Music: A Subversive History
Basic Books / Hachette Publishing
Now, summarizing the “history of music” in a little under 500 pages would be a fairly ambitious undertaking at best. However, that is not exactly what Ted Gioia has set out to do, au contraire, as his main objective is to showcase that existing histories of music have missed essential elements that make music intriguing due to their controversial character, e.g. sex, violence, murder, magic, et cetera. Given Gioia’s aim, it should not come as a surprise that a good share of the tome is polemical.
Gioia sets out to prove that music is inextricably rooted in atavistic behaviour such as procreating, battles and hunting by shedding light on the evolution of primordial sounds to the sounds we enjoy today and given his fascination with innovators who were first ostracised by society to then be eventually revered, gives his arguments credence: One of his main points is that established conservative histories of music serve to canonize artists and oeuvres that serve public interest and the maintenance of the status quo, whereas he comes to the conclusion that the truth is that music and its history has never been respectable and, at its core, has always challenged authority.
Summa summarum, academic scholars might not be particularly taken by this exercise in outsider criticism but it is definitely a commendable resource for anyone who is enthusiastic about music no matter the genre as it challenges established viewpoints.
However, what one should not forget is that “subversion” can be interpreted differently and what we are presented with is Gioia’s idiosyncratic sociocultural take on it and his passionate attempt at iconoclasm.