Singing “I Will Survive” - Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies

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1 Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies Singing I Will Survive: 10(4) 326333 2010 SAGE Publications Reprints and permission: http://www. Performance as Evolving Relationship DOI: 10.1177/1532708610365474 Chris McRae1 Abstract The 1978 disco hit I Will Survive, made popular by Gloria Gaynor, has personal significance for me as a listener and as a performer. In this essay, I trace my evolving relationship with this song from my childhood as I sang and listened to the song with my mother to my later performances of the song as a musician in different bands. In telling my story, I look to my various relationships with this song to argue for an analysis of music that complicates and considers the ways in which the listener, performer, and performance work together to shape the ways in which we come to interpret meanings and identities in the cultural performance of music. Keywords music, performance, recorded music, personae, Gloria Gaynor Im not sure when my fascination with the song I Will of listening is contingent on these contexts and experiences Survive began. There is no precise moment when the song (Frith, 1996).1 Second, this is a story of a relationship between became important to me, there is no single part of the song listener and listener-turned-performer that is built in the con that is particularly significant, and there is no one perfor- text of changing sounds and music. My relationship with the mance of the song that I can separate out as the definitive song becomes one between listener and song, performer and performance. However, this song is significant to me; and song, and listener and recorded performer. For me, these just as much as it is a guilty pleasure, it is also central to my relationships are complexly intertwined in the music and thinking about the relationship between music and stories sound of I Will Survive as well as with the songs lyrics. and the connections among listener, performer, and per- Different musical versions and performances of I Will formance as a performance. The importance of this song is Survive provide opportunities for different meanings both constantly changing as it weaves in and out of my own in the listening and performing. story. Defining a contained, fixed, or finite performance of Finally, this is a story of the listener-turned-performer. As I Will Survive would make certain limited perspectives a performer, I consider Auslanders (2004) three identities available; however, an analysis of I Will Survive in relational of the musician: performer as real person, as star persona, terms would open new possibilities and different perspec- and as character, as I negotiate my relationship with the song. tives. The meaning of this song like any relationship has These identities come from Friths (1996) discussion of the changed and taken on various meanings for me over time popular music performer and the process of double enact- and in different contexts. My analysis of the song exists in ment, a process of enacting a star personality or image and these changing contexts that in turn shape and define the a song personality or some character in a song simultane- performance as a process. Now, as I sit here at my desk ously (pp. 211-212). This is a way of breaking down and listening to I Will Survive I am in a progression of ideas accounting for the multiple possible identities enacted by a and meanings that will become my story of the song. performer in a performance. For Auslander, the performers Throughout this story, I argue for an evolving analysis of (real people) perform their image (star persona) as performers music performance in which listener, performer, and per- formance are connected and related. I see this as an evolving 1 Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL performance in three ways. First, this is a story of the rela- Corresponding Author: tionship between listener and recorded music in response to Chris McRae, Doctoral Student, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Auslanders call to consider recorded music in the analysis Department of Speech Communication; Mail code 6605, Southern Illinois of music performance (2004). My life experiences provide University, Carbondale Carbondale, Illinois 62901-6605 a context for my relationship to the song, and my performance EMail: [email protected]

