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Voicing Dissent: Petra Haden’s Other America (LA Sojourn, Part 1)

I’ve been listening to Petra Haden‘s recordings for years now. I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing her sing live, but still respond to a vibrant directness, a deeply engaging vitality, that inheres in her music, particularly in the overdubbed choric covers of popular song that she’s been self-releasing through YouTube and Facebook. I associate her vibrancy with an adaptive, attentive and essentially improvisatory approach to singing—improvisatory not despite the compositional fixity of any recording, but as a structural principal of this kind of recording. That claim needs to be argued, rather than taken as a given, and making a version of that argument is what I’m starting to do in the essay I’m posting here; it’s a paper that I delivered on Friday, March 30, 2018, at UCLA during the annual conference of the American Comparative Literature Association, as part of a seminar called ‘“Stay Woke”: The Politics of Protest Song,’ organized and chaired by Bronwyn Malloy of the University of British Columbia. I’m working with Petra Haden’s cover of the David Bowie-Pat Metheny Group collaboration, “This Is Not America,” which is the theme song from the 1985 spy-thriller The Falcon and the Snowman, to try to discover the ways in which dissent voices itself not necessarily as dissonance or discord but rather in the re-figurations of plurality in the varietals of community represented by choral song: to concoct a multiplicity out of an initial gesture at negation or lyric refusal, the promise of an America sounded from what it is not or what it refuses to be. Many of her covers of film themes and of pop and pop kitsch (such as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”) operate neither as satire nor as mere celebration, but produce a form of Americana – Haden’s collaborations with Bill Frisell and with Jesse Harris, as well as her work with her father Charlie Haden’s legacy operate in this vein, in my view – that sustains a democratizing impulse in its aural blend of irony and joy; her songs open up an auditory and audible space in which an attentive and open-hearted America can begin to hear itself more fully.

"We Jimmied the Radio": Brad Cran, Gillian Jerome and the Lyric in Public (Audio)

Here is the audio of a conference paper I delivered at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, on September 21, 2012, as part of the Public Poetics conference. It’s called “’We Jimmied the Radio’: Brad Cran, Gillian Jerome and the Lyric in Public.” Although it makes some gestures at what might pass for materialist analysis – as any work that addresses the idea of a public purview, of relevance or of engagement probably needs to do – my approach locates itself pretty firmly in outlining a phenomenology of the lyric, or maybe in describing the collision of the lyric with a phenomenology of commitment, or of community. At the time I wrote this, I was reading Jacques Rancière’s study of Mallarmé– as well as other work by him that seemed to me to be interrogating the intersection of the poetic and the political – so for me some of that matter gets echoed here, though not overtly mentioned. I come near the end of the paper to the founding of CWILA (“Canadian Women in the Literary Arts”) and to what was in the summer of 2012 a controversy around gender and negative reviewing. (I mention Russell Smith at the beginning of the paper, a gesture at some of this debate.) An expanded version of this essay – about double the length – is currently under consideration for publication. (I seem, as well, to have taken a little more than my time on the panel: The talk clocks in at 27 minutes; I thought I was briefer.) One last plug: check out the poetries of Brad Cran and Gillian Jerome. Buy their books.