QUEERING THE TEXTURES OF ROCK AND ROLL HISTORY
Stephens, Vincent Lamar
Struna, Nancy L
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ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: QUEERING THE TEXTURES OF ROCK AND ROLL HISTORY Vincent Lamar Stephens, Doctor of Philosophy, 2005 Dissertation Directed by: Professor Nancy L. Struna Department of American Studies My dissertation provides an alternative history to traditional rock histories by exploring how the experiences of several key gay, lesbian and bisexual musicians expose the restrictive sexual and gender economies of the rock era music industry. Industrial discrimination has led many queer performers to downplay their sexualities and simulate conformist gender behavior. Rock historians have consistently overlooked hierarchies of sexuality and gender which necessitates a corrective history. My study begins by challenging historical views of rock music as socially progressive and illuminating how the rock industry failed to correct pre-rock industry racial biases, which are evident in the economic exploitation of early African-American rock performers and the scarcity of African-Americans at the executive levels of rock production and distribution. Premature historical celebrations of racial progress have severely limited critical attention to more invisible forms of sexual and gender discrimination in the industry including homophobia and sexism. I also challenge the dominant historical argument of canonical rock histories that rock music's corporate expansion fundamentally tainted the rock's aesthetic quality and social importance during periods when the commercial and creative influence of queer and/or female performers and audiences gained centrality. Rock has maintained its vitality as more diverse performers and sensibilities have informed its cultural scope. My study describes the contributions of several queer performers to rock era music and illustrates how they have resisted sexual and gender invisibility through discernible strategies signifying sexual and/or gender differences. I employ gay and lesbian studies, queer theory, Christopher Nealon's theory of pre-Stonewall gay and lesbian culture and Marlon Ross' notion of the gay and lesbian crossover dynamic to trace the complex relationships between queer strategies of negotiation and the development of self-consciously queer identified community based in post-WWII era social and political movements. Overall, this dissertation uses an interdisciplinary approach, including an analysis of canonical rock histories, supplemental histories of American popular music, queer social histories and popular press materials to address historic absences.