George Lipsitz. Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.

In Time Passages, George Lipsitz predates well the arguments of well-known authors by a dozen years. His chapter, “Against the Wind: Dialogic Aspects of Rock and Roll,” uses Bakhtin’s “dialogism” to argue against ahistorical accounts of the birth of Rock and Roll presented by Lawrence Grossberg, E. Ann Kaplan, and Simon Frith. He argues that Rock and Roll arose out of African American blues and working class backgrounds (Buddy Holly was a bricklayer and steel-manufacturing worker in Lubbock, Texas, for instance). Songs like the Coasters’ Run Red Run’ (1959), if not overtly political, signified by recounting stories of clever tricksters triumphing over powerful foes. This effort of placing Rock “in its context” (which Frith et al. did not do) reminded me of Ingrid Monson’s  "Doubleness' and Jazz Improvisation: Irony, Parody and Ethnomusicology” (Critical Inquiry. 1994;20 (2) :283-313) which uses Bakhtin’s notion of dialogism and Julia Kristeva’s ‘intertextuality’ to argue that jazz performances have a history and they comment on previous jazz performances, similar to how Rock and Roll takes its influence from African-American Blues.


In “Cruising Around the Historical Block: Postmodern and Popular Music in East Los Angeles,” Lipsitz asks a similar question that Cohen asked in Making a New Deal. Lipsitz begins by noting that Los Angeles seems like a post-modern, ethnic-less “City of Quartz” (to quote Mike Davis). But underneath the Anglo-American metropolis thrived an ethnic rock and roll community comprised of Latinos and Blacks which created a “historical bloc.” If his previous chapter on dialogism pre-dated Ingrid Monson’s arguments about “intertextuality,” then his chapter on Los Angeles predates Ned Sublette’s chapter “The Kingsman and the Chá-Chá-Chá” (Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music. Duke University Press, 2007). Citing Don Tosti Band’s “Pachuco Boogie,” which mixed calo (Spanish street slang), Afro-American scat singing, and blues harmonies to form a provocative musical synthesis.

These two chapters, although they show the emancipatory possibilities of “cultural memory” (dialogism) and creating historic blocs, demonstrate the failures of these two periods. He echoes Stuart Hall’s arguments about popular culture as a “site of struggle” by claiming that cultures he discusses were neither fully repressed, nor further liberated themselves. Rock and Roll, thanks to payola bribes, never achieved the emancipatory possibilities, and Latin musicians in Los Angeles never really received the recognition for their contributions to American music. To draw on Jameson, popular culture provides both “reification” (repressive) and “utopian”  (emancipatory) visions.