What Bruce Springsteen Would Say to Miley Cyrus

Over at Blogness on the Edge of Town, Pete Chianca imagines what a letter from Bruce Springsteen to Miley Cyrus might look like.  Here is  taste:
Dear Miley:
How ya doin’? I just wanted to drop you a note to say hi, ’cause we got a lot in common — for instance, did you know I put out a song called “Wrecking Ball” just like you? Yeah, it came out last year. I didn’t put out a video where I swing stark naked from an actual wrecking ball like you did, but other than that, yeah, it’s real close. Maybe next time!
Anyway, I been around a while, and I thought maybe you’d appreciate some, you know, career advice, since I know it’s tough bein’ in the spotlight and all that. I realize I was in the spotlight for being dubbed “rock ‘n’ roll’s future” and you’re there because you shook your bottom against Alan Thicke’s kid on national television, but it’s the same premise, ya know?…

…my daughter, she’s about your age, and if she ever did any of the things you do in that “Wrecking Ball” video I think my head would explode like the meth lab at the end of “Sinaloa Cowboys.” That’s a song off my “Ghost of Tom Joad” album — you should listen to it sometime….

So like I was sayin’, I have this expression I like to use, “Nobody wins unless everybody wins.” And when I saw you stickin’ your tongue out on the VMAs and licking that sledgehammer in your video, I thought, these are definitely “nobody wins” moments we’re talking about here. Not you, not me, not your dad Billy Ray, whose head is probably gonna explode any minute now. Besides, licking a sledgehammer — do you have any idea where that thing’s been? There’s probably like pieces of drywall on it and stuff…

So I’ve already gone on for too long, but just to recap: Tongue hanging out, bad; naked on wrecking ball, bad; dancing like a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot, bad; being the future of rock ‘n’ roll, good. So if you take that to heart maybe you can wind up more like that nice Taylor Swift kid, who loves me, and is never naked in public. Also, Landau tells me our lawyers will be contacting you about the whole “Wrecking Ball” name thing.



Postmodern Conservatives Analyze "Big Bang Theory"

I don’t watch enough television to declare myself a fan of the CBS comedy “Bing Bang Theory,” but every time I watch an episode I am entertained.  I have thus been enjoying the analysis of the show over at Postmodern Conservative.  Here is a taste of Peter Lawler’s contribution to “Big Bang Studies”:

Those who have compared the show to Aristophanes aren’t wrong. But a big difference is that show has almost no civic dimension; these theorists are no danger to America (except when they use government stuff to pursue personal goals). They’re less of a danger than humanities professors, actually. They actually love America for its intellectual freedom, easygoing techno-prosperity, and openness to comic-book adventures. In no other country could they get away with wearing their superhero costumes…

They are (except maybe Raj–a complicated man) ideological secular humanists, but they’re not very evangelical secular humanists. If Sheldon really did return to Texas to teach evolution, things wouldn’t work out well for him (his day as a professor was a pretentious failure), and Leonard’s somewhat uncharacteristic showdown with Penny over astrology was a lesson for him in relational humility.

For more Big Bang Theory analysis from the gang at the Postmodern Conservative click here and here.  The posts are mostly reacting to Ken Masugi’s post on the show at The Library of Law and Liberty and Steven Hayward’s response at PowerLine.

Superman Turns 75

Over at The New Republic, Glen Weldon explains how the comic-book hero and symbol of America has fared over the years.  In the 1930s he was a “protective older brother.”  During World War II and the first decade of the Cold War he was “Father Knows Best.”  In the 1960s he was the “Morose Uncle.”  In the 1970s he was a “Guidance Counselor.”

A taste:

A closer look at the character’s history reveals that in fact the entire notion of Superman exists in a state of perpetual flux. The reason he has endured for three quarters of a century is that he continually evolves to reflect the culture around him. To sample a Superman comic, radio show, television episode, or film from any era is to get hit with a potent dose of the prevailing zeitgeist. There, plain to see, lie the obsessions, fears, hopes and values of the time, stripped to their essence and shoved into baby blue tights. 

