Part three in my series of interviews from the 2009 Canadian conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music.
Name: Nicholas Greco
School: Providence College and Seminary (Manitoba)
Position: Assistant Professor in Communications and Media
Title: “‘I Feel It All’: Cruising the voice of Feist”
The short form: Building on theorist Roland Barthes’ concept of cruising – the “voyage of desire” – Greco’s paper explores how Leslie Feist’s song “I Feel It All,” from The Reminder album, uses repetition and novelty to lead the listener to “cruise” through the song and discover their preferred hooks of choice.
McNutt: I found it interesting that you focused on “I Feel it All.” There’s a ton of great songs on The Reminder, some of which have been even bigger hits. What is it about “I Feel It All” that you feel it’s a good window into Feist as a composer?
Greco: There were a few things I found interesting about that particular song. One of which was the repetition, and that grabbed me, the fact that she’s not doing that much. She’s actually repeating the same note for much of the song, and she’s repeating the same words here and there. Some people would say, “That’s silly, she’s obviously not a good songwriter if she’s doing this kind of thing,” but in fact that caught me, and that’s why I thought of writing about it. The repetition really inspired me to explore it further. And then, of course, there’s this huge flourish in the middle where she sings this grand descending figure, which I thought was interesting.
McNutt: In my past life as a semi-academic, I was a bit of a Barthes junkie so I was quite intrigued to hear one of my favourite literary theorists get brought up again in your presentation. What do you think it is about Barthes writing that applies well to music?
Greco: Well, first of all, he enjoyed music. He wasn’t into popular music, but if you look at some of his writing, he seems to talk about classical music every once and while. He’s mostly talking about written texts, but he often talks about them as if they were music, so that’s something interesting. But the thing that I like about Barthes’ writing is that you can take a lot of concepts that he just throws out there and try and use them. He was a very playful writer, and I think us academics can use his stuff and be playful with it as well. I think we’re allowed to do that, and I think he would like us to do that.
McNutt: I found one of your more interesting ideas is how the terminology of “the hook” is both very positive and very negative. How do you think those competiting concepts of the hook play out in a song like “I Feel It All”?
Greco: I suggested, in a way, that the mundanity of the song is one hook, but we don’t generally read the mundane as something necessarily positive. I think what was interesting was what some of the people who commented after the paper brought up, which is that the hook is often a nuisance. That’s something I didn’t talk about in my paper, but that certainly throws a wrench into the whole idea that the hook is pleasurable. It’s perhaps constrictive as well. The hook is obviously a very complex notion. It talks about why we like something, but it’s really about why it sticks with us.