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er. "You is what you is what you is" said Gertrude Stein once while passing through EUijay, Georgia. Of course, she was ahead ofher time. At the back ofthe book, under "Sources," are forty-three pages ofnotes, chapter by chapter, adding texture and evidence to the already detailed anecdotes and arguments in Hillbillyland. This book is likely to become a work as enduring as its popular subject. Re-Searching Black Music ByJon Michael Spencer The University ofTennessee Press, 1996 1 54 pp. Cloth, $25.00 Reviewed by Michael Taft, sound and image librarian and Soudiern Folklife Collection archivist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has written a number of books and articles on Norrh American popular music, including several on African American blues. Jon Michael Spencer's latest book may be taken as an extended introductory essay to his theory oftheomusicology. His tide invites us to "re-search" the subject and nature of black music; that is, Spencer asks his readers to begin again their consideration ofAfrican American musical traditions from a new, and in his opinion, fundamental standpoint—theomusicology. Defining this standpoint takes up much of Spencer's book. He contends that religion or spirituality together with rhythm (and thereby music) are the two pillars ofhuman society and ofAfrican American society in particular. No study of music is complete without this understanding, and all studies ofmusic that do not acknowledge the centrality of religion are flawed. In arguing this point, Spencer shows how even the most secular forms ofAfrican American music, particularly the blues, are manifestations of the sacred, and that in fact the dichotomy between secular and sacred is a false one, that both heaven and hell are God's dominion . In expressing his understanding of the interconnectedness of the spiritual and worldly realms, Spencer employs a number of analogies or metaphors, from the circularity of the African American ring-shout to the return of the prodigal son. This circularity, however, defines Spencer's argument as much as his subject, 92 Reviews for he not only demands that the reader take a new theoretical approach to music, but also that the reader abandon the hermeneutic traditions that inform postEnlightenment scholarship. He asks us to abandon the scientific rigor ofanthropology and sociology, which he sees as Euro-cultural blinders that prevent a clear view ofAfrican-derived traditions. He also eschews philosophical or metaphysical approaches to music, which investigate only the surface manifestations ofthe phenomenon. Rather, Spencer relies on "field 3" (borrowing his terminology from musicologist David Burrows)—in which "re-searchers" must apply their own spirituality and subjectivity, their own reflexive understanding, to the study of music. Spencer thus sets the ground rules for his essay, which preempt any criticism ofhis theomusicology from the standpoint ofeither social scientific methodology or philosophical consistency. He aims for neither. The ring-shout circularity of Spencer's argument is therefore couched within the circularity ofhis reflexive and subjective approach to the investigation ofblack music. For example, he bases his contention that religion or spirituality is the bedrock of all African American music on Paul Tillich's "theology of culture," which posits the underlying religiosity of all human endeavor. Yet ifall ofhuman culture is basically theological, then it naturally follows that all of human music is basically theological. There is no entry or exit from this circularity. After arguing for the fundamental nature ofboth religion and rhythm in African American culture, Spencer devotes three chapters to the theomusicological investigation ofblack folk music, popular music, and classical music. In each case, he begins by taking apart previously held ideas about these musics. Spencer counters the view ofRobert W Gordon that African American spirituals did not speak of social liberation; he criticizes the opinions ofearly black editorialists who saw no redeeming qualities in the blues; and he attacks the position ofearly-twentiethcentury intellectuals who saw African American classical music as a betrayal of the "primitive" qualities they enjoyed in black folk and popular musics. Fair enough—but Spencer has succeeded in little more than demolishing straw men. The opinions ofthese writers hardly represent modern views. When Spencer attacks more contemporary scholars, he is on shakier ground. Thus, he criticizes Samuel Floyd Jr...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 92-95
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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