Updated June 7th with additional links, a bibliography, and an expanded contributor list.
If you’re interested in the topic of this post, please consider submitting a proposal to the edited anthology Rock and Romanticism.
I’m thinking about developing a course about Rock and Roll and Romanticism for the Spring 2016 semester, so I asked my colleagues on the NASSR list for music recommendations that pair well with Romantic-era poetry and prose. They responded generously with numerous suggestions both for pairings between rock and roll and Romantic texts and for the course in general. I’ve posted a list below.
Why rock and roll and Romanticism? “Romanticism” as a literary movement has traditionally been defined both thematically and as a period, with periodization usually taking priority. As a periodized trans-European phenomenon, Romanticism usually starts with either Rousseau’s writings of the 1760s-1780s, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774, or the fall of the Bastille in 1789, and it lasts until about 1850, at least in England. By this date Wordsworth, Mary Shelly, and most other first and second-generation Romantic poets had died.
Thematically, Romantic literature tends to focus on the individual over and above the state or other economic or political structures, on democracy over and above monarchy or the aristocracy, on nature over and above the urban, and on imagination and passion over and above reason and traditional moral structures. Many of us who think today that our deepest feelings represent somehow our essential selves have the Romantics to thank.
Because Romanticism is a trans-European and trans-chronological phenomenon, it is very difficult to define precisely. Scholars have been wrestling with the question “What is Romanticism?” for as long as Romanticism as been defined as a literary movement, but especially since A.O. Lovejoy’s early twentieth-century essay, “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms.” In it, he claims that the term “Romanticism” has come to mean so many different things that it has ceased to serve the function of a verbal sign.
For the sake of my course, and perhaps to the annoyance of some of my favorite Romanticists, I will probably theorize Romanticism using Sayre and Löwy’s Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity (2001). In this book, the authors develop a taxonomy of different Romanticisms (their solution to the problem Lovejoy posed) while presenting a unified definition of Romanticism as a response to capitalism.
So theorized, Romanticism then exists as a literary mode independent of any period. I am tempted to define English Romanticism as starting with Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749). If this starting point doesn’t make sense to you, try comparing the moral reasoning of its titular character to the presentation of Blake’s Jesus at the end of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, who acted from impulse rather than rules. In this approach to Romanticism, the 1950s and certainly the 1960s are the most recent resurgence of Romanticism as a mode, one that continues into the present. If you were to reread my thematic description of literary Romanticism above, it’s not hard to read it as a simultaneous description of the major themes in a great deal of rock music. And as you’ll see from the list below, many artists from the 1960s forward drew inspiration from major figures in English Romanticism.
We need to be careful when talking about either literary modes or periods, however: it’s a mistake to think that even if we could define Romanticism as starting in 1789 and ending in 1850 that all literature and art during this period is therefore Romantic. Even periodization does not eliminate the need for attention to theme. Earlier generations of Romantic-era scholars tended to define Romanticism in opposition to Classicism, which at least allowed for two different modes of literature to co-exist within the same period (even if they tended to periodize Classicism earlier in the eighteenth century). We should do the same, at the least seeing Romanticism as a mode arising within a specific historical and social context and then continuing into the present, co-existing alongside other disursive modes arising before and after it and continuing alongside it into the present.
A provisional list is below, which as you see very broadly defines both Romanticism and rock and roll. Please email me with further suggestions at jamesrovira at gmail dot com, and I will add your suggestions to the list and credit you below. Many thanks to all who contributed.
If you’re interested in more on William Blake in popular culture, check out the online gallery for the Blake in the Heartland exhibit on this site.
|William Blake, general responses
Note: Donald Fitch’s Blake Set to Music provides a comprehensive list up to 1989.
