Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I'm sick. Serafina's sick. My wife, thankfully, is not.

Christmas was a nice time had by all (as was my birthday). I received all kinds of nice things, including a couple of shirts.

I also received (gave?) Serafina some sloppy kisses (that's probably why we're sick).

I have a book to review, and I have yet to review it. It is called The British Pop Dandy: Masculinity, Popular Music and Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009) by Stan Hawkins. While I am looking forward to reading through it, I find it a bit daunting right now (since I'm sick).

Also, I am writing yet another article on Dollhouse for a collection by BenBella Books (edited by Jane Espenson). I'll hopefully be presenting a paper on this article in St. Louis in the Spring for the Popular Culture Association conference. I suppose I have yet to mention that I will be presenting a paper on violence and popular music in Regina at the IASPM conference in June.

Oh, what fun!

Have I mentioned that I am sick?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

For those keeping track ...

Another publication (a long awaited review):

Queering the Popular Pitch. Edited By Sheila Whiteley and Jennifer Rycenga. New York: Routledge, 2006. xix + 308 pp. ISBN 0-415-97805-X (pb)
Nicholas P. Greco
Popular Music, Volume 28, Special Issue 03, October 2009, pp 450-451
doi:10.1017/S0261143009990262, Published Online by Cambridge University Press 20 Oct 2009

Everything counts.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Watch Dollhouse

Fridays, 9pm eastern, 8pm pacific, on FOX!

Monday, September 14, 2009

SOUNDS (without actual sounds): Morrissey - "It's not your Birthday Anymore"

I'm presenting on Morrissey's "It's not your Birthday Anymore" in the "Popular Music and Culture" class at Providence College tomorrow morning. I am a bit concerned because I find the song quite mean, not to anyone in the class, but rather to the person in the song. There is a certain air of violence in the song, including some of a sexual nature, it seems. While Morrissey's lyrics have often been mean, I think that this song is downright terrible. This isn't to say that there is no merit to discussing it; actually, it needs to be discussed. I think in terms of a narrative analysis. What is going on? And why is Morrissey yelling?

If one places the song in the context of the singer's other work, within the discourse of his vocal expression, it is extremely striking. Morrissey is never this loud, to be frank. Is it a coincidence that the song precedes another song about death? Is the second half of Years of Refusal darker than once thought, or can the album be thought of as another part of the spectrum of violence begun on Ringleader of the Tormentors and "The Father who must be Killed"?

If you get a chance, take a listen to some of these songs. How do you (or I) think Morrissey is situating himself with these violent lyrics and (frankly) violent vocal expressions?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

SOUNDS: Amber Benson - "Under Your Spell"

What to write about this song? It is all about Amber Benson's voice here. I particularly find pleasure in the way that she slightly shortens the word "right" (at the end of the line "something just isn't right"). I also think that the slightly subdued nature of her voice, and the fact that it is placed at the front of the mix, is particularly striking. Listen:

This is a beautiful song. Something that is particularly interesting is, as the character Tara, Amber speaks with a slight stutter. Of course, while singing, Tara does not stutter. How, then, is this weakness (if you will accept my reading of a stutter as a weakness) expressed?* Her voice is at the front of the mix but still seems somewhat subdued. It is a powerful but delicate voice. Barthes' "grain of the voice" comes to mind here (yes, again). I hear Amber's breath in the voice. Her throat "gets in the way," but it sounds nice. I don't really know how to explain it. Her words are clipped, and much of the singing points to her physical body: her throat, her lips and tongue. If you haven't listened to this song, I encourage you to track down a full version.

Let me know what you think.

* I should mention that Tara's stutter seems to be an indication of her timidity. Her discomfort in being around other people (in particular, Willow, who she loves) is expressed in her stutter. So, perhaps the general example of stuttering as a weakness is not really what I am suggesting.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Beginning a new series here - SOUNDS

I thought that I would attempt to post at least as often as my students, and I'll really try to do this. I may not be able to do this all the time, but I'll try. I thought, if I'm going to try to force myself to do all of this writing, then I should write about something worthwhile. Therefore, I will try to document moments in the music that I listen to that seem to be flashes of pleasure, something which philosopher/semiotician Roland Barthes would suggest is involved in what he calls "cruising."

So you know what I mean, I can try to provide a small sample of the song to which I'm referring.

I think I can identify a kind of “break” that Barthes might talk about, that brings pleasure as I "cruise" a "text," which, in this case, is Bob Dylan's song, "Tangled Up in Blue." At around 32-33 seconds (7-8 seconds in the clip below), just when Bob sings “rain,” his voice ascends in pitch and it kind of squeaks (not the right descriptive, but whatever). This is a moment of breaking, a fragmenting of the voice, and it’s a kind of moment that surprised me. In my “cruising,” I experienced this “turning” which caught me (and continues to catch me). The same feeling now happens for me while he continues singing. Every time he enters this part of the song (the chorus?), I am “flooded” with pleasure. Now, I suppose my language is too flowery, but hopefully you get what I mean.