Marti on Hollywood and Religion

Gerardo Marti reminds us that Hollywood and religious films have a long relationship.  In his recent piece at The Christian Century, he chronicles this history.  Here is a small taste:

Herbert A. Jump was an especially articulate enthusiast for the use of motion pictures. His 1911 pamphlet The Religious Possibilities of the Motion Picture argued that film is the most important invention since the printing press. Films would make the gospel story vivid and interesting. For Jump, film projectors could become consecrated machines that attract the unchurched:
The great cry of the unchurched millions ought to ring in our ears permitting us no rest until we have availed ourselves of every conceivable device to attract them to the higher life in Jesus Christ.
Across the country, some churches purchased projection equipment, installed permanent machines in their auditoriums, and integrated film clips into their Sunday services. Short films became sermon illustrations. Other films were shown before Sunday school. Some pastors rented equipment and raised giant screens in large, outdoor venues. By 1920 more than 2,000 churches were actively using motion pictures in their services, and up to 15,000 church schools and clubs were using them as part of their ministry.
But the great majority of church leaders avoided films altogether. The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America established its Committee on Religious Pictures in 1923 to prime the pump for more pictures. They hoped to connect the motion picture industry with the needs of churches and help church leaders understand the problems involved in meeting the demand—especially their cost to produce. Little happened. Two years later, they tried again and it flopped again. Funds simply failed to turn up to support the expense of moviemaking for such a limited audience.

Valerie Weaver-Zercher on the Amish Romance Novel

Check out Valerie Weaver-Zercher‘s great piece on Amish romance novels at LA Review of Books.  Weaver-Zercher is the author of Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels (John Hopkins UP).

I must confess that I knew nothing about Amish romance novels before I looked at Valerie’s essay, but I am now eager to read her book. I must also confess that I still have no real desire to read an Amish romance novel.  Sorry Valerie!  🙂

(OK–as I am typing this my 15-year old daughter is telling me all about Amish romance novels, although she claims she has never read one).

Here is a taste of Valerie’s essay:

In 2012, a new Amish romance novel appeared on the market about every four days. Sixty more were published in 2012 than in 2009, and 83 more than in 2002. The top three Amish-fiction authors — Beverly Lewis, Wanda Brunstetter, and Cindy Woodsmall — have sold a combined total of more than 24 million books.

As a subgenre of inspirational Christian fiction, Amish romance novels’ commercial success has garnered the attention of The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, Bloomberg Businessweek, and ABC’s Nightline, most of which have pointed out their largely evangelical female readership. One blogger suggested that the readers are “non-Amish religious women who somehow wish they could be even more repressed by a traditional Western religion than they already are.” Others are more sanguine. A marketer for one of the Christian publishing houses characterized the readers of their Amish-fiction author as evangelical women in their 50s and 60s. “These are not hipsters,” he said. “They’re very Christian, very ministry-oriented. There is lots of church talk in line [at book signings]. It’s sort of that rural, Saturday Evening Post crowd.”

And unlike the audience for reality series like TLC’s Breaking Amish or the Discovery Channel’s Amish Mafia, readers of these novels don’t want to see their Amish wasted, tattooed, touring sex museums, swearing, or packing heat. They want chaste heroines, tender heroes, devotional content, and maybe the suspense of a family secret or a forbidden Amish-English love. Amish romance novels offer readers three dimensions of chastity: chaste narratives about chaste protagonists living within a subculture that is itself impeccably chaste, refusing seduction by the car, public-grid electricity, phones in the house, higher education, and modern fashion. Despite the suggestion by some that the appeal of Amish fiction must lie in the arousal of coverings coming off, or suspenders being suspended — hence the coy industry term “bonnet rippers” — most Amish novels are as different from Fifty Shades of Grey as a cape dress is from a spiked collar. A line from Cindy Woodsmall’s When the Heart Cries is about as erotic as it gets: “The longer he stood so close to her, the stronger the need to kiss her lips became. But he was afraid she might not appreciate that move.” Readers frequently express appreciation that Amish novels are “clean reads,” and that they can leave them lying around the house without worrying that one of their kids might pick them up.

