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Surfing about Music.

Surfing about Music. By Timothy J. Cooley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. [xvii, 218 p. ISBN 9780520276635 (hardcover), $65; ISBN 9780520276642 (paperback); ISBN 9780520957213 (e-book), $29.95.]

Online music examples, illustrations, companion Web site, bibliography, discography, filmography, index.

While music and sports have shared a close connection throughout their existence and (separately) have received a great deal of scholarly interest, very little research has been conducted on their intersection. During the past few years, a growing amount of research has been published, though mostly on more mainstream sports such as soccer and baseball (Anthony Bateman and John Bale, eds., Sporting Sounds: Relationships Between Sport and Music [London: Routledge, 2009]; Ken McLeod, We Are the Champions: The Politics of Sports and Popular Music [Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009]). The connection between music and surfing, a more regionalized sport, provides an interesting case study because it differs from "achievement sports," such as football, the Olympic sports, and basketball, and is more of a "lifestyle sport" instead (p. 172). In Surfing about Music, Timothy Cooley contends that "the music that surfers associate with surfing is key to what surfing is, or rather the many things that surfing is, as well as to who surfers are and aspire to be" (p. 6). He effectively supports his claims through examining the various facets of surfing culture and conducting ethnographic research on those involved in it. For many, surfing and musicking, the verb coined by Christopher Small that is adopted by Cooley throughout the book, are intertwined and provide complementary means of expression for the surfing community. Musicking provides a means of affirming the communal elements of surfing, while the activity of surfing itself is generally a solitary affair between the surfer and the ocean.

Cooley covers the various elements of the surfing culture and lifestyle, including its early development in Hawaii, its spread to California, its celebration in surf movies, and the musical activities of amateur and professional surfers. Cooley's personal voice is a presence throughout the text, and he admits that this is a deeply personal book, as he is a surfer himself and freely switches between the roles of writer--scholar and surfer--musician. In addition to his own voice coming through in the book, Cooley also effectively maintains the voices of his interviewees, which further invites you into the community of surfers. Interspersed throughout the text are various figures, photographs, and illustrations that further demonstrate the media and images surrounding surfing and assist in bringing Cooley's interview subjects to life. In addition to the text, the Web site for the book includes various online audio and video clips of examples Cooley analyzes in the text, which are especially helpful for some of the lesser-known or harder-to-find songs and films.

In the introductory chapter, Cooley poses several questions that will be addressed throughout the book, including the primary questions of "how is music used to mediate the experience of surfing?" and "how does surfing, and changing notions of what a surfing lifestyle might be, affect surfers' musical practices?" (p. 3). Cooley also generally describes the connection between music and surfing, identifies the qualities that define surfing, and establishes surfers as an affinity group. Surfing is the main cultural practice that brings the voluntary participatory group together, although surfers also use music to form and define their group. Thus music plays an important role in the surfing lifestyle and culture, and assists surfers in defining, and redefining, themselves.

The first three chapters are structured historically. Chapter 1, "Trouble in Paradise," describes the evolution of surfing from the "pre-revival" surfing in nineteenth-century Hawaii to the "New Surfing" of the twentieth century in California (and other locales) as surfing spread. Cooley effectively establishes the prominence of surfing in Hawaiian cultural life and presents some early examples of music connected to it. Chapter 2, " 'Surf Music' and the California Surfing Boom: New Surfing Gets a New Sound," focuses on the genre of surf music and its emergence during the 1960s. The public at large perhaps most often associates the surf music genre with surfing, though as Cooley demonstrates throughout the book, it is generally not a style with which surfers identify. Cooley identifies two different types of surf music: the instrumental rock-based surf music that is associated with artists like Dick Dale, and songs about surfing, such as those by the Beach Boys. Through examining surf music, Cooley demonstrates how surfing was redefined as Southern Californian, white, and male. Chapter 3, "Music in Surf Movies," traces the development and use of music in surf movies from the 1950s to the present day. These movies, full of surfing footage and targeted primarily at surfers, use music that more closely reflects surfing culture than the surf music addressed in the previous chapter. Cooley traces the history of surf movies, beginning with the early films that frequently used unlicensed soundtracks and often had live music at screenings. The genre eventually declined during the mid-1980s when films were issued direct-to-video and required licensed soundtracks, but surf movies have seen a resurgence due to better visual footage and more accessible technology. Cooley contends that the accompanying soundtracks are an aesthetic necessity for these otherwise silent films, and through examining the music we can identify the type of music with which surfers identify.

Contrasting with the historical approach of the first three chapters, the next three chapters analyze more contemporary musicking. Chapter 4, "Two Festivals and Three Genres of Music," focuses on two European festivals, one dedicated to surf music in Italy and the other a British surfing competition that also features music. Collectively between the two festivals they feature the three genres most commonly associated with surfing internationally: surf music (though the connection to surfing at this point is more symbolic), punk rock, and "laid-back" music in the mold of acoustic singer--songwriters like Jack Johnson. Chapter 5, "The Pro Surfer Sings," focuses on the musicking of former professional surfers. After providing some historical context by identifying the Waikiki Beachboys as the prototypical surfer--musicians, Cooley dedicates the majority of this chapter to examining three surfing musicians who were previously active as professional surfers, including Jack Johnson. Cooley ultimately finds that for his three main subjects, musicking "offers a way of extending creative performativity first expressed through surfing," and in several cases also provides a way to promote their personal brands (p. 142). Chapter 6, "The Soul Surfer Sings," also focuses on musicking by surfers, though most of the individuals and groups of surfing musicians addressed in chapter 6 do not make their livings as professional musicians. The surfers addressed in this chapter are also "soul surfers," those who surf because it is deeply meaningful to them; they surf "for the pleasure of the ride" and also because their "soul cries for it" (p. 144). For many of these soul surfers, surfing impacts their musicking as well. Cooley focuses on soul surfers in California and Hawaii, each of whom sing about or refer to Hawaii, though for different reasons.

In the final chapter, "Playing Together and Solitary Play: Why Surfers Need Music," Cooley examines individuals and groups playing music together in order to draw some final conclusions about why many surfers are involved in musicking and how music is important in establishing a sense of community among surfers. Cooley identifies two main themes: the first of which, homologies, illustrates the ways that musicking and surfing are similar. He explores shared terminology and concepts such as rhythm ("both playing music and riding waves require timing, getting into the groove" p. 164), waves (sound waves versus ocean waves), and a sense of flow. The second major theme of the chapter, community sharing, focuses on the means of collective expression available through musicking that is not offered solely through surfing. Surfing is the central cultural practice for surfers, but the act itself is generally a solitary experience. Musicking offers a collective, participatory means through which to express the surfing experience on dry land, away from the waves.

Throughout the book Cooley effectively demonstrates the role of music in surfing culture and how it is used by surfers to define and redefine themselves. While he primarily takes an ethnomusicological approach to examining surfing culture and draws from prominent ethnomusicology scholars such as Thomas Turino, the book could have contributed more to the scholarly dialogue on music and athletics. Cooley makes slight mention of the use of music in other sports, although he contends that he is not conducting a comparative study (pp. 172-73). Regardless, the book provides a good model that could be applied to other studies of lifestyles and marginalized sports.


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Author:Mihalka, Matthew
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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