From an email with Michael J. Gilmour:
Around the time he was writing the album, Dylan was studying with painter Norman Raeben. According to this book, "Raeben brought Dylan to a more fruitful understanding of time, enabling him to view narrative not in such strictly linear terms, but to telescope past, present, and future together to attain a more powerful, unified focus on the matter at hand. ... [in "Tangled Up in Blue"] temporality, location, and viewpoint shift back and forth from verse to verse, rather in the manner of montaged jump cuts in a movie ... allowing him to reveal underlying truths about the song's characters while letting them remain shadowy, secretive figures" (Andy Gill). Not related to "cruising" but a fun observation just the same.
Oh, but it is related to Barthes' "cruising." Barthes talks about cruising being “related to the catch of sentences, citations, turns of phrase, fragments.” This last part, fragments, would seemingly correspond to the “montaged jump cuts” that Gill identifies. I wonder if, also, the text (the song) is put forth like a film, to be “spied-upon,” as Barthes would say.

Also, I read more into “turns of phrase” than simply “a manner of expression,” but rather a kind of contour, either in terms of vocal phrasing or even melodic contour.

Funny how even the quote from Gill seems to talk about desire, as well as this idea of enigma. The enigma of the narrative captures the listener, I think, and Dylan’s voice, I would argue, is part of this.

For more on Barthes' notion of "cruising," see Barthes, Roland. “Twenty Key Words for Roland Barthes.” The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980. Translated by Linda Coverdale. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985. 230-231.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Writing, Writing, Writing

One of the classes I am teaching this term is called "Writing for the Media." One of the things that I will be demanding of my students is that they write, and that they write a lot. One way that they will accomplish this will be through the continual creation of blog entries (every day, except for weekends and holidays). While this can seem a daunting task, it is not unlike writing for media in that there are constant deadlines and constant requirements in terms of columns and there is a constant readership (or a perceived or perhaps potential readership) that is waiting for the next piece to be written.

So, this might seem to be a difficult and unfair assignment. After all, so many words over the term - something like 6000 words or around 24 pages - for a first year class. Crazy! Mean! Just plain silly!

Or extremely practical. And maybe even beneficial. I suspect there might be budding writers in this class, and perhaps it will be a treat reading what they have to write. I look forward to it.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

After a long while, I return . . . with wonderful insights!

In June, I presented a paper at the IASPM conference in Halifax. At the conference, my colleague from the University of Toronto at Scarborough, Dr. Alan Stanbridge, presented a paper on the new generation of jazz musicians successfully engaging with current pop music. One of the examples that he gave of the previous generation's quite unsuccessful engagement with contemporary pop music was Frank Sinatra's cover of Petula Clark's "Downtown." Stanbridge suggests that disgust seems to be evoked by Sinatra's voice, a disgust with the mainstream rock or youth music, or the synthesis of pop and jazz, that Sinatra was performing.

I wonder if something else is happening here. Morrissey does something similar vocally, recently, especially in live performance. I wonder if it is a kind of ironic self-reference rather than a kind of statement against the mainstream (unless it is perhaps a kind of self-reference that is in fact of distaste because he is performing that particular music). In any case, I read Sinatra's performance as an aural gesture which refers to the singer rather than explicitly the mainstream.

I should mention that Sinatra's performance (with its "barfy" sounds) is full of wonderful musical moments, however cheesy the performance might be. It is now one of my favourite recordings.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

New Arrival

Dearest friends!

We would like to announce the arrival of Serafina Persephone Greco, born on April 29th at 11:12 pm Central at the St Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. She weighed 7 pounds 2 ounces at birth and was 21 inches long. Both baby and mommy (and daddy) are doing fine.

We came home last night around 7pm and we are proud to say that we made it through our first night at home alone - all three of us are exhausted. She is a patient little thing - you should see us trying to take care of her in the middle of the night!

Thanks for all your prayers and support. Here are some hospital pics you may not have seen yet (unless you're on facebook).

Thanks for all the love and support!
Antonella, Nicholas and baby Serafina Persephone

Monday, March 16, 2009

so-so day

Things are moving along in my life. Work is okay - busy. I find that I can get upset easily, and, for sure, I am beginning to really tire (I'm sure my students are also feeling it at this point in the semester).

I was happy to hear from an old friend recently. I often wonder about where people have ended up after all this time, people that I used to invest a whole lot of myself into. I'm happy that they are doing well.

More people are seemingly interested in a course on Joss Whedon's Firefly. I'm hoping to have it on the books in 2010. I wish it could be offered more quickly, but I can only do what I can do.

That is all for now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I apologize

I'm sorry for not posting for months and months. There are no excuses (in fact, I'm doing this right now instead of working on a lecture for tomorrow).

I should tell you that a lot has happened here in sunny Winnipeg. So you know, my wife and I are expecting a little one to arrive by the end of April. I sent another review to be published in Popular Music. I'll be presenting a paper on Barthes and "cruising" the voice of one Leslie Feist at the 2009 IASPM Canada conference in Halifax. And, this summer, I'll be preparing some book proposals, to see if anyone might want to publish my PhD dissertation as a book.

I'm also a Founding Fellow in the Canadian Institute for the Study of Pop Culture & Religion. You can find out more about the Institute by going to http://popculturecanada.ca.

So, that is all for today. Feel free to follow my Twitter stream - you can see it on the left of this screen. Hopefully I will post there more that I post here. Watch for more updates to come.