'Roadrunner' is the best known track from the catalogue of the cult but legendary and fairly short-lived unit Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (Richman continues to gig as solo artist to this day).
Released in 1972 the song captures the freedom and wonder of cruising down the highway late at night with the radio on, 'going faster miles an hour'. Although the song circles Boston's beltway, its significance reaches far beyond Richman's deceptively simple declarations of love for modern moonlight, the made world, and rock & roll. In Roadrunner, cultural theorist and poet Joshua Clover charts both the song's emotional power and its elaborate history, tracing its place in popular music from Chuck Berry to M.I.A. He also locates "Roadrunner" at the intersection of car culture, industrialization, consumption, mobility, and politics. Like the song itself, Clover tells a story about a particular time and place – the American era that rock music signifies – that becomes a story about love and the modern world.
Joshua Clover is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis, and author of Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings; 1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About; and other books.
About the Duke University Press Singles series:
One song, one book, one series. Each book in the Singles series tells a complex story about a single song. Not just a lone track on an album, but a single: a song distributed to and heard by millions that creates a shared moment it is bound to outlive, revealing social fault lines in the process. These books combine popular culture and fandom with music criticism and scholarly research to ask how singles change lives, reshape perceptions, bring people together, and drive them apart. What is it about a single that can pry open a whole world? That can feel common to all and different for each? How can something so little mean so much? Singles offers insightful, provocative answers to these questions.
Duke University Press Books, 144pp, 17.8cm x 17.8cm, paperback, 2023
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