Zoamorphosis is an excellent source of material on Blake and popular culture.
|William Blake, An Island in the Moon||Live performance, stage adaptation by Joe Viscomi|
|William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell||Ulver, Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell|
|William Blake, Milton a Poem, “And did those feet…”||Jimi Hendrix, “Voodoo Chile”
Emerson, Lake and Palmer, “Jerusalem“
|William Blake, Poetical Sketches||The Fugs, “How Sweet I Roamed“|
|William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience||Anda al Sinaia, Songs of Innocence and Experience, “The Clod and the Pebble”
Daniel Amos, “Instruction Thru Film” (“The Chimney Sweeper,” Innocence)
Daniel Amos, “Sleep Silent Child”
David Axelrod, Song of Innocence
David Axelrod, Songs of Experience
William Bolcom, Songs of Innocence and Experience (2.5 hr. orchestral performance of all of the Songs from the 1950s, highly diverse musically)
The Fugs, “Ah! Sunflower”
The Man on the Margin (Italian band), “Songs of Innocence and Experience”
Van Morrison, “Let the Slave”
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, “The Clod and the Pebble”
Terry Scott Taylor, Knowledge and Innocence
U2, Songs of Innocence and “Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to the Songs of Experience“
Van Morrison, “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River”
Victor Vertunni, “Little Boy Lost” (Part of his Songs of Innocence and Experience Project)
Walter Zimmerman, Songs of Innocence & Experience (1949 string quartet, not remotely rock and roll)
See Martha Redbone above for several individual songs.
|Robert Burns, general responses||Hugh Morrison, Robert Burns Rocks|
|Robert Burns, “My Heart’s in the Highlands”||Bob Dylan, “Highlands“|
|George Gordon, Lord Byron||David Bowie, “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean“|
|George Gordon, Lord Byron, “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving”||Leonard Cohen, “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving“|
|Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights||Kate Bush, “Wuthering Heights”
Michael Penn, “No Myth“
|Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”||Iron Maiden, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
Ian McKellen reading “Rime“
|Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”||Rush, “Xanadu”
Olivia Newton-John and ELO, “Xanadu“
|John Keats, “Lamia”||Genesis, “The Lamia“|
|John Keats, “Ode on Melancholy”||Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds feat. Kylie Minogue, “Where the Wild Roses Grow“|
|Jack Kerouac, On the Road||The Waterboys, Modern Blues, especially “Long, Strange, Golden Road“|
|Edgar Allan Poe, Miscellaneous Poems||Jeff Buckley, “Ulalume”
Marianne Faithfull, “Annabel Lee”
Iggy Pop, “Tell Tale Heart”
Lou Reed, The Raven
Christopher Walken, “The Raven“
|Mary Shelley, Frankenstein||Edgar Winter, “Frankenstein” (maybe more a reference to James Whales’s film?)
Grateful Dead, “Ramble on Rose”
New York Dolls, “Frankenstein“
|Percy Shelley, “Adonais”||The Cure, “Adonais”
Mick Jagger reading “Adonais”
Vincent Price reading “Adonais” (Yes, Vincent Price is rock and roll — links appreciated if available)
|Percy Shelley, The Masque of Anarchy||Scritti Polliti, “Lions After Slumber“|
|Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias”||Glass Hammer, “Ozymandias”
Walter White/Heisenberg reading “Ozymandias” (he’s officially rock and roll now too)
Vincent Price reading “Ozymandias“
|Percy Shelley, “To a Skylark”||The Cure, liner notes to Disintegration|
|William Wordsworth, general responses||Joy Division, “Heart and Soul”
Van Morrison, “Summertime in England” (with references to Coleridge, Yeats, and T.S. Eliot)
|William Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up”||Anton Corbjin, Control, reading of Wordsworth’s poem by Ian Curtis of Joy Division|
|William Butler Yeats, general responses||The Waterboys, An Appointment with Mr. Yeats, “September 1913” and others|
|William Butler Yeats, “The Stolen Child”||The Waterboys, “The Stolen Child“|
|References to Byron, Shelley, and Keats||Natasha Bedingfield, “These Words“|
|References to John Keats, William Butler Yeats, and Oscar Wilde||The Smiths, “Cemetry Gates“|
|“Romantic in tone, mood, or spirit”||The Clash
The Dropkick Murphys
Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited. See D.A. Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back
Echo and the Bunnymen
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King, In the Wake of Poseidon
The Kinks, Arthur
The Moody Blues, On the Threshold of a Dream and A Question of Balance
Ritchie Blackmore’s Night
Pink Floyd, The Wall: Film, Full Album, Soundtrack, Live
The Pogues, “Lorelei”
Simon and Garfunkel
The Tragically Hip, “Poets”
The Waterboys, A Pagan Place, “A Church Not Made with Hands”
The Who, Tommy, Quadrophenia, Who’s Next
|The “New Romanticism” of the 1980s||Spandau Ballet|
Dettmar, Kevin. Is Rock Dead?