2 McRae 327 and perform the character of the song. However, I argue The needle reaches the end of the grooves in the record that this analysis does not adequately consider the role and as the song ends. The automatic arm lifts and swings the stylus impact of the audience in this performance of identities. An back to the cradle. The record continues spinning. My expe- analysis that considers the performance of identity as a rela- rience changes every time I place the needle on the edge of tionship between audience and performer provides a much the record. Just as there is no beginning or end to the record, richer reading of music performance. Ultimately, this ongo- there is no beginning or end to the performance. The record ing performance and analysis is the story of my relationship keeps revolving and my relationship with the performance with and experience of listening, performing, emulating, keeps evolving as time and experience give me new contexts living, analyzing, and writing I Will Survive. for thinking about the song. The recording of I Will Survive has also changed and evolved. Originally, I Will Survive was released as the Nurturing the Survival Instinct: B side in 1978. Substitute was the A side. However Sub- Survival and Evolution stitute did not survive on the A side and the decision to I take the gray Realistic Solid State Automatic Stereo with switch the songs was made. Twelve weeks after being rer- detachable Realistic Stereophonic Speakers out of the closet eleased as the A side in 1979, I Will Survive became the and set it on the living room floor. Next to the portable number one song in the country (I Will Survive, 2006). This record player, I place the leather box filled with Moms 45s. interesting evolution of the song demonstrates the ways in She and I begin taking the small 45 rpm records and the which even cultural artifacts that may seem fixed (in vinyl yellow plastic inserts out of the box and setting them on the or on the page) can and do undergo changes. My interpreta- floor. It is my job to go through the records and hand them tions of the song will change, but the song also evolves and to Mom to play. Just listening to the A sides can take all after- this evolution shapes my interpretations. noon. Her collection has everything: 1970s pop, rock n roll, I am first exposed to I Will Survive by listening to Motown, and disco. More important, each record has a story. my Mothers record, and it is my listening to the record This song was a big hit when I was growing up. Or, I bought that enables this recorded music to be considered a perfor- this one my senior year of high school and taught myself the mance. Auslander (2004) suggests the recorded music melody on the clarinet. After she tells me the story of how should be considered a performance stating: [r]egardless she acquired the record or why she liked the song, we listen of the ontological status of recorded music, its phenome- and sing along. nological status for listeners is that of a performance I hand her a 45 with a red Polydor label. This one is the unfolding at the time and in the place of listening (p. 5). 1978 hit written by Fekaris and Perren (1978b) for disco Listening is as important to the performance as the record queen Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive. This song is about itself in that both enable the recorded music to become a having strength, Mom says, And about how you dont performance. As a listener, I am the audience physically need anybody to make you strong. This was my anthem. I hearing the performance of the record and allowing the used to sing it before I met your father, and youll learn it record to take on the phenomenological status of a perfor- too. Because you dont need to let anybody walk over you. mance. The first performance of the song that I experience Ever. Ill say. is through the tiny speakers of the record player, and the Ill say. Granted, I was about 8 years old and heartbreak meaning of the song is situated in my Mothers story. wasnt on the top of my list of concerns, but the lesson in Meanings do not exist in the vinyl rather they exist in the self-esteem was unforgettable. My mothers story stuck experience of the listener. I create meanings with the music, with me because every time I heard the song I thought of her and each time I listen to the song new meanings evolve. and her story and because it represented a value she felt I set the needle back down on the record and listen to the was important for me, it was something I knew I should try song again. to apply. Mom fixes one of the yellow plastic inserts into the cen ter of the record and places it on her record player. She slides New Meaning: Evolving Sounds the lever to play and the record falls down and starts spin- My best friend picks me up at 6:50 in the morning every ning. The arm swings over and the needle makes contact day my senior year of high school. I wake up at 6:40, put with the vinyl. The scratchy sounds of a piano come through on some clean clothes, put my lunch in my backpack, and the speakers and then Gloria Gaynors soprano voice sings wait in the living room for the sound of his car. Every- the slow introduction to her 1978 disco hit. At first I was day, like clockwork, I hear the low rumble of the 96 afraid, I was petrified. I kept thinking I could never live Mustang GT and I go outside and get in his car. He revs without you by my side. . . We start to sing along. the engine one last time as a goodbye to my family. With

