, that is the point: "rock star" is a familiar and desired category but also a contested one. Shumway investigates the rock star as a particular kind of cultural construction, different from mere celebrity. After the golden age of moviemaking, media exposure allowed rock stars more political sway than Hollywood's studio stars, and rock stars gradually replaced movie stars as key cultural heroes. Because of changes in American society and the media industries, rock stars have become much more explicitly political figures than were the stars of Hollywood’s studio era. Rock stars, moreover, are icons of change, though not always progressive, whose public personas read like texts produced collaboratively by the performers themselves, their managers, and record companies. These stars thrive in a variety of media, including recorded music, concert performance, dress, staging, cover art, films, television, video, print, and others. Filled with memorable photographs, Rock Star will appeal to anyone interested in modern American popular culture or music history.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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Foreword: The Rock Star as Metaphor

Anthony DeCurtis

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pp. ix-xii

Bill Clinton may have been the first person I ever heard referred to as a rock star in the metaphorical sense. That was partly due to his charisma and partly to do with the fact that his political rise corresponded to the period in the late eighties and early nineties when it became not merely acceptable but advantageous...

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pp. xiii-xx

At a time when the music scene is fragmented and many of the records that top the charts seem to have reverted to prerock pop, it may be hard to remember how much rock stars once mattered. This book will investigate what some of the more prominent stars meant—and continue to mean—not merely to their fans but in the context of the culture at large. Popular culture in general...

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1. Reflections on Stardom and Its Trajectories

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pp. 1-23

By the time Robert Greenfield observed that “a new kind of star had come along,” rock stars had replaced movie stars at the head of the pantheon of American popular culture.1 Where Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart had once reigned supreme, now Mick Jagger...

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2. Watching Elvis

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pp. 24-45

Television was essential to the rise of rock & roll and its transformation of American popular music. Because TV could convey the visual excitement of rock & roll performances, popular music shifted from a primarily aural mass experience to one in which the visual field held equal primacy. Television...

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3. James Brown: Self-Remade Man

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pp. 46-69

James Brown published two autobiographies, James Brown: The Godfather of Soul (1986) and I Feel Good (2005).1 These books are in many respects quite different, but the narrative Brown tells remains largely the same. That story is, as Brown himself has called it, “the Horatio Alger story.”2 More accurately...

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4. Bob Dylan: The Artist

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pp. 70-96

Bob Dylan emerged in 1965 as a rock star.1 The story is by now well known. It has been told in numerous biographies and several documentary films, most recently Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home. “Dylan’s electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival may well be the most written-about performance...

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5. The Rolling Stones: Rebellion, Transgression, and Excess

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pp. 97-120

Rock & roll and the 1960s changed many things, but not everything. The Rolling Stones illustrate the intensification of consumer capitalism and the way in which rock stars continued the connection between consumption and celebrity. The Stones’ 1969 and 1972 American tours thrust them to the...

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6. The Grateful Dead: Alchemy, or Rock & Roll Utopia

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pp. 121-147

Almost everyone recognizes the Grateful Dead as a cultural icon of the 1960s.1 What they and the sixties mean, however, is much in dispute. The decade has been cited by the Right ever since as the point where America went wrong, and sixties music is often blamed, or at least made to represent the...

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7. Joni Mitchell: The Singer-Songwriter and the Confessional Persona

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pp. 148-174

The women’s movement that represented American feminism’s second wave found relatively little expression in rock & roll, Aretha Franklin’s recording of “Respect” notwithstanding. Joni Mitchell’s emergence as “rock’s leading lady” in the early 1970s shows how the movement did impact popular music...

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8. Bruce Springsteen: Trapped in the Promised Land

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pp. 175-204

Eric Alterman, a political journalist whose books include, Why We Are Liberals and Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama, is just one of many commentators—a high percentage of whom normally work on beats other than popular music—who have treated Bruce Springsteen not merely as a...

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Conclusion: Where Have All the Rock Stars Gone?

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pp. 205-214

The stars I’ve discussed in this book were and remain cultural icons. These performers and others of their era had broad cultural currency; they had meaning for people who did not like, or even hear, their music. They embodied currents of cultural change that emerged in the 1950s and became dominant...


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pp. 215-234


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pp. 235-244

E-ISBN-13: 9781421413938
E-ISBN-10: 1421413930
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421413921
Print-ISBN-10: 1421413922

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 26 halftones
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 885208479
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Rock Star

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Subject Headings

  • Rock musicians -- United States.
  • Rock groups -- United States.
  • Popular culture -- United States.
  • Fame -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Rock music -- Social aspects -- United States.
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