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An Interview with Susan Fast, IASPM Canada President


IASPM Canada is starting a new interview series in order to find out more about our members and to share news about new, ongoing, or completed projects. If you have some news that you would like to share, please email Melissa Avdeeff

We thought it would be fitting that our first interview be with our current IASPM Canada President, Susan Fast. 

Susan Oslo Symposium.jpg

Susan Fast is Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada and Director of the Graduate Program in Gender Studies & Feminist Research. She is a musicologist whose primary area of research is popular music since World War II.  Her areas of expertise include representations of gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, constructions of self and other, performance and performativity, and geopolitical violence/conflict in contemporary popular music. She is author of In the Houses of the Holy:  Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music (Oxford, 2001), Michael Jackson:  Dangerous (Bloomsbury, 33 1/3 series, 2014), co-editor (with Kip Pegley) of Music, Violence and Politics (Welselyan, 2012) and co-editor (with Craig Jennex) of the forthcoming Hearing the Political: Queer & Feminist Interventions in Popular Music Performance (Routledge, 2018)

As the current president of IASPM Canada, what originally drew you to joining the organization?

My first IASPM CA meeting was at Western--going way back to the 90's--but I really became involved when Charity Marsh was elected to the Executive and encouraged more of us to run for office (Charity was, by the way, the first woman to sit on the IASPM CA exec!).  Charity brought a considerable amount of energy and enthusiasm to the organization, especially during her term as President; the two annual meetings she hosted in Regina were among the best I've attended (and that's taking nothing away from the outstanding meetings hosted elsewhere, many of which have been fantastic). Hoping for a repeat in 2018!!

Considering Canada’s history of attempting to establish both institutional and cultural boundaries between Canada and US, including its music, do you think IASPM Canada has an obligation to uphold these distinctions?

This is a difficult question, but I lean towards yes.  There are a number of scholars who work in the US but regularly attend IASPM CA meetings; they're an important part of the organization.  And many of us also go to the IASPM US meetings.  But I really think it's important to maintain two separate branches of IASPM.  Aside from the crucially important function of the annual meeting of IASPM CA bringing together Canadian scholars of popular music, I believe we should work to highlight the research of these Canadian scholars, to focus on Canadian popular musics, and to try to offer a forum in which grad students and young Canadian scholars can be mentored. They (or we) shouldn't have to go to the U.S. for this.  

What does the future of IASPM Canada look like to you? What do you see as your role in shaping that future?

Right now I'm working with the Executive to establish (or re-establish) a working infrastructure for IASPM CA.  We've reconstructed the website and have instituted a way of maintaining it and keeping it up to date; we're working on rewriting the bylaws; we've been working with CSTM on sharing their journal MusiCultures between the two organizations.  I'd like to do a bit more of this infrastructure work:  naming the book prize, for example, making sure that we have at least one professionalization session for grad students at every annual meeting.  This may sound hum ho, but having a sound infrastructure is pretty important!  Beyond that, I'm keen to expand our membership, both through reaching out to scholars of pop music that don't currently participate in IASPM CA, and to journalists and others in the Canadian music scene who might want to become involved in the organization.  I'm interested in figuring out how we might raise money to support things like bursaries, scholarships and further prizes for our members, especially students.  I want IASPM CA to be the go-to place for Canadian scholars working on popular music.

You have a history of researching artists who transgress expectations of gender, race, and other socially constructed identity expressions, such as Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin. What draws you to these figures?

My scholarship has always been profoundly linked to my own experiences with popular music; I've essentially been trying to figure out my deep musical investments through writing about them for about 30 years.  Of course this extends to trying to figure out other people's investments in certain kinds of popular music too.  Artists who transgress normative socio-cultural boundaries--and manage to become commercially successful while doing so--are incredibly powerful figures and I want to understand something about how they do it, and why, and why we end up caring and what difference it makes in people's lives and possibly the larger culture(s).  Their transgressions are inevitably made in large part through incredibly compelling music, which is why I've focused so much on musical sound in my work.

With the resurgence of identity politics we are seeing, especially in the US, how do you see this impacting the producers and consumers of popular music?

I think we have to stop saying that identity politics don't matter.  I understand the arguments that focusing on identity politics might keep conversations too small, but we only have to look at what's going on everywhere--not only the US--to understand that so much of what's being referred to as "tribalism" (hugely problematic term, but it's being thrown around on the news every day) is, exactly, identity politics.  I'm not sure how it's affecting popular music:  despite artists, scholars and journalists wanting to talk about the breakdown of generic boundaries in music (and there are certainly great examples of that), they seem to be more or less intact and they continue to be defined by race and gender.

What project(s) are you working on at the moment? 

Craig Jennex and I are editing a collection of essays for Routledge called Hearing the Political:  Queer and Feminist Interventions in Popular Music Performance.  Nineteen scholars are contributing to the project; we're hoping it will be published in 2018.

Thanks Susan! Looking forward to seeing the development of IASPM Canada over the course of your term as President.