Calendar of Events

Nov 15th

Paul Simon and the Birth of Folk Rock

Sunday, November 15th at 1:00 pm

Speaker Richard Goldstein

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In the 1960s, several writer/performers changed the structure and style of American pop music. One was the team of Lennon and McCartney—aka The Beatles or simply the Fab Four. The other was Bob Dylan. The Beatles added instrumentation from other cultures and set their songs to sounds from the past and the future, from high and low culture alike. Dylan combined the richly allusive lyrics of blues with the poetics of the French Symbolists and the Beats. The result was the modern rock song: eclectic, exotic, and self-consciously artful. In the shadow of these innovators a number of lyricists were inspired to express the full range of their imaginations. One of the most influential of them was Paul Simon.


Simon is one of the greatest living American songwriters, his best work commensurate with the most ambitious cultural achievements of the past 50 years. In his writing, the commonplace power of metaphysical poetry is combined with the spare insight of rocker Buddy Holly. But in the early ‘60s, Simon was present at the creation of that formative hybrid style known as folk-rock. To understand its origins in the folk movement of that era, and its its fusion with the rhythmic strategies of rock n’ roll, it’s essential to explore Simon’s oeuvre. This lecture will attempt to do just that, focusing on Simon’s earlier career with Art Gurfunkel as the top-40 duo Tom &Jerry, and tracing their development through their breakthrough hit “The Sound of Silence” and the album that followed. We will see how Simon’s sense of pop music, combined with his erudition, played a crucial role in the transition from folk to rock, and thereby formed the basic parameters of 60s music. It’s especially interesting to note that Simon belongs to the tradition of Jewish pop-song artists (e.g. Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and of course Dylan) who apotheosized and expanded the American musical tradition.


At the ripe age of 22, Richard Goldstein became the first widely-read rock critic. His column in the Village Voice allowed him to get close to many major players in the culture of the ‘60s, from Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix, to artists such as Andy Warhol and political radicals such as Abbie Hoffman and the Black Panthers. He is the author of “The Poetry of Rock,” “Reporting the Counterculture,” and the recently published memoir, “Another Little Piece of My Heart: My Life of Rock and Revolution in the ‘60s.” He served for many years as executive editor of the Voice, and his writing on gay rights earned him a GLAAD award as columnist of the year. He has taught at five New York colleges, and he is currently an adjunct professor at Hunter College, where he teaches a course on understanding the ‘60s.


Nov 10th

Folk Film Festival: A Mighty Wind

Tuesday, November 10th at 6:30 p.m.

Cover poster for film "A Mighty Wind"

Cover poster for film “A Mighty Wind”

Join us Tuesday evenings in November for our Folk Film Festival. This “mockumentary captures the reunion of 1960s folk trio the Folksmen as they prepare for a show at The Town Hall to memorialize a recently deceased concert promoter.”


Don’t miss the rest of the series!


Under African Skies – Tuesday, November 3rd at 6:30p.m.


Inside Llewyn Davis – Tuesday, November 17th at 6:30 p.m.


Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune – Tuesday, November 24th at 6:30 p.m.


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Nov 8th

“Can Analysis be Worthwhile?”: Joining Paul Simon’s “Dangling Conversation”

Sunday, November 8th at 1:00pm

Speaker Prof. Rachel Rubin, University of Massachusetts

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There are many ways to talk about the history of American popular music—as an interlocking set of businesses, as a major engine of technological innovation, as a central element of artistic life in the United States and as a crucial, if disorganized source of news and opinion. Given all the ways popular music has functioned in American life, it is no surprise that for hundreds of years now it has served as a major site for some of the most consequential conversations everyday Americans have held about a stunning range of topics—from racial identity, to war, to labor issues, to immigration, to shifting gender roles, police brutality, and various financial crises.


These conversations are not an accidental byproduct or collateral effect of the making of popular music in the United States: a central function of the production of popular music in the United States is to provide opportunities, locations, and vocabularies for speaking about the pressing matters of the moment. While it seems unlikely that in 1984 many people would head down to their local bar and announce that they were concerned about the state of American masculinity in wake of the devastation wrought by the Vietnam War, it is almost certain that plenty of people talked about Bruce Springteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” to do just that work.



This talk outlines a few important case studies when popular songs have been used to process American identity:


  • Aretha Franklin’s version of Otis Redding’s “Respect” as a meditation on women’s empowerment in the midst of the African American Civil Rights movement
  • Paul Simon’s work with Ladysmith Black Mambazo (and other South African musicians) on Graceland as an opportunity to talk about global politics, cultural appropriation and celebrity privilege
  • John Anderson’s “Shutting Detroit Down” as an incisive critique of the recent banking crisis and the fallout surrounding deindustrialization.


The discourse surrounding popular music is almost always unruly and unpredictable. The complexities of audience response to songs guarantees that American popular music will continue to serve as a venue for significant acts of personal, community, and national identification.
Rachel Rubin is Director of the Center of Humanities, Culture and Society at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she has taught for nearly two decades in the American Studies Department and is the recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Scholarship Award. Rubin has published widely in a cultural history, with books on immigration and  American popular culture, the history of the Renaissance Faire, Jewish gangsters, Southern radicalism, and American popular music.  She is currently completing a book to be called 60 Revolutions Per Minute, a collection of critical interviews with artist/activists, and is also writing a book on the American country music artist Merle Haggard.  Rubin has also appeared regularly as a popular culture commentator on Boston’s NPR station.