3 328 Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 10(4) the windows down we back out of the driveway and head polyester leisure suits, bell bottom pants, and lit dance floors. for school. The tempo has been slowed down and the rhythm of the song has changed. John McCreas deep baritone somehow How you doin? changes the perspective of the narrator of the song. The Tired. How about you? I ask. lyrics are a first person narrative and the singer acts as the Tired. And I have to work an eight-hour shift after narrator. Because the lyrics do not explicitly indicate gender school. when Gloria Gaynor sings, it is easy to read the narrator as That sucks. a woman. When John McCrea sings, the narrator is clearly a Alright, now you have to check this out. Ever heard man. Having known this song from the perspective of a woman of the band Cake? from listening to Gloria Gaynors version, Cakes version Nope. opens up a different perspective for the meanings of the song. Well this is their album Fashion Nugget. Youll know Even though the lyrics do not explicitly suggest a specific this song. gender, when Cake covers the song it becomes more obvi- ous that this song could just as easily be the story of a man. He puts in the CD and forwards the disc to track 7. The He also sings in an octave that is easier for me to sing along sound of a guitar comes through the speakers on the doors with. It is in this version that I first realize how unfixed gender of the car. Then the vocals come in with the bass and is for all of the possible characters in the narrative of the lyrics. drums. The progression is funky and different, and I recognize This is a song of survival in all relationships, romantic, not the words but Im not sure why. The melody is unfamiliar. romantic, homosexual, and heterosexual (Smith, 2006). My friend sings along with the low lethargic voice of the By not remaining entirely true to the original recording, lead singer. What is this song? The singer proclaims, Just Cake has given a fresh new meaning to the song. The song turn around now, youre not welcome anymore, and I am no longer falls into the genre of disco but rather some genre able to make the connection between the melody and the of alternative rock, a genre for my generation. It is this new words at the chorus of the song, Its a slowed down and sound that changes the context of the song providing the funky remake of I Will Survive (I Will Survive; Fekaris opportunity for different meanings (Shepherd & Wicke, 1997). & Perren, 1978a). We pull in to the parking lot of the school Listening to the recording of Cake performing I Will singing the chorus to the remade disco song. He backs the Survive enables my own imagined performance of the song Mustang into his usual parking spot and revs the engine because of its new cultural meaning. These sounds enable one last time for good measure. We roll the windows up and restrict the production of different meanings, and I identify as the song ends. these meanings with my peers and my own musical interests. Throughout the day I try to recall the strange melody, but I associate Gloria Gaynors version of the song with my it is lost. I can only remember the original melody as sung mother, and even though I have my own experience of Gloria by Gloria Gaynor. The next day when my friend pulls into the Gaynors record, the sound of this new record by Cake rep- driveway to pick me up I request Cake and I Will Survive. resents the possibility for new meanings. Slowly I begin to familiarize myself with the contemporary My friend and I find Cakes version of I Will Survive and changed version of the song. accessible. We identify with the music and the lyrics are The narrator of I Will Survive finds strength in a moment understandable. And yet, is this not the same song that of heartbreak and despair, realizing that he or she will sur- resonated with my mother her senior year of high school? vive and is better off without the person/thing that has caused For her the song was about survival. I find myself still him or her pain. The gender of the narrator or the antagonist trying to live the story that my mother told me would of the song is not specified by the lyrics, and because the happen, but I am not yet in a place where I can call this wording and story of the song is so applicable to a variety of song my anthem. experiences, Gloria Gaynors performance of the song works as an anthem for many regardless of gender, sexual orienta- tion, or circumstance. It is also the only surviving hit of the Survival Instinct disco era to win a Grammy Award. The winning category, Im sitting at my computer in my dorm room the 1st week Best Disco Recording, did not survive, and no other song has of my freshman year of college, struggling to get over my had the opportunity to even earn the award (Prato, 2006). high school romance that ended in heartbreak a few months Cakes version of the song is different than what I first earlier. The world has not, as I suspected it might, come heard on the portable turntable as a child. The lyrics are for to a screeching halt. Im trying to keep my mind off of the the most part unchanged, but the sound is different; the trum- heartbreak by downloading music on my computer. It is pet and electric guitar are not reminiscent of the late 1970s almost a competition between me and my new friends here

