Book review

Send in the clones: A cultural study of the tribute band, by Georgina Gregory

Sun-ha Hong

Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Fandom; Music history; Popular music

Hong, Sun-ha. 2014. Send in the Clones: A Cultural Study of the Tribute Band, by Georgina Gregory [book review]. In "Material Fan Culture," edited by Bob Rehak, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 16.

Georgina Gregory. Send in the clones: A cultural study of the tribute band. Sheffield: Equinox, 2012. $29.95 (184p) ISBN 978-1845532451.

[1] Bjorn Again, Dread Zeppelin, The Iron Maidens: the derivative nomenclature completes the in-between and often under-the-radar existence of the tribute band. Not only touring on the musical backlog of the originals but also mimicking their aesthetic and performative repertoire, the tribute band lies at the intersection of production and consumption, original and copy, music industry and live music. Asserting that tribute bands have been denied their place in history and analysis, Send in the Clones joins a small collection of academic studies—such as 2006's Access All Eras—addressing this gap. It is Gregory's first foray into the subject in monograph form, following several years of work on tribute bands and popular music. The result is an easy-to-read, comprehensive exploration into both the history of tribute bands and their current life.

[2] Relatively slim at 150 pages (excluding notes and references), Send in the Clones nevertheless covers the tribute band from a variety of angles. After a short introductory chapter, the book offers a historical overview of popular music's relationship to the past and to copies (chapter 2) and a specific lineage of forms of tribute (chapter 3). Chapter 4 provides a typology of tribute bands today, followed by a description of their work, lifestyle, ethos, and industry (chapter 5). Chapter 6 considers critical responses to the tribute band in relation to the history of copying. The book then concludes with a brief meditation on fandom and participatory culture (chapter 7).

[3] The emphasis on the tropes of copy and nostalgia aligns with Gregory's interest in disrupting the "quasi–Old Testament" "creationist narrative" (2) of music and stardom over the last century. Send in the Clones rejects the pathologic treatment of copies, tributes, and imitations; it argues that public acceptance of skilled imitations and fakes is widening (14–15), and that copies themselves have always played a key role in the development of popular music in forms like midcentury "race covers" (116) and jazz re-presentation. This dovetails with a voracious appetite for the past in the form of tribute bands, which tend to focus on a small list of acclaimed bands from the 1960s to 1980s—the baby boomers' heyday. Gregory's position should not meet a great deal of resistance, given the swing in popular culture and scholarship toward a positive definition of the copy in recent years (Binkley 2000).

[4] The position works well with Gregory's mission to revalorize tribute bands; the latter become a part of a vast stratum of music practices that partly escape or subvert the dominant apparatus of the market, stardom, and the record format. Although the qualities of the music itself generally do not enter Gregory's narrative, tribute bands possess an inherently ambiguous relationship to that apparatus on the level of taste. On one hand, tribute bands can only hope to command an audience by imitating critically acclaimed bands like Pink Floyd; on the other, their performances potentially subvert the singular aura of the star and the dominance of the recording format in contemporary music consumption. For Gregory, this ambiguity and difference becomes a source of tribute bands' unique value. Gregory explains how tribute bands can often be more financially sustainable than original outfits for those denied the rewards of stardom; "it could be argued that tribute bands acts [sic] are correcting the disequilibrium by providing work in a growth industry" (5). At the same time, tribute bands can offer affordable and accessible options for music consumption on the consumer side, even as the music industry increasingly turns to live music as a source of revenue in the digital age.

[5] Unfortunately, the book does not offer a consolidated and sustained argument for what kind of place tribute bands should occupy in our understanding of popular music and culture and how (or whether) they constitute a form of resistance. For instance, how do tribute bands subvert or otherwise influence the well-oiled star machine, at once their competition and benefactor? How might we situate tribute bands against the wider landscape of online amateur covers and mashups or the reappearance of the original performances on YouTube? Chapter 6, promisingly entitled "The Value of Paying Tribute," instead revisits the themes of chapter 2 by showing that copies have a long history in music and that rock stars and virtuosos are a relatively recent construction. Likewise, chapter 4's typology of tribute bands does not follow a systematic model, making only a broad distinction between look-alike and soundalike approaches that are in practice frequently hybridized. Send in the Clones does not provide a clear positive image of how tribute bands should be repositioned and copies rethought, but it does successfully problematize the current epistemic configuration.

[6] The greatest strength of the book is the detailed insight it provides on the life, work, and career of tribute bands. Chapter 5 in particular shows how tribute band members must juggle the skill of self-managing businesses, the skill of playing music in a very particular manner, and the skill of imitative performance that they know can play a large role in their success or failure. Primarily sourced from interviews with bands themselves, these sections bring into focus the logistical dimension of the phenomenon. Gregory successfully dislodges the pathological stereotype of third-grade musicians devoid of creativity, willing to make a quick buck by cannibalizing the greats. Though the confluence between musicians' self-description and her broadly positive perspective presents a risk of bias, Send in the Clones provides a valuable illustration of the complex motivations and constraints that produce a tribute band.

[7] In contrast, the book's theoretical arguments and appeals to wider contexts of popular culture and modernity are less helpful. The book's use of Fiske or Adorno offers no surprises to any reader familiar with those works, while its more specific claims raise questions. For instance, the lack of tribute bands in the early years of popular music is attributed in one sweep to "the pre-eminence of modernist ideology" and future-obsessed baby boomers (7–8). One wonders how this might be reconciled with Gregory's own claims about a rich heritage of copying and tributes in this very period, whether modernity does not flirt as much with memorialization as futurism, and how this ideological explanation can overturn the clear economic advantage of tributes that Gregory herself notes.

[8] It is also regrettable that these discussions often do not extend to an explicit argument about tribute bands and their relationship to popular culture and society; this would have greatly amplified the book's impact. An example is a lengthy meditation that draws upon the likes of Plato and Georgio Vasari to argue that art has become separated from craft, generating a lasting prejudice against the value of copies. Puzzlingly, Gregory does not spell out exactly how tribute bands are more than mere fakes, or what a revalorization of tribute bands means for the epistemology of popular music. Similarly, the discussion of fandom and fan practice involves repeated arguments that audience analysis is "few" (130), "problematic" (133), "haphazard" (136), and "cannot remain static" (135), but it does not go on to outline how tribute bands can contribute to the solution. Indeed, Gregory's rich and detailed interviews with tribute band members form a mismatch with a lack of consumer viewpoints other than autobiographical experience.

[9] Send in the Clones is a valuable contribution to the comparatively slim body of literature on tribute bands. Although its theoretical arguments and links to wider social flows remain underdeveloped, its careful and engaging exploration of tribute bands makes a good case for paying greater attention to what Michel de Certeau (1984, 48) called the "polytheism of scattered practices" that lurk beneath the dominant.

Works cited

Binkley, Sam. 2000. "Kitsch as a Repetitive System: A Problem for the Theory of Taste Hierarchy." Journal of Material Culture 5 (2): 131–52.

De Certeau, Michel. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Homan, Shane, ed. 2006. Access All Eras: Tribute Bands and Global Pop Culture. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), ISSN 1941-2258, is an online-only Gold Open Access publication of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works. TWC is a member of DOAJ. Contact the Editor with questions.