It's rare that work grants you access to one of your favorite bands, or allows you the pleasure of minutely analyzing a favorite record, but Professor Kevin Dettmar's latest book, Gang of Four: Entertainment!, offered both. The Department of English will be celebrating the release of Dettmar's book and Associate Professor of English Sarah Raff's Jane Austen's Erotic Advice (Oxford University Press) with a book release party and English tea on Wednesday, April 23, at 4:15 p.m. in the Ena Thompson Reading Room in Crookshank Hall.
Part of the 33-1/3 book imprint series from Bloomsbury that offers in-depth analysis of specific rock albums, Gang of Four: Entertainment! blends Dettmar's English academic background with his long-held interest in rock music and rock criticism. In addition to research interest and expertise in James Joyce and modern British and Irish literatures, Dettmar explores music through teaching classes on rock history, rock 'n' roll writing and Radiohead; and writing, having authored the introductory textbook Think Rock (Prentice Hall, 2011) and Is Rock Dead? (Routledge, 2006), co-edited Reading Rock & Roll (Columbia UP, 1999), edited Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and edited the Journal of Popular Music Studies for two years.
Dettmar says that in high school, he liked "difficult" music -- mostly progressive rock -- but wanted to listen to "important music." In 1979, punk didn't "have the intellectual heft to hold my attention" and while some New Wave bands interested him, it was really Gang of Four's debut album that caught his ear. "[They] combined absolutely intoxicating music with really thought-provoking lyrical content."
He notes that singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill had trained in the Marxist-leaning art department at Leeds, giving their songs "insights from political and cultural theory, put into practice in case studies from everyday life--little Marxist soap operas.
"More important, maybe, Gang of Four didn't ‘preach' politics, in the way that many bands of the period (The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers) and since (Fugazi, Rage Against the Machine) did: They invited their fans to use cultural theory to think through the problems of everyday life with them. It was this participatory aspect that really grabbed me, I think: the way that I was invited to think through a set of issues with them, using tools that they had, in part, provided."
In the book, Dettmar draws a connection between his love of Joyce and Gang of Four, which also explains the connection between literature and rock music: "Because there's something that Ulysses and Entertainment! have in common: both are concerned with the importance of narrative, of storytelling, as a mode of understanding and experiencing the world."
During the writing of the book, Dettmar met with each member of the band, and is doing bookstore events with drummer Hugo Burnham (Brookline Booksmith in Boston, June 11), and bassist Dave Allen (Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., on July 7, and Skylight Books on July 12).