Alex DiBlasi & Victoria Willis, editors,
Geek Rock: An Exploration of Music & Subculture
(Rowman & Littlefield, 2014)

Geek Rock had its origins in an academic pop-culture convention where the editors led a panel on the topic. When they had a good reception, they decided a book was needed, so they gathered the papers presented into a volume. The result is an academic book on a pop subject, a volume by professionals for professionals.

In its pages, you get essays with titles like "Man [Seeking] Astroman? Nouveau Surf Rock and the Futuristic Past Nostalgic" and "'Now's the Time for a Little Braggadocio': Nerdcore Rap, Race, and the Politics of Appropriation." Perhaps "Taste. Koitsch and Geek Rock: A Multiple Modernities View" is more your speed.

The point I'm trying to make here is the ordinary music fan is going to find this book heavy going. The scope, focus and intentions lean more toward university scholars than the general public and, while it is nice to see music taken seriously, reading these essays, I sometimes get the feeling that the music is not quite as important as the authors' need to demonstrate their academic research skills; here is co-editor Victoria Willis writing about They Might be Giants' "Now That I Have Everything."

By breaking the song into lexia, or units of listening, a la Roland Barthes, I intend to provide a lacanian analysis that demonstrates the intellectual geekery and meaning construction that is a trademark of geek rock in the music of They Might Be Giants....

Geek rock is deeply rhetorical in that the interaction with the text, with the music, is what puts the geek, literally, in the rock. ... Lacanian analysis is a perfect example, because what is geekier than a lacanian psychoanalysis of a song by a rock band?

At this point, a They Might be Giants fan has the choice of tossing the book aside or sliding into a tweed jacket with elbow patches, pouring a glass of sherry, and settling in to make a few notes.

As a 30-year member of the Popular Culture Association and the veteran of many of the types of convention that produced this book, I can appreciate it and see the value in it. I can state that it will find a welcome place in the libraries of schools with Pop Culture and American Studies programs.

Its reception among rock fans is a little more problematic.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

30 May 2015

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