[UPDATE] Deadline Extended (Aug. 15, 2014) -- MUSIC BEHIND BARS: ARTICULATING INCARCERATION AND POPULAR MUSIC

full name / name of organization: 
Joseph P. Fisher (The George Washington University); Brian Flota (James Madison University)
contact email: 
musicbehindbarsproject@gmail.com

Popular music’s relationship with incarceration has been a long and complicated one. The musician Lead Belly spent long stretches in prison for murder and other crimes but was eventually turned into a musical legend by folklorists John and Alan Lomax. In 1957, Elvis Presley had a number one hit with the Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller composition “Jailhouse Rock,” further developing the threat he posed to the mainstream at the time. Country musician Merle Haggard spent two years in San Quentin Prison for an attempted robbery, later to become one of the best-selling country artists of the 20th Century. Johnny Cash performed numerous concerts in prisons, drawing attention the humanity of the prisoners in his audience. Tupac Shakur’s 1995 album Me Against the World became the first number one album released by an artist in prison at the time of its release. The incarceration of three members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot in 2012 became a cause célèbre in the West.

Music Behind Bars: Articulating Incarceration and Popular Music is a forthcoming collection that seeks to examine popular music’s fascination and occasional entanglement with the prison industrial complex. How does incarceration play into the myth-making and selling of certain musical artists? Do factors such as race, class, and gender performativity positively or negatively affect the popularity of certain groups of artists? Do imprisoned artists gain “street-cred”? Are they viewed as being more authentic than artists who maintain a “tough” façade? Why are the myths around once- or presently-incarcerated artists framed as redemption narratives while others are not? These questions, along with the following topics, are to be considered:

--How artists fuse the politics of incarceration and prison life into their music
--Capital punishment in popular music
--Authenticity and the imprisoned artist
--Hierarchies of crime (brutality, sexual and domestic violence, drugs, abuse, theft, fraud); the “privileging” of certain crimes and how they affect the popularity or cultural status of imprisoned artists
--Popular music genres (jazz, country, rock, punk, hip-hop) and their association with incarceration
--The fetishization of musicians who have spent time in prison (Sid Vicious, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Varg Vikernes, G.G. Allin)
--Interpretations of music lyrics (like Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” or Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane”) set in jail or prison
--The biographical mythos associated with incarcerated musicians such as Lead Belly, Merle Haggard, Tupac Shakur, and Phil Spector
--Incarceration as a fantasia for the threat posed by certain forms of popular music (for example, the Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller composition “Jailhouse Rock”)
--The cultural work of the “Live in Prison” album (such as Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and B.B. King’s Live in Cook County Jail)
--Imprisoned female artists (especially the recent imprisonment of Lauryn Hill)
--The Western media’s coverage of the imprisonment of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot
--Chemical dependency and the arrested musician
--Prison work songs

Send abstracts (no more than 250 words) of proposed articles to Dr. Joseph P. Fisher (The George Washington Univeristy) and Dr. Brian Flota (James Madison University) at musicbehindbarsproject@gmail.com by August 15, 2014. Fisher and Flota previously co-edited The Politics of Post-9/11 Music: Sound, Trauma, and the Music Industry in the Time of Terror (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011). Abstracts should be sent in .doc, .docx, or as a Google document. Please include a CV with abstract. Writers should plan for final articles to be roughly 4000 words in length.

cfp categories: 
african-american
american
cultural_studies_and_historical_approaches
ethnicity_and_national_identity
gender_studies_and_sexuality
interdisciplinary
journals_and_collections_of_essays
popular_culture
theory
twentieth_century_and_beyond