Author Series Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ann Powers

Ann Powers' "Good Booty" - Love in Music

Written by: Ann Powers

Drawing on her deep knowledge of gender and sexuality,

Ann Powers' book Good Booty recounts stories of forbidden lovers, wild shimmy-shakers, orgasmic gospel singers, countercultural perverts, soft-rock sensitivos, punk Puritans, and the cyborg known as Britney Spears to illuminate how eroticism—not merely sex, but love, bodily freedom, and liberating joy—became entwined within the rhythms and melodies of American song. 

The NPR music critic and correspondent and leading music writer shares how the project grew from her love of music and into the manuscript she'll be discussing on Thursday, March 1 at the Library & Archives.

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Written by Ann Powers

Good Booty is a labor of love, with love as its primary subject. Throughout my career as a music writer, I’ve been fascinated by the intensity of feeling music generates in listeners. It’s what drew me into punk rock as a teenager, and toward Prince as a young adult; music gave me a way to understand my desires and my frequent youthful bouts with heartbreak.

As I learned more about popular music’s history, I realized that in every era it served as a conduit for conversations about the most intimate human experiences – sex, but also longing, grief, and the life lessons that make the heart resilient – when people otherwise felt hesitant to speak. People said “I love you” in a song, as the soft rock of my childhood informed me; they also said, “I want you” and “you’re hurting me.” I wanted to know how music’s expressiveness shaped our ideas about intimacy, and was shaped by them.

What I found, as I dove into archives where the secrets of 200 years were hidden, was that in different eras music helped Americans process profound changes in the private sphere.

Much had been written, for example, about the emergence of the teenager as a vector for American hopes and fears in the 1950s. I knew I wanted to explore that subject.

At the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Library & Archives, I discovered the letters teen fans had written Eddie Cochran during his brief, glorious ride as a rock and roll heartthrob. Through them I learned so much, not only about how artists like Cochran, barely adults themselves, related to their fans – but about the integral roles those fans played in creating and maintaining their idols’ success, getting the word out via fan clubs and creating waves in every small town where these young men played.

I also began to understand the way in which young women were confined to the audience, instead of being encouraged to find their own places onstage. The intense promise of rock and roll vibrated in these letters; they were also evidence of the way social norms still affected even this wild musical world. Finding them, and so much more, in archives gave my book a richness and power my own words alone could not have supplied. Good Booty is a testament to music’s power to shape the present day – and to the power of seeking out dispatches from the past. 

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