Evangelical women aren’t the only ones looking for chaste fiction for themselves and their daughters, as the Gordonville store’s shelves attest. No one knows for certain how many Amish people are reading Amish fiction, but, as I discovered while researching my book about Amish fiction, more than a few stray Amish readers are doing so. So if Amish readers are encountering fictional versions of themselves in the pages of Amish fiction, will they begin donning evangelical habits of romance and language of faith?

How does a culture change when outsiders launder its most cherished values and practices — community, tradition, simplicity, and Rumspringa — and sell them back to the people themselves? 

Is it possible for a genre of fiction to re-dress a people?

One final thought:

I hereby declare Valerie Weaver-Zercher and David Weaver-Zercher the first couple of academic Amish studies. 

Goodbye Bazooka Joe

When I was a kid I used to save Bazooka Joe comics and mail them off for prizes.  I think I got a mini-camera once (although I don’t remember it taking pictures) and a tiny knapsack that was a lot smaller than I thought it would be from the picture on the comic.

I just learned today that another piece of my childhood will be disappearing next month.  Bazooka Bubble Gum will be replacing Bazooka Joe with brain teasers.

Here is a taste of an article from The New Republic:

But weep not for Bazooka Joe, that fondly remembered, tow-headed, eye-patched, ball-capped, ordnance-named mascot. He and his pal Mort—the one whose turtleneck is so tall, it’s technically a turtlechin—aren’t going away, exactly. They’ll still get featured occasionally in the inserts that swaddle Topps, Inc.’s hard pink nuggets of corn syrup. And they’ll pop up at BazookaJoe.com, welcoming kids who’ve gone online for the games and videos that have been marketed to them.

As far as the afterlife of once-beloved product mascots goes, this is some pallid, shades-in-Hades nonsense. No more will Joe and Mort trade punny zingers that bear all the blistering, in-your-face cultural currency of a Bennett Cerf joke book. Instead, they’ve been consigned to linger in the non-corporeal corporate limbo known as a product’s “online presence.” Like Mr. Peanut, the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy and other semi-retired spokesthings, Bazooka Joe and His Gang will now exist primarily as ghosts in the machine.

Topps made its first, abortive attempt to create a cartoon spokesmoppet in 1949. “Bazooka, the Atom-Bubble Boy!” was a plucky blond tyke who blew bubbles so big he could fly, thus enabling daring adventures. But it didn’t take long for Bazooka’s atom-bubble to burst, perhaps because kids weren’t willing to spend a nickel per package of six pieces of gum when other companies offered single pieces for a penny. (It’s also possible that, as parents became aware of the horrific effects of nuclear radiation, the thought of an “atom-bubble” getting anywhere near their child’s mouth began to pall.)

In 1954, Topps tried again with “Bazooka Joe and his Gang,” selling individual pieces for one cent. To compensate for the wee size of the comics, Joe and his cronies were assigned easily distinguished sartorial styles—Mort’s turtleneck, for instance, and Joe’s eye-patch. Topps insists the latter was a fashion choice rather than the result of playground rough-housing gone horrifically awry. Jeff Shepherd, a collector and bubble-gum historian whose book Bazooka Joe and His Gang comes out in April, says the patch was meant to parody the hugely successful ad campaign featuring the Hathaway Shirt Man. This original gang was rounded out by the overweight Hungry Herman; Janet (later Jane), Joe’s sweetheart; and Toughie (real name: George Washington Abraham Lincoln Jones), a Dead-End Kid type who wore his white sailor hat at a rakish tilt. 

The characters were created by cartoonists Woody Gelman and Wesley Morse. Morse, according to Art Spiegelman’s Those Dirty Little Books, had years before authored several of the better-known pornographic comics that came to be called “Tijuana bibles.” He drew two to three series per year (with each series containing 40 to 50 different gags) every year until his death in 1963, and for decades after that, Topps continually recycled Morse’s original gags, although the art was frequently touched up and simplified further. For awhile, kids were encouraged to collect and redeem the comics for various prizes—pens, keychains, charm bracelets, flashlights, cameras, and the like—but today’s devotees collect them for the sake of collecting, and speak an argot thick with serial numbers (“The release of Bazooka Joe Series 2-61,” intones one website, “marked the end of an era.”).

