Melvin Backstrom

Music Research
Music History/Musicology
Doctoral Student
Current research: 

“The Grateful Dead and Their World: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1965-1975"

The goal of my dissertation is to understand the cultural conditions for the appreciation of “high” art musical elements, as well as of a rather unusual mélange of genres, through a study of similar such transgressions of aesthetic boundaries in the psychedelic rock music of the San Francisco Bay Area from 1965-1975. My choice of concentration is motivated by how such music challenged distinctions among musical forms broadly categorized as popular and those considered “high art.” Though undoubtedly popular in terms of its performance environs, audience and many of the qualities of the music performed, the use of musical elements associated with avant-garde art music (i.e. atonality, electronic “noise,” lack of steady pulse) was extremely common among the musicians I will focus on. Because I see the music of the Grateful Dead as the paradigmatic example of such high-low boundary crossings they will be the main concern of my dissertation. Nevertheless, the study of other musicians Bay Area musicians who engaged in similar kinds of genre crossover will be an equally important part of this project.


Ph.D. Musicology

Graduate supervision: 

Supervisor: David Brackett