Dettmar, Kevin. Think Rock.
Dettmar, Kevin and Willem Richey. Reading Rock and Roll: Authenticity, Appropriation, Aesthetics. 1999.
Doughty, Howard. “Rock: A Nascent Protean Form.” Popular Music and Society 2.2 (1973).
Eisen, Jonathan. The Age of Rock: Sounds of the American Cultural Revolution (Random House) and The Age of Rock 2: Sights and Sounds of the American Cultural Revolution (Vintage Books).
Lewis, George H. Side Saddle on the Golden Calf: Social Structure and Popular Culture in America (Goodyear Pub. Co.).
Maddocks, Melvin. “The New Cult of Madness.” Time Magazine (March 13, 1972).
Marshall, Lee. “Metallica and Morality: The Rhetorical Battleground of the Napster Wars.” ESLJ 1.1 (2004).
Passmore, John. “Paradise Now: The Logic of the New Mysticism.” Encounter (November 1970). CIA funded source.
Prendergast, Mark. The Ambient Century – from Mahler to Moby, the Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age (Bloomsbury, 2003)
Reynolds, Simon. “Ecstasy is a Science: Techno-Romanticism.” Stars Don’t Stand Still in the Sky: Music and Myth. Ed. Karen Kelly and Evelyn McDonnell. New York: New York UP, 1999. 199-205.
Ross, Alex. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.
Weinstein, Deena. “Art Versus Commerce: Deconstructing a (Useful) Romantic Illusion.” Stars Don’t Stand Still in the Sky: Music and Myth. Ed. Karen Kelly and Evelyn McDonnell. New York: New York UP, 1999. 57-69.
Clark, Steve, Tristanne Connolly, and Jason Whittaker. Blake 2.0: William Blake in 20th-Century Art, Music, and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Barfield, Steven, ‘ “The Time of Our Great Undoing”: Love, Madness, Catastrophe and the Secret Afterlife of Romanticism in Nick Cave’s Love Songs’, in John..H..Baker (ed.) The Art of Nick Cave: New Critical Essays (Bristol, UK. Intellect Book, 2012) 239-260.
Welberry, Karen. “Nick Cave and the Australian Language of Laughter.” Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009. 47-64.
The Doors/Jim Morrison
Paunovic, Zoran. Istorija, fikcija, mit (Geopoetika, Beograd 2006). In Serbian. Essay on Blake and Morrison.
Corcoran, Neil. Do You, Mr. Jones? Bob Dylan with the Poets and Professors. Chatto.
Dettmar, Kevin ed. The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan.
Dylan, Bob. Chronicles. 2 volumes. Simon and Schuster.
Ricks, Christopher. Dylan’s Visions of Sin. Harper Perennial.
McCutcheon, Mark A. Techno, Frankenstein, and Copyright. Popular Music 26.2 (2007): 259-280.
Hearty thanks to the following contributors to the list of works above, in alphabetical order:
William Christopher Brown
Joseph M. Johnson
Aaron J. Ottinger
Teresa Romero Sánchez-Herrero
11 thoughts on “Romanticism and Rock”
There’