Another kind of truth : a study of self-mythology in popular music




Moench, Michael Creighton

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The connection between music and the formation of identity has been extensively explored in Ethnomusicology, as has the connection between music and the articulation of personal truth and knowledge. One peculiar artifact in the history of American popular music that raises many questions about both identity and truth is the interaction between musical performance and personal mythology. Many musicians have actively cultivated a mythic self--‐conception, while still others have gone to the lengths of creating an entire new name and history for themselves in their performances and recordings. My interest in this essay is to explore the production, transmission and modification of mythemes and mythology in conjunction with the production of musical sounds and other aspects of performative artistry. In particular I am examining the careers of Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix, Sly & The Family Stone, Parliament--‐ Funkadelic and Prince in order to explore how and why these musicians created a coherent mythology in their art, or contributed to mythic, archetypal conceptions of themselves in the press and popular culture. Rather than analyzing the musical and visual productions of these artists as expressions contingent on the narrative or ideological intentions of their respective “myths”, or taking the reverse course of treating alter--‐egos and personal myths as superficial trappings of show business that coexists with the true essence of their art (e.g. the music itself) I am examining the recursive interaction between sound, image, and storytelling. Drawing on concepts from scholars of myth like Claude Levi--‐Strauss, Joseph Campbell and Bruce Lincoln, as well as scholars of Black Music history such as Paul Gilroy and Guthrie Ramsey, I intend to demonstrate that in art as in life, mythology is a vital part of how we perceive our world and ourselves. Furthermore, these examples illustrate that art is often a holistic experience where elements of sound, vision, and story are interdependent and can seldom if ever be truly separated.



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