Colonial Idol

Forget about American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, The X Factor, and all those other lame talent competitions.  Head over to the Colonial Williamsburg website and make your selection for this year’s “Colonial Idol.”

Here is a taste:

To see who wins, watch the broadcast premiere of the Electronic Field Trip Colonial Idol on Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Eastern Time on participating public television stations and cable channels!

This exciting talent showcase features 18th-century music, including Native American songs, military tunes, enslaved people’s work songs, and much more. As the judges deliberate, discover how music can influence individuals, shape public opinion, and even change history.

Glory Days Program

On September 14-16, Monmouth College will host Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium.  This is the third academic conference devoted to the music and career of Springsteen.  I thought seriously about submitting a paper for the conference, but just never got around to getting it done.  I probably won’t even be able to attend.  But I were going, I would want to check out these sessions:

Tour of Asbury Park/Freehold/Belmar, led by Stan Goldstein and Jean Mikle – Tour begins and leaves from Monmouth University, location TBD This walking tour will feature many historical stops in Springsteen lore from his boyhood home to many of the musical clubs in Asbury Park where Bruce and others helped to generate the Asbury Park sound. 

The Catholic Spirituality of Bruce Springsteen – A Rock & Roll Reflection, Fr. Kevin Keelen, Pollak Theatre
With a concentration on the albums, The Rising & The Ghost of Tom Joad, and many other songs, Fr. Keelen offers this two hour lecture on the distinctly Catholic themes and spirituality behind much of Bruce Springsteen’s music. The lecture focuses primarily on Catholic Social Teaching and the Paschal Mystery-life, death and resurrection, with much reflection stemming from 9-11.

Springsteen and Politics/Activism: (Bey Hall, Room 223)

Moderator: Kevin Dooley, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Monmouth University
Bruce Springsteen and Chris Christie: Exploring the Similarities Between Two Dissimilar Men, Richard A. Lee, Assistant Professor of Journalism, St. Bonaventure University, New York
The GOP Secret Love Affair with Bruce, Ryan J. Peene, Associate, MBI GluckShaw Public Affairs, New Jersey
Rock’s Greatest Year: Springsteen, Mellencamp, Geldof in the Summer of 1985, John Duffy, Writer & Graduate Student, Millersville University, Pennsylvania

David Morgan on the Paintings of Jon McNaughton

I had never heard of Jon McNaughton before, but when I saw the image attached to David Morgan‘s recent piece at Religion & Politics I recognized his work immediately.  McNaughton is the painter of “One Nation Under God,” a painting that has become quite popular among the so-called teavangelicals.  (You should also check out his “The Forgotten Man” and “Wake Up America!). According to the editors of Religion & Politics:

In McNaughton, Morgan finds something old: a jeremiad against the current American political establishment. He also finds something new: a coalition of evangelical Christians and conservative Mormons, a union that could prove highly influential in the 2012 presidential contest.

Here is a taste of his piece:

A few years ago, political commentators wondered if a new partnership was emerging in American politics between evangelicals and Catholics. But neither group has turned out to be as monolithic as some expected. One Nation Under God, The Forgotten Man and Wake Up America! suggest a new coalition, one personified in Glenn Beck (and now perhaps Mitt Romney): a union among conservative evangelicals and Mormons. It is noteworthy that Joseph Smith is not among the worthies who step forth from the mist of the American past. But we do see at least one Mormon: among the righteous stands a black male college student—perhaps a counterintuitive choice to represent McNaughton’s own faith, as black men were banned from the Mormon priesthood until 1978. This man holds a copy of a book by the oft-described “faith-based political theorist” Willard Cleon Skousen, a writer frequently touted by Beck. The Five Thousand Year Leap (1981) proclaimed that the Constitution was inspired by the freedom fighters of the Bible, not the free thinkers of the Enlightenment. The cause around which the new coalition gathers is the Christian Nation—although whether this alliance can endure remains to be seen. The artist himself told The National Review that he left the GOP during the presidency of George W. Bush, who, McNaughton said, “ruined the Republican Party.”

