Issue 4, Winter 2016

Let Yourself Go: The Triumph of Popular Music How we listen and why we listen to music.

Special thanks to editorial board member Greil Marcus and executive committee member Chakravarthi Narasimhan.

How the Homeless Listen to Music

Until I could find an a apartment, I rode the number six bus up and down Highway 99 most of the night, from downtown to Aurora Village, listening to muffled, skewed robotic drum beats of fellow travelers from behind the earphones of turned up Walk-mans, looking out into the dark. No, scratch that, looking at myself in the reflection of myself on bus windows in the dark.

Talking With Girls About Katy Perry

The complicated relationship between girls and music, and the mobility that it both affords and denies them, is only legible through conversations with girls. As it turns out, the music of Katy Perry makes that relationship most legible.

Editor’s Note(s)

I guest-edited an issue of Daedalus on American Music in 2013 and did not think I would revisit the subject quite so soon with this issue of The Common Reader on popular music.  In some ways, it is quite fortunate that I have looked at the subject of music in such different forums so recently.  […]

“The Best of Friends Must Part Someday”

There may be songs whose histories are uncorrupted or wholly unrecoverable. “(The) Lonesome Road” is not among them. The road that everybody, including “E.V. Body,” in this story tredges on is crowded with two-way traffic: some stretches are dusty, others are paved with Tin Pan Alley gold or earnest populist intentions, and it is constantly being dug up and laid anew.


On Twitter the entire point is that somebody is watching you. Success is measured in followers. No wonder Sly Stone never seems at home there, and never alights there too long.

The Queen of the Kingdom of Swing

Despite a mountain of insecurities and sheer craziness, Peggy Lee remained undaunted. Engaging, and at times challenging, she made remarkably sophisticated music well into the 1980s, refusing to be an oldies act. But perhaps her greatest claim to public attention was that the blonde, North Dakota-born singer sounded black.

King David

For a decade in which rock music was reaching its zenith as a profitable business, the 1970s, it is staggering to consider the sheer number of risks Bowie took, without any hint or appearance that he was risking anything at all.

Blue Funk

There was something about the music that evening, at a party in her honor, that immediately captured Bessie Smith’s attention. As she entered the party with a few of her girlfriends, Smith remarked in classic fashion, “The funk is flyin’.”

Last American Maestro

The facts of Bernstein’s story—the scope of his talents, the velocity of his ascent—still amaze. His natural gifts were embarrassingly rich: ferociously intelligent, musical, and social in equal measures. But Bernstein was also lucky—in the right place at the right time again and again and again.