NPR's Ann Powers: "Music expresses the erotic beautifully"

Music critic Ann Powers appears on "Salon Talks" to discuss how America invented rock — and changed sex

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published September 19, 2017 6:57PM (EDT)

Little Richard, photographed in 1972 (Getty/Tim Graham)
Little Richard, photographed in 1972 (Getty/Tim Graham)

NPR music critic Ann Powers has been writing about the intersections of pop, politics and the personal for more than two decades now, but her new book goes back considerably further. From the enterprising 18th century Methodists who gave their hymns a scandalously sexy edge to the cyborg allure of Britney Spears, Powers' sharp, smart new history "Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music" covers more than two centuries of our favorite obsessions.

The sexual pull of music is as old as human nature. "There are many reasons why music can express the erotic so beautifully," Powers observed recently during a conversation with "Salon Talks." "Most of it is inherent in the form itself, in rhythm, in what rhythm does to our bodies." But America, with its youthful energy, vibrant mix of cultures and fair share of religious hangups, improved upon the formula — as anyone who's ever shrieked over a pop star can attest.

Reflecting on rock's early days, Powers noted the rise of the teenager as a powerful — and sometimes intimidating — consumer force. "I do think the particularly American character of risk and rebellion that's connected to music and has always been part of the language of rock and roll is intertwined with authority and the state," she said. "You see the teenager as this live wire that's going to change society but also might blow it apart."

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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