T bone burnett, the American South, and the ethic of a contemporary cultural renaissance

by Heath J Carpenter

Institution: Arkansas State University
Year: 2016
Keywords: Comparative literature; American studies; Music
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2127293
Full text PDF: http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/#viewpdf?dispub=10138520


With the success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, T Bone Burnett spent his cultural capital on repurposing traditional American music in subsequently successful soundtracks and artistic productions, providing a spark for a 21st century cultural movement that moves beyond music. This study aims to position Burnett has a cultural catalyst by grounding his work, and those abiding by a similar ethic, in the American South. In the process, I examine what Burnett’s soundtracks and select artistic productions communicate about contemporary Southern cultures and identities, while negotiating the ever-enigmatic generational issues of identity and authenticity. By extending the analysis to artists, producers, and cultural tastemakers who operate by a similar ethic as Burnett as well, I also address the characteristics of and spark igniting the preservationist, heritage movement in contemporary roots music, and how this music community contributes to ongoing conversations regarding contemporary Southern identity? The purpose of my study is to explore these connections, the culture in which they reside, and most specifically the role T Bone Burnett plays in a contemporary cultural movement which seeks to (re)present a traditional American music ethos in distinctly Southern terms. Furthermore, I will set the movement within the contemporary context in which such sounds, symbols, and narratives reside. Within this study, I read films, songs, soundtracks, albums, fashion, and performances, each loaded with symbols, archetypes, and themes that illuminate intersection past and present issues of identity. By weaving ethnographic interviews (with musicians, producers, and other cultural tastemakers) with cultural analysis, I investigate how relevant cultural issues are being negotiated, how complicated discussions of history, tradition, and heritage feed the ethic, and how the American South as a perceived distinct region factors in to the equation.