Recent Comments

Leanne Weston

Thank you, Zack.

Familiarity does indeed add another layer of ghostliness. It’s especially true here, and, as you suggest, in “Stuck,” and “In Dreams.” Though now you’ve made me think of a formative recontextualisation I’d forgotten about completely, a UK anti drink and drive campaign from the early 1990s that uses Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’ (see here if you’re not familiar). Even now, it has the same kind of effect on me as the songs/texts we’ve been discussing. It begs the question whether these associations we’re drawing out have a limit and how this impacts on our own memories.

Thanks for those reading recommendations, I think it’ll fit in nicely with my ongoing work on early music television. The Beatles Anthology is another obvious candidate for this week’s theme. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it!

Leanne Weston

I think we’re both right, Aaron. There is an anti-nostalgia element at work here on some level, but I think the lyrical content and the style is what swung it for this one, which makes it a unique case. You make a really interesting point though. I’ve heard cross-genre covers like that in trailers for other genres - the choral cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ used in The Social Network springs to mind - but I’ve only ever found oldies used in horror. I wonder why this marriage came about?

Zack Stiegler

It may be cynical, but your claim is certainly a valid one, Aaron - and there is at least an ounce of opportunism here (if not more). Your comment has me thinking back to the post-9/11 pop landscape, where Bowie peers such as McCartney, Mellencamp, Springsteen, et al. penned songs to mark the cultural moment. None of these really stuck. At best, they became new favorites within the artist’s already dedicated fanbase (Springsteen), in others, the songs were generally panned.

In Bowie’s case, a song already revered as a ‘classic’ simply gets imbued with new cultural meaning. That is, it’s already cleared the hurdle of familiarity (and now I see some connections to Leanne’s post).

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Brianni Nelson

I appreciate your comment, Aaron, in particular, “I wondered what it means when that reference to the original is lost, and I appreciate that you’ve provided one answer to that in your post: appropriation. Whereas recontextualization seems to imply that the connection to the original context is in some ways left intact, even as the item is moved into a new context, appropriation importantly reminds us of the lines of power that also pervade the original items as embedded in their context.”

I think the ‘appropriation consideration’ is a crucial element in understanding most popular culture today — music and all other forms of media. Because while think of certain artists or their work as transcending boundaries (which of course, is a good thing), we still have to ask ourselves what happens to the messages once those boundaries are crossed. And yes, because both the author and audience have power, there may be information that is repeatedly getting lost in translation.

Other interesting (music specific) examples would be what’s happening with the “Running Man” right now. It’s actually a combination of quite a few issues (original song + original dance name + new dance + no reference to the original dance) and seeing a rapid popularity spike.

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Aaron Dickinson Sachs

As someone that listened to the original “Too Close” in the limo as I made my way to prom in 1998, I quite enjoyed the recontextualization in the form of “Why You Always Lying.” For me, that enjoyment is entirely wrapped up in the pleasure of the reference to the original, which was the subject of one of my questions on Leanne’s post from Wednesday. I wondered what it means when that reference to the original is lost, and I appreciate that you’ve provided one answer to that in your post: appropriation. Whereas recontextualization seems to imply that the connection to the original context is in some ways left intact, even as the item is moved into a new context, appropriation importantly reminds us of the lines of power that also pervade the original items as embedded in their context.

It’s also interesting to think about that in terms of Zack’s post about Bowie, and Bowie’s constant recontextualization of his own song. How does Bowie’s power as the author of his song intersect with the power of the audience to interpret that song? In asserting his right to recontextualize the song as its author, is Bowie appropriating the song which he should have rightly abandoned to the hands of his audience? Author power vs. audience power. Thank you for bringing power (and through it race and other identity categories articulated through power), via appropriation, into the conversation.

Along the lines of appropriation and perhaps reappropriation, this Harlem Shake video seems, well, appropriate :-) https://youtu.be/Mdeu5aGwwWI

Zack Stiegler

Thanks for the comments, Mike. Your connection to theater and opera is especially salient - the ways in which musical motifs representing certain characters are reprised and reframed absolutely allows for the kind of drastic shift in tone discussed in the post. Those types of recontextualizations are contained within a fixed narrative, of course. However, there is perhaps something to be said for the ways in which songs such as “‘Heroes’” shift within the more fluid contexts of cultural and historical narratives. Food for thought - thank you!

Zack Stiegler

What an excellent case and writeup, Leanne.

As you note, there are so many layers here. In relation to the discussion of audience, I think that awareness of the original matters only in that it allows access to a different dimension of ghostliness. Certainly, the performance and production of the Sonic Youth version have their own ghostly aesthetics; I don’t think that processing these aesthetics (and the song’s use in the trailer) are contingent upon awareness or familiarity with the original. However, familiarity with the original allows access to another layer of ghostliness.

I think that this is typically true of recontextualized oldies in film. We don’t need to be familiar with “Stuck in the Middle With You” or Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” to process their cinematic appropriations. However, having that familiarity adds another layer of text and associations to process.

Lastly on the matter of ghostliness - your piece reminded me of Laura Shearing’s (2014) article on The Beatles’ “Free as a Bird,” as well as Blanco & Peeren’s (2010) book Popular Ghosts: The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture.

Great post!

Aaron Dickinson Sachs

This is a great example of recontextualization, thank you Zack.

Did ‘“Heroes”’ shifting in response to “the more fluid contexts of cultural and historical narratives,” or in response to the shifting needs of an aging Rockstar desiring to remake himself in response to those shifting contexts? Perhaps I’m betraying a certain cynicism, but couldn’t we also read this as the work of an opportunistic musician doing whatever to stay in the limelight, even if that means “selling out” his earlier works? Given that Bowie retained a certain cache even through all of this would seem to undercut that reading, but it’s worth asking.

I also have to wonder if there were different audience responses to these recontextualizations? I’m thinking of Fiske’s reworking of popular culture to stem from the site of audience reception and use rather than at the site of production (2010). It seems like we could reread Bowie’s rereading/recontextualization of his own songs through the framework of Fiske’s definition of popular culture, but with Bowie himself as the audience putting his own song to use to respond to his embedded needs (I’m thinking of Fiske on his own use of the “New Newlyweds” gameshow, though he’s of course not the creator of that show as well as the audience doing the recontextualizing). All that is to say, what do we learn from Bowie’s shifting interpretation of his own song , both about Bowie and the social context in which he finds it makes sense to shift the meaning of the song?

Aaron Dickinson Sachs

Thanks for drawing the connection between the shared and unshared in the experience of watching a trailer, that gives another dimension to the way the song might “haunt” us.

This may be a stretch, but reading the exchange also makes me want to revisit the time period from which the songs originate. Why an “oldie” of the Carpenters instead of, say, a cover of a hip-hop song or some other contemporary genre? I can’t help thinking that, instead of signifying an “increasing appetite for nostalgia in popular culture,” it signifies a kind of anti-nostalgia; old is scary!

Zack Stiegler

Hi Leanne-

I love the posthumous twist you’ve added here, and I think you’re spot on. I suppose one main difference in this most recent recontextualization is that it’s been prescribed for/onto Bowie rather than by him, as in the previous reinterpretations. Thanks for your thoughts, and for piquing my interest in your work - I look forward to exploring!