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The 2021 Pop Convergence: A Virtual Pop Conference, April 22-25th
Artwork by Alex Nero; Design by The Art Dictator
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Kimberly Mack

“It's our version of Almost Famous, huh?”: Towards a Reimagined Canon of Rock Criticism

Rock music is Black music. Evolving out of the blues and, later, rhythm and blues, rock and roll circa 1950s-early 1960s had a Black face, with artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard leading the way. Yet, as rock and roll gave way to rock, it became associated with whiteness, with Elvis, the British Invasion acts, and later Led Zeppelin appropriating and regurgitating Black American music back to young white fans. Similarly, as rock and roll became rock, due to notions of rock authenticity predicated on white male subjectivity, with the canon of rock criticism shaped by white men, Black (and other non-white male) writers who wrote about rock (and rock and roll before that), were erased from the historical record. Even so, there were BIPOC and white women rock critics during the 1960s and 1970s who actively sought to expand the canon by engaging rock writing in unconventional ways and through alternative means.
In this digital lecture, I will focus on Cynthia Dagnal-Myron, a bold young Black woman from Chicago’s South Side, who decided at a young age that rock was her life, and during the 1970s wrote stories about, and hung out with, legendary rock artists such as KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Brian Eno for Creem, Rolling Stone, and the Chicago Sun Times. She was also the first Black woman to write about rock for a major daily newspaper (Chicago Sun Times), yet her story, and her work, have largely been lost to history. Using Dagnal-Myron’s first article for Rolling Stone (focused on Eno) and her first-person accounts from our interview during summer 2020, I demonstrate that in her piece she employs distinctive writing approaches to both disrupt and transform the rock critical canon, creating a space for herself and others who, even in 2021, exist outside of rock critical norms. And ultimately, I argue that in her story about Eno, rather than allowing men the final written word on the nexus of art and women’s sexuality, she engages the subject of sex unflinchingly and with humor, reclaiming her narrative power along the way.

Kimberly Mack is an Assistant Professor of African American literature and culture at the University of Toledo. Her book, Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White, was recently published by the University of Massachusetts Press. Kimberly’s second book, The Untold History of Early American Rock Criticism, about the BIPOC and white women writers who helped develop American rock journalism in the 1960s and 1970s, is under contract with Bloomsbury. Her 33 1/3 book, Living Colour’s Time’s Up, will be published in Spring 2023. She is also a music critic and memoirist whose work has appeared in Longreads, No Depression, and other places.

Photo credit: Dan Miller