Jack Hamilton


On his book Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination

Cover Interview of February 28, 2017

The wide angle

There’s been a lot of discussion of “cultural appropriation” in our culture recently—this is obviously a perennial topic but it seems to be a particularly charged subject in the current moment. It’s obviously an incredibly complex and difficult subject, one that resists any sort of easy answers. I’d like to think that my book offers a different way into that conversation by exploring the ways that the identities of people who consume art often come to structure our understanding of that art as much as the identities of the people who make it, which are often more varied and diffuse than we’d expect. I also think we often tend to use artists and cultural works as conduits through which to have debates and conversations that can quickly far exceed the specifics of those artists and works themselves. This can obviously be useful but it also has its limits, and can become obfuscating if it starts to drown out the art itself. This book is about a period when that tendency, which is as old as America itself, became particularly pronounced. So I think the book will definitely hold interest for people who are drawn to broader questions about how race and racial thought interact with culture, and I also think it’ll be of interest to people who enjoy reading about 1960s music, which I’d like to hope is quite a lot of people!

In terms of my professional path, I actually spent a few years as a full-time musician in my late teens and early twenties, which was an incredibly formative time for me, both the experience of playing music for a living and being surrounded by others who’d chosen to do so, many of whom were older than me and came from a wide array of circumstances and backgrounds. Among many other things, that experience left me deeply fascinated by the ways musicians think about what they do, and how musicians approach music-making. After returning to college I worked for a while as a music critic and journalist, which was also a great experience, and left me interested in the ways that music writers think about what they do, and how the venues that publish them frame that work as well. And of course, throughout all of it I was interested in the way the “music industry”—in 2016 that term is so vague and toothless that it’s hard not to scare-quote it, but that hasn’t always been the case—exerts pressures on both these parties, the people who make their living making music and people who make their living commenting upon it.