Homesick Blues: Politics, Protest, and Musical Storytelling in Modern Japan

Hardback: $68.00
ISBN-13: 9780824895587
Published: November 2023

Additional Information

272 pages | 3 b&w illustrations
  • About the Book
  • Homesick Blues explores how artists, fans, amateur practitioners, and others have used music to tell stories of everyday life in Japan from the late 1940s to 2018, a practice that the book calls “musical storytelling.” At its core, musical storytelling is a political practice, presenting potent—if ambiguous—world-producing potentials as social actors generate and share stories of themselves and others in ways that intersect with and inform social and political life. Sometimes, musical storytelling is used by powerful entities to reinforce dominant geopolitical, cultural, or economic visions. More often, it is deployed as a means of interfering in or redirecting those visions. In all cases, attending to musical storytelling helps reveal the complex, sometimes unexpected ways that everyday life has been imagined and critiqued across disparate moments in modern Japanese history. The author pushes beyond the upheavals of the 1960s and early 1970s, challenging well-established characterization of these years as fleeting moments when critical politics in Japan—especially in music—reached an apex, and an end. Instead, Aalgaard asserts that musical storytelling is robust and ongoing, and proposes more nuanced and comprehensive understandings of critical political and cultural engagement in modern Japan.

    Homesick Blues
    is comprised of five chapters, each of which addresses specific instances of musical storytelling in the contexts of their own political, economic, and social histories. From postwar jazz to contemporary rock, from 1960s “anti-war folk” to Japanese pops (enka) and the “girls’ rock” of the 1980s, the book explores the political uses of music, reassesses so-called “protest music,” and grapples with the complex political-ness of artists themselves, many of whom have continued to interrogate conditions of everyday life in Japan well into the contemporary moment. Homesick Blues assembles a diverse ensemble of voices, some of whom are now appearing in English-language scholarship for the very first time, including industry stakeholders, rock stars, fans, newscasters, Kyoto-based folk singers, jazz singers, karaoke enthusiasts and even US military personnel. An equally diverse selection of scholarship and methodology, from ethnomusicology to literary studies, from philosophy to history, creates a richly interdisciplinary and accessible analysis of musical modes of politics.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Scott W. Aalgaard, Author

      Scott W. Aalgaard teaches in the College of East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Homesick Blues is, as the subtitle signals, a study of musical storytelling, a pioneering work that both theorizes and documents the manner in which a diverse range of music and song is used in a wide variety of contexts to make sense, through the act of narration, of one's place in the world and moment in history. The research evinces the very best of academia's current push for interdisciplinarity.
      —James Dorsey, Dartmouth College