4 McRae 329 in the dorm to see who can download the most songs or even Learning Survival better, the most obscure songs. In my search for new music I come across Cakes ver- Its Thursday night and my friend and I are heading to the sion of I Will Survive. Its the perfect soundtrack for my Irish Pub in South Tampa. Ive become friends with the duet melancholy. And for the first time since I was 8 years old that plays at the pub. They even let me sit in and play trum- the song really makes sense for me. I think about the person pet every now and then. They play swing and blues covers, who broke my heart, and I remember my mom telling me and the possibility of getting to play is what brings me out that nobody should ever walk over me. I hear the words of every week. Eddie, the lead singer of the group, also has a the song and realize how useful they are. Lately I havent been six-piece swing band that plays weddings, restaurants, and convinced that I will survive, and then John McCrea sings, private parties. He has talked about eventually letting me I grew strong, and I learned how to get along. I think to join the swing band. myself, I am getting along. I have moved on and I am sur- The pub is crowded for a Thursday night. A group of viving. I listen to the song one more time and then I save it middle-aged men are gathered around the electronic dart- on a CD with a few other songs I have found that evening. board drinking light beer. The bar is crowded and nobody It is, I suppose, an anthem. Now it is mine. seems to be paying any attention to the musicians in the corner. My friend and I sit down at an empty table facing the band. We are probably the only two people in the place Rituals and Survival watching the musicians. Everyone else seems interested in Gloria Gaynors personal story of survival has led her to a trying to set up a date for Friday night. strengthened faith as a born-again Christian. I Will Survive The group finishes playing and Eddie acknowledges me. has religious implications for the Disco Queen. In the early Hey Kid, you feel like singing? 1980s, she changed a line in the song to directly reference the strength she found not only in herself, but in her Christian Singing? But I brought my trumpet . . . faith, saying, Only the Lord could give me strength not to Yeah, you can play some later, but do you want to fall apart (Gloria Gaynor, 2006). The song and her experi- sing that Gloria Gaynor tune you showed me a few ence with performing the song are shaped by her own life weeks ago? experiences. My experience with heartbreak gives I Will Survive a He is referring to I Will Survive. It is the first song I suc new relevance for me. I am attaching meanings from my cessfully taught myself to play on guitar. After finding the personal experience to the song to validate my own strength chord progression for the song on the Internet, I learned how and ability to survive amidst my feelings of loss and sad- to play the chords on an old guitar a coworker who was also ness. Small (1987) argues that, Whatever form of music a musician had given to me as a going-away present when making or listening we care to engage in, we may be sure I left for college. I played and sang the song for Eddie in the that we are taking part in some way in a ritual that affirms style of Cake a few weeks ago when I stopped by his house the values we ourselves hold (p. 31). This ritual is created to discuss playing more with his band. by both listener and performer in the sounds and lyrics, if I look around at the pub and realize that the central focus there are any, of the music. The music enables the per- is the two for one beer specials at the bar. Sure, why not? former and listener to create multiple rituals with the music He plays the opening chords to the song and I feel naked performance. These rituals and experiences give meaning standing in front of the microphone without an instrument. to the performance especially for the listener. For example, My public singing experience is limited to an Elvis imper- listening to Gloria Gaynors record of I Will Survive was sonation I once did at karaoke night. He nods at me giving a ritual I participated in with my mother. Together we the cue for me to start the lyrics. I tap my hand against my came to share certain meanings and stories with the song. thigh to keep the time that I am used to keeping by strum- Listening to Cakes remake of I Will Survive with my ming the chords on my guitar. It took me months to learn best friend in the Mustang was part of our ritual and rou- to play and sing this song at the same time and now I feel tine of getting ready for another day at school. Later, in the strange performing without the guitar. aftermath of my failed relationship, I listened to the song My voice comes out deep and strong through the micro- by myself and it became a ritual of empowerment. Instead phone. I adjust to hearing myself over the speakers. The of looking at a single meaning of the song I look at the out-of-body experience is surreal. The voice coming out process of listening as a relationship, and as a listener I per- over the speakers sounds powerful. I try not to think about form with the song in creating my own meanings and the fact that I am responsible for the voice and instead experiences. focus on the back wall of the bar. If only my ex could see

