- Page 2Bootleg Scholarship
Vinyl? Digital? Which music format sounds best? While this debate is never-ending, another is far more accessible but no less difficult to resolve.
Would you rather hear only the official releases of songs or get the alternate takes too? What about studio banter and band warm-ups? The official release of a song is often just the tip of the recording iceberg—even for the greatest band of the twentieth-century, The Beatles.
“Helter Skelter” ends with a scream from Ringo Starr: “I got blisters on my fingers!” That scream was the result of endless repeats after a long day in the studio. On the eighteenth take, Ringo had had enough. He shouted and threw his sticks across the room. This was the final take and the one that was included on the White Album.
There were two “official” versions of “Helter Skelter.” The stereo album included the blister shout at the very end of the fade out. The mono version just fades out, no shout. One Beatles song recorded on one September day in 1968 resulted in eighteen takes and two “official” versions.
The story of “Helter Skelter” does not end here. There are more versions of the song recorded by the Fab Four, including a twelve minute studio version edited down to just over four and released on Anthology 3, as well as another studio version that goes on for over twenty-seven minutes. Lots of helter and plenty of skelter.
The cataloguing and publishing capabilities of today’s music industry allow for more listening, cataloguing, and archiving than ever before. For the serious fan and critic, it’s no longer enough to just listen to the official release of a song. To gain the proper perspective on an artist, one must consider the outtakes, alternate takes, and smoke breaks. Concert footage on YouTube and bootleg recordings of six nights in Soho playing the same set list cannot be ignored.
The scholarly record is undergoing a similar evolution. It is a time of great proliferation. In many ways, the journal article and the monograph are akin to the 45rpm record and the album. However, whereas the music world is convinced that showing musicians’s “raw” artistic journey is a positive and uncontroversial development, the scholarly world is not as sure.
Perhaps it is because our data sets and computer models are not as pretty as Dylan’s basement tapes? Or because blog postings and discussion boards are on a different level than Springsteen bantering during the Born to Run sessions? Or that studying eighteen drafts of a classic essay would even drive the most dedicated scholar to scream like Ringo?
As a scholar in the field of philosophy and literature, I can say with some certainty that if I had the opportunity to see drafts of Borges’s stories or hear David Foster Wallace’s lectures, I would take it. Such materials are as important to the scholarly record now as the complete Stones sessions from Exile on Main Street are to the musical record.
The difference between the case of the musical record and the scholarly record seems not one of quality or quantity, for both records have ample and significant material aside from the “official output.” Rather, the difference seems one of economics.
The corporate music industry has determined that there is a market for anything and everything musically associated with its major artists, whereas the academic industry, that is, the neoliberal university, has determined that there is little value in preserving or recognizing academe’s scholarly “outtakes.” Why?
Because essentially the neoliberal university is not committed to the advancement of knowledge, or even to its dissemination. Rather, it is about increasing the bottom line. In no way, shape or form does expanding the material that counts toward tenure, promotion, and reward from the monograph and the article to scholarly outtakes like blogs and other bootleg scholarship benefit the ends of neoliberal academe.
This of course flies in the face of the realities of how scholarship today is produced, namely, to a large extent, through the very bootleg outlets denied recognition by the...