"America the Beautiful": The Ray Charles Version

Luke Hill, writing at “dotCommonweal,” reflects on the Ray Charles version of the popular anthem, “America the Beautiful.” As Hill notes, the “Charles interpretation is so popular that it’s easy to overlook how radically he revamped [the song]–both lyrically and theologically.”

Here is a taste of Hill’s piece:

In Ray Charles’ vision, this country was from the beginning blessed by God, and that blessing has never stopped.  All the sins that followed—the 250 years of legalized slavery, the century of Jim Crow, the racism enduring into the 21st century (and you could go ahead and add your own list of America’s sins)—take place against the backdrop of that original and ongoing blessing.

Ray Charles preaches (and make no mistake, by the final chorus of this song that’s exactly what he’s doing) that, to the extent that you participate in or benefit from those social sins, you ought to thank God for not striking you dead already.  You ought to lay down the heavy burden of continuing to try to justify or excuse those sins.  You ought to thank God for His mercy in giving you another day to live, another chance to recognize the gifts already bestowed upon you, another chance to do right.  God’s grace has been there all along and is still available to you.  That’s “America the Beautiful”.

Philip Jenkins on Evangelicals and Rock Music

In a really interesting piece at Real Clear Religion, Philip Jenkins traces the origins of Christian rock music to the Byrds and their 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  (This was the post-David Crosby version of the Byrds). The album was influential because it fused country, Southern rock, and “outlaw country,” a combination that was growing popular at the time.

But the album also included songs, like “I am a Pilgrim” and “The Christian Life” that contained strong Christian themes.  About a year later, the Byrds also recorded “Jesus is Just Alright with Me,” a song which became popular with the Jesus People movement on the West Coast.  (I did not know the Byrds recorded this song–I was always familiar with the Doobie Brothers version).

I will let Jenkins tell the rest of his story in his own words:

Suddenly, young people who knew nothing whatever about the American religious heritage were exposed to this music, in highly accessible rock/country fusion styles, played by hip musicians with long hair and beards. Along the way, they also heard key evangelical messages, which suddenly became cool and contemporary.

And that, I suggest, is a major reason why those Christian movements were suddenly able to find young audiences open and receptive to their messages. If we can’t exactly claim Sweetheart of the Rodeo as the album that changed America’s faith, then it made a mighty contribution. But what historian would incorporate a title like that into any serious scholarly tome?

"Populism Yea, Yea"

This past weekend I heard a very interesting paper by Mark Cheathem on the way he used a contemporary play about Andrew Jackson in a class at Cumberland University.  It was part of a session on Jacksonian America at the biennial meeting of The Historical Society Columbia, SC.

Cheathem is an accomplished Jackson scholar who uses the play “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” in a research seminar devoted to seventh president of the United States.  He reflects on the session here.

As part of his reflection, Mark has posted one of the signature songs in this Jacksonian musical. It is entitled “Populism, Yea, Yea.” He warned us in Columbia that the song was catchy.  He was right:

Library of Congress Designates 25 Sound Recordings "Cultural and Historic" Treasures

The National Recording Preservation Board of the Library Congress have just added the following recordings to their “National Recording Register.”  The list includes:

Here is a list of all the recordings on the register.  I should note that Springsteen’s “Born to Run” was added to the list in 2003.

The Queen and the Boss: The Bruce Springsteen–Donna Summer Collaboration

You may think that these two artists represent the polar opposites of American music in the 1970s.  Springsteen was a rocker.  Summer was the epitome of disco.

Yet I’ll bet you did not know that Springsteen originally wrote “Cover Me” for Donna Summer.  In the end, Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, thought the song was too good to give to Summer and Springsteen ended up keeping it for himself.  It would appear on his 1984 album, Born in the USA.

The Boss would later write “Protection” for Summer and almost recorded it as a duet with her.  (He spent two days at her home working on the song).

R.I.P. Donna Summer!