5 330 Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 10(4) me now. Ive got all my life to live and Ive got all my an incredible time. This weekend we are playing a wedding love to give . . . A smile comes to my face. This one is for reception at a womans club in Tallahassee. you, sweetheart, I think. A few people at the bar turn I get back to the stage after our break and Eddie slowly around as they begin to recognize the song. Even one of the strums the opening chords to a song without calling the cooks comes out of the back to listen. I get to the chorus tune. Instantly I recognize the chord progression. I set my and realize this isnt for anyone else at all. I will survive, trumpet down on the stage and step toward the replica Shure hey, hey. No, this one is for me. 55 silver microphone. The banjo player whispers to me, Hey, Kid . . . what are the chords again? I turn to face him and just as I finish explaining the pro- Performing Survival: Evolving Persona gression I receive my cue from the guitar. I step up to the I have crossed the line from listener to performer, from microphone and begin, At first I was afraid . . . The dance audience member to singer. I have taken my musical floor is empty. The wedding party is gathered around the cash interpretations of I Will Survive and applied them to bar and the bride and grooms table. A few of the brides- my performance. I have also attached my own meanings maids turn and look at the stage. We swing the disco hit, but to the song to help shape my performance. I stand before it is clearly different from any of the Frank Sinatra or Dean the microphone and create my own musical performance, Martin songs you would expect a swing band to play at a extending my analysis of the song as a listener into my wedding. performance. As I finish the first verse of the song, the bride makes Auslanders manifesto for analysis of music performance her way to the dance floor. I half expect her to scold me for looks at the performer on three levels, The real person, the singing this breakup anthem at her wedding, but instead performance persona, and the character (p. 6). These distinc- she slips her feet out of her uncomfortable heels and begins tions work to give insight into music performance, particularly dancing and singing along. The bridesmaids and other popular music, by exploring the musician as performer. Does women at the reception join her on the floor. The best man this analysis approach apply to my experience as listener- even stumbles out onto the dance floor, champagne in hand, turned-performer? and joins in the singing. I first consider Auslanders distinction of lyrical charac- I begin the second verse to the song and I am no longer ter. I have brought my reading of the first person narrator in singing this song by myself. I now have the help of the I Will Survive to the stage. Singing the words literally entire wedding party. The 27-year-old song is the hit of gives voice to my interpretation of the song musically and the night. I stop singing and turn the microphone toward the lyrically. And each performance is informed by the previ- bride and her girlfriends for the beginning of the chorus, ous performance and I continually create and recreate a new Did you think Id lay down and die? I smile and turn the character. I sing the narrator as a man, like John McCrea of microphone back toward my mouth. I give the band the Cake, which is unlike Gloria Gaynors strong female ver- signal to keep going as I sing the chorus with the wedding sion of the narrator, and when I take the stage the song is party one more time. not disco, but some version of rock n roll and swing. All Maybe they are singing along because the song is on the of this genre and gender bending creates a new performance soundtrack for so many movies. Maybe they are singing of an old song. This is my song. along because the booze has finally started to take its toll. The character is no single character in a single perfor- Maybe they are singing along because they are tired of eating mance. I make the song and I make the character of the song cake and making small talk with strangers. And yet there is my own. My autobiographical reading of the narrator as a a look of sincerity on the brides face as she sings the words listener has evolved into my performance from sitting on to the song. The song may be considered kitschy and over- the floor listening to the 45s with my mother to listening to done by some because of its frequent use in movie soundtracks the song against my own personal experience with loss and and as a parody, but the lyrics seem to connect with people. heartbreak. The pain of the narrator has become my pain. I think of the day that I threw out two and a half years worth My mothers interpretation of the song in terms of personal of photographs and love letters and wonder if the bride relevance has now become part of my interpretation, and the has had a similar experience. It was a day that I can clearly will to survive is my will. I sing of my experience. And at identify as a day when I realized my own strength and ability once I am the character of the narrator, the listener, and the to survive. Maybe this wedding is the culmination of her sur- performer. vival. I will survive. Im playing trumpet with Eddies full swing band. Three The song ends and I step to the front of the stage and to four gigs a week and making a living wage. Im the young- take a dramatic bow. Eddie says, Ladies and gentleman, est member of the band by at least 15 years and I am having Mr. Gloria Gaynor! I step to the microphone and in my

