Synopses & Reviews
When Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass
in 1855, he dreamed of inspiring a "race of singers" who would celebrate the working class and realize the promise of American democracy. By examining how singers such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen both embraced and reconfigured Whitman's vision, Bryan Garman shows that Whitman succeeded. In doing so, Garman celebrates the triumphs yet also exposes the limitations of Whitman's legacy.
While Whitman's verse propounded notions of sexual freedom and renounced the competitiveness of capitalism, it also safeguarded the interests of the white workingman, often at the expense of women and people of color. Garman describes how each of Whitman's successors adopted the mantle of the working-class hero while adapting the role to his own generation's concerns: Guthrie condemned racism in the 1930s, Dylan addressed race and war in the 1960s, and Springsteen explored sexism, racism, and homophobia in the 1980s and 1990s.
But as Garman points out, even the Boss, like his forebears, tends to represent solidarity in terms of white male bonding and homosocial allegiance. We can hear America singing in the voices of these artists, Garman says, but it is still the song of a white, male America.
A Race of Singers contributes tremendously to our understanding of the ways in which Whitman's much-discussed male homoeroticism is really part of a larger formulation of white male working class community. (Cecelia Tichi, Vanderbilt University)
Acknowledging the genius and power of Whitman's example, this fine study of artistic influence also shows how social forces shaped the reproduction of a manly and individualistic cultural radicalism across generations. (David Roediger, University of Minnesota)
"[An] interesting study. . . . Very well written and admirably researched."
-- Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas
Well written, well researched, and provocative.
Based on Walt Whitman's notion of a "race of singers" who would unite and celebrate the working class, Bryan Garman reveals how this prescient vision was realized in the form of such singers as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Woody Guthrie and in the late 20th century whose image and lyrics embody and celebrate an exclusively white male working class America.
"Whether your interest is in literature, history, culture, music . . . or specific figures such as Whitman, Guthrie, and Springsteen, I predict you will be stimulated by the reading of A Race of Singers."
-- Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies "[An] interesting study. . . . Very well written and admirably researched."
-- Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas Well written, well researched, and provocative.
Library Journal A Race of Singers contributes tremendously to our understanding of . . . male homoeroticism.
Cecelia Tichi, Vanderbilt University Fine study of artistic influence.
David Roediger, University of Minnesota