Ask the Bolshevik

Meet the UI Press is a recurring feature that delves into issues affecting academic publishing, writing, education, and related topics. Today, industry advice columnist The Bolshevik answers your questions.

bolshevikDear Bolshevik,
You know what you need? Books about stuff people care about RIGHT NOW. Dude, listen, it’s win-win, a streamline for the bottom line. Putting out books on hot trends will save big cash for your authors. No need to travel to archives and national battlegrounds. No grant proposals to churn out. No buying obscure journal articles priced way, way out of hand. Enough books already exist to teach us about neocolonialism. Why add to the pile, am I right? 
You can even call the series by an emoji and save a ton on ink. No need to thank me. I just want to help. —Signed, What’s Happening Now

Dear WHN: As someone asked me at a mixer the other day, “Don’t we know enough about Icelandic hair? Do we need more scholarship on it?” It’s possible that, yes, we do know enough, at last. I admit I am rarely asked about new revelations in ethnomusicological scholarship or the inside dope on communication theory breakthroughs. No, people really want an answer to pressing contemporary questions: Are those attachable hair buns for men really a thing? What do they symbolize? What are their implications for postfeminist masculinity? (Also: Where can I get one?)

The biggest problem with your proposal, WHN, is that publishers need about 12 months, give or take, to midwife a book from the larval manuscript stage to the edited, designed final product that dazzles on shelves. The Bolshevik feels confident that your decadent culture will hoot the fake hair bun into oblivion by November, 2016. (Long before, if there’s any justice.) Then again, I said the same thing about Fedoras and neck beards and gluten-free papier-mâché.

Dear Bolshevik,
I admire the commitment of academic publishers to music outside the mainstream. Whether it’s nose flautists or bluegrass legends, First Nations musicians or men who dare to live up to the name Magnificent Montague, you people dig deep. So don’t take it personally when I respectfully suggest you could cast an even wider net in fulfilling your mission. For instance, just as an example, what about the social and scholarly ramifications of my favorite song, the Paul Anka smash “You’re Having My Baby”? I checked, and you’d have the field to yourself on this topic. I only mention it as one possible example. Signed, Overlooked Hotel

Dear Overlooked,
We always appreciate the praise and suggestions of readers. I fear that “You’re Having My Baby,” while indeed ignored in music history, may not fit in with an academic publishing. Today’s scholars are perhaps likely to look past the song’s popularity in its own time to interpret it as an antifeminist anthem sung by a sexist in a safari outfit on The Midnight Special. Academic presses trend toward a more pro-feminist, woman-empowered message, and if one of their authors tackled “You’re Having My Baby,” a fan of the song like yourself may find the outcome regrettable.

Nonetheless, the Bolshevik feels that such a thoughtful, positive letter deserves, well, a bit of the scholarship you requested, albeit in a non-peer reviewed manner. Thus, please accept an analysis of an artist close to my own heart, that superstar of the dead teenager genre, Dickey Lee, here performing “Patches,” a Barry Mann-Larry Kobler composition:

“Patches” follows a formula for tragedy as old as Shakespeare, though Dickey Lee has greater vocal range than the Bard. Parents forbid teen love between an ordinary boy and a girl from the other side of the tracks or, in this case, polluted river. Patches, the girl, jumps into the watery depths in grief. The narrator prepares to follow just as soon as he finishes singing. It’s not going to be pleasant, either. The river flows past the coal yard, and you know those chemicals won’t inhale nicely.

Having recorded a song about a girl with a cat’s name, Lee later released the more conventionally-named “Laurie (Strange Things Happen),” that golden oldie you half-remember where the guy picks up a girl, she borrows his sweater and takes it with her, he later finds out she died the previous year, and then he finds the sweater on her grave. That song.

Years later, Dickey followed many other faltering pop stars into a smaller pond and enjoyed a steady country career with tunes like “9,999,999 Tears” and “Rocky,” the latter yet another foray into death pop that inflicts terminal illness and pregnancy on the narrator’s true love.