6 McRae 331 best Elvis Presley imitation say, Thank ya, thank ya vera just as much as my identity shapes how I perform music. much. The wedding party applauds and the band goes into The significance of music for me is that music enables and a slow ballad. constrains my sense making and my performances of iden- Adrenaline helps get me through the performance, and to tity, and the significance of not separating the performance turn on my performance persona. The idea of persona is the of music from the performance of identity is that it allows character of the performer and not the lyrical character of me and others who theorize about the performance of music the song. Auslander notes that the distinction between per- to recognize music as integral to my ability to move through former as real person and performer persona is not necessarily the world. clear (p. 7). The distinction between performance character In expanding his idea of musical personae to all musi- and the performance of the character in the song is also often cians, Auslander (2006) locates the creation of personae vague. with the audience saying, it is the audience that produces As I create my performance of I Will Survive, the dis- the final construction of an identity from the impressions tinction between the performed song and the song I listened created by the performer (p. 114). In this way Auslander to is also unclear. I am performing the song that as a listener does begin to consider musical performance in terms of the I have attached meaning to. I have remade the performances relationship between musician and audience. However, the of Gloria Gaynor and Cake as my performance. As a lis- relationship of the audience to the identity of the perfor- tener their performance became my performance and their mance is not a finite creation. The performers identity is personae became my persona. I defined their personae to fit always being implicated by the audience, and it is always my interpretation of the song. changing. In the experience of the performance as auto- Auslander (2004) positions the audience outside of the biographical, the listener makes the personae possible by performance in relation to performer. engaging with the story in a way that makes the story of the performer real. By engaging with the story of the perfor- Part of the audiences pleasure in pop music comes mance and personae as real, they help to create the very from experiencing and consuming the personae of thing being consumed. Part of the audiences relationship to favorite artists in all their many forms and this experi- popular music comes from their continuous and changing ence is inseparable from the experience of the music involvement with and experience of the performance of the itself and of the artists as musicians. (p. 9) stories of the personae. Auslanders manifesto for analyzing the identities of the The audience is separate from the performance in performer and similar typologies do not focus on the nuances Auslanders explanation, and they are not responsible for of how meaning is created in performances over time. Instead creating the performance; rather, they consume the perfor these categories attempt to hold aspects of performance as mance. I want to position the audience inside the performance fixed moments ready for analysis. Situating the audience in and as part of the performance. The audience may consume the process of creating these categories is crucial, but it still a performance in some ways, but I believe the audience is creates a very particular reading and experience of perfor- involved in an active process in which they enable the per mance in a given moment and context. These categories do formance and the personae. not allow for an analysis of music performance as an evolv- The conversation about persona is similar to Gravers ing experience that is constantly enabling new and different (1997) list of eight different typologies for analyzing actors meanings. Even when something as seemingly fixed as bodies on stage including what he terms personage. For recorded music is interpreted as a performance, meaning is Graver, personage is an aura generated by the public circu- always changing. Categories can be useful for reading and lation of stories about the actor (p. 226). Auslander (2006) making sense of a performance or text; but thinking of the also expands on Gravers discussion of personage in his