I can’t speak highly enough about Music: A Subversive History. Though Gioia can be subtly boastful at times, it’s never egregious, and he is always fun to read ... I suspect that academic scholars will pooh-pooh aspects of Music: A Subversive History. That’s as it should be. Despite his awards, Ted Gioia remains something of an outsider critic, convinced that the passion for destruction can be a creative passion.
More than on musicology—indeed, in reaction to its strictures—Gioia draws on social science research into the past and present to forge a sweeping and enthralling account of music as an agency of human change.
... smart but readable, sometimes giddily effusive passages ... The charge that educators, arts institutions and music historians other than Gioia are, on the whole, blind to the value of transgressive innovation threads through Music: A Subversive History. This would no doubt surprise people at the institutions that have been organizing the Bang on a Can event series, the White Light Festival, Crossing the Line, the Vision Festival and other programs presenting venturesome, hard-to-categorize and often radical music in New York City alone. It would rattle the many music educators I know who are generally fearful of being taken to task for thinking too subversively, rather than too conservatively. And it would surely rankle authors such as Brent Hayes Edwards, Jennifer Lena, Allen Lowe, Kristine M. McCusker, Ann Powers, Alex Ross, Elijah Wald and others who have written probing, eye-opening works of music history untainted by reductive traditionalism or capitulation to tropes and clichéd thinking ... For all its sweep and noble intentions, Music: A Subversive History has a limited conception of what constitutes subversion ... he gives short shrift to the fiercely radical gender disruptions of Ida Cox, Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Lucille Hegamin, Alberta Hunter and other sexually fluid and dynamic, proto-feminist women who made the blues a major force in American music a decade before Johnson recorded his first tracks ... Undervalued in his scheme is the challenge to musical ferocity that’s part of the cycle of aesthetic disruption and normalization: beauty.