performance in terms of a relationship between the audi- own development of the idea of musical personae. For Aus- ence and performance allows for an analysis that considers lander, musical personae are the primary performance of how meanings are developed through interactions among the musicians: What musicians perform first and foremost is audience, the performers, and the performance. New perfor not music, but their own identities as musicians, their musi- mances of the song are therefore contextually meaningful but cal personae (p. 102). The hierarchical separation of the always connected to the history of the past performances. performance of music from the performance of identity cre- ates an unnecessary and not necessarily accurate distinction. The musicians performance of identity is important, but as Same Old Survival a musician I find it hard to even begin to separate the per- James played drums in the swing band, but eventually he formance of music from the performance of my identity. stopped playing with us. A few months later I let Eddie know My performance of music shapes how I perform my identity that I would no longer be available. I needed a different

7 332 Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 10(4) creative outlet and the swing band was no longer providing make changes to the performance to fit within the dynamic me with the same enjoyment as it once had. Two days after of this new band. The familiarity and comfort with which leaving the swing band I received a call from James about a I perform is my newest orientation to the song. funk band he was now playing with in St. Petersburg that he wanted me to check out. I brought my trumpet and sat in on That ones a keeper, Dave says. their rehearsal and was asked to join the band. I quickly fell in love with the original music and the positive creative For me this is a different way of playing the song. The energy of the musicians in the band. lyrics are the same, but the rhythms are different. On Sitting on the moldy patio furniture on the loading dock Wednesday night we take the stage in the bar that has been outside of the rehearsal studio, we discuss our set list for our converted from an old bank. The space is huge. There is upcoming show. artwork on the walls, and the old bank vault has been turned into a gallery space. Even with a good size audience at the We need to come up with another song, just some- club, the room feels empty. When James gives the cue on thing different. Maybe even a cover. The lead the snare drum to start I Will Survive, I step up to the singer, Dave, sits back down on the swivel chair. microphone and it occurs to me that this funky version of Hey, James. What about the Gloria Gaynor song? the song sounds a lot like disco. This sounds and feels more I ask. like Gloria Gaynors version of the song, and a few of the Oh, the one we used to swing? Sure. Do you know audience members are up and dancing. It feels as if I am how to teach these guys the chords? singing back to the first time I listened to Gloria Gaynor on Yeah, its really simple. the portable turntable with my mother. The large space echoes Wait, what song is it? Dave asks. with the sound of disco, and the open walk-in bank vault next I Will Survive. to the bar reminds me of the history of the song. Not only And you sing it? do the sounds of this performance echo in the space but also Yeah, but you can sing it. I mean, I can get you the all of my other performances of this song echo throughout lyrics. the room and enable the meaningfulness of the music. No, no you can sing it. I wont mind taking a break from singing and its good for all of us to show- case our different talents. The Will to Survive My relationship with I Will Survive is a blend of my exp We walk back into the studio. The room is lit by a single erience as a listener and as a musician. Listening to the 45 light bulb in the center of the room and air conditioned by rpm as a child gave me a context for the next reiteration of a small wall unit. I step over a tangle of wires and search the song. With a broken heart I heard my story in the words for a scratch piece of paper in my trumpet case to write the and music. At weddings and bars I perform the song for the chords down for the two guitar players to work out. I people listening. And now I write the music as my autobiog- explain the strumming pattern and we start running through raphy. My own story is tangled up in the multiple performances the song. James stops us before we get to the chorus. and experiences of this one song. Where is the performer as real person? I am in the vinyl Can we do it funky? grooves of the 45. I am in the electric guitar and trumpet. Instead of swingin it? I am behind the microphone singing. I am in the words on Yeah, that worked with the swing band, but not for the page. Without you reading my story I am gone. Where this. is the performer persona? I am in the worn down needle on Youre right. It needs to be faster, I agree. the record player. I am at the bar listening. I am in the blank Okay, so Ill give the cue on the snare drum. space on the page. Without you listening to my performance I can not exist. Without the audience, the performance cannot The band picks up the song without a problem. Its a happen and Auslanders three identities of the musician, as simple song, recognizable, and something that people are real person, as star persona, and as song character, do not guaranteed to dance to. When the song ends my ears are exist. The audience and the relationship between the audi- ringing. The acoustics in the US$600 a month studio are not ence and the performance in the creation of meanings and the best and it is hard to hear the vocals over two electric identities in music are central to thinking about and analyz- guitars and drums. But at this point Im so familiar with the ing recorded music as performance. song I dont have to think too hard about my performance. At the end of a long day I pick up my acoustic guitar. My relationship with this song about relationships has grown The black paint is worn off on most of the fret board from and is now at a place where I can easily share the song and hours of practice. I sit down on the floor next to my bed,

8 McRae 333 and the fingers on my left hand move around the neck of Sue, to discuss the possible meanings and responses that are the guitar forming various chords. I close my eyes and enabled by various contexts. feel the steel strings of the guitar press into my hardened fingertips. References I am relaxed by the repetitive shaping and reshaping of Auslander, P. (2004). Performance analysis and popular music: A chord forms on the guitar. My left index finger slides down manifesto. Contemporary Theatre Review, 14, 1-13. to the fifth fret and my fingers fall into the shape of an A Auslander, P. (2006). Musical personae. Drama Review, 50, 100-118. minor chord. I strum the strings several times without think- Fekaris, D., & Perren, F. (1978a). I will survive. [Recorded by ing. For some reason, this chord sounds the best to me. I begin Cake]. On Fashion Nugget [CD]. New York: Volcano. to hum the notes of the chord and I realize that this is the Fekaris, D., & Perren, F. (1978b). I will survive. [Recorded opening chord for I Will Survive. I havent played this by Gloria Gaynor]. On I Will Survive [record]. New York: song in months. Polydor. With nobody else around, I begin to play the song that Frith, S. (1996). Performing rites: On the value of popular music. I first learned on guitar. There are no sounds from any accom Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. panying instruments. Nobody counted the song off for me, Gaynor, G. Retrieved August 13, 2006, from http://www.disco-disco and nobody asked for me to tell them the chords. There is no .com/artists/gloria.shtml dance floor, no audience, and nobody around to sing along. Graver, D. (1997). The actors bodies. Text and Performance My voice is not amplified. I am under no pressure to perform Quarterly, 17, 221-235. for anyone but myself. I Will Survive. Retrieved August 13, 2006, from http://www For the first time in months, I take the time to consciously think about the song. This is the song that resonated with Kotarba, J. A. (1997). Reading the male experience of rock music: both my mother and I in our respective moments of heart- Four songs about women. In N. K. Denzin (Ed.), Cultural studies: break. This is the song I have learned to perform and made A research volume 2. (pp. 265-277). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. my own. This is the song I have learned to sing instinctively. Prato, G. Gloria Gaynor. Retrieved August 13, 2006, from http:// As I sing and play for myself, I am able to recapture the significance the song had when I first learned it, for a moment. Shepherd, J., & Wicke, P. (1997). Music and cultural theory. When the chord progression comes to an end and I let the Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. final chord ring, I set the guitar down as the final vibrations Smith, R. (2006, November 1). The pink hit parade: Sing if youre of the last chord fade away. glad to be gay. The Independent. Retrieved March 23, 2009, from Declaration of Conflicting Interests features/the-pink-hit-parade-sing-if-youre-glad-to-be-gay-422423 The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect .html to the authorship and/or publication of this article. Small, C. (1987). Performance as ritual: Sketch for an enquiry into the true nature of a symphony concert. In A. L. White (Ed.), Financial Disclosure/Funding Lost in music: Culture, style and the musical event. (pp. 6-32). The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. authorship of this article. Bio Note Chris McRae is a doctoral student in the Department of Speech 1. Kotarba (1997) also analyzes popular music from the perspective Communication at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and of the listener or audience member and uses his autobiographical is currently working at the intersections of performance studies, experience with various popular songs, including Runaround communication pedagogy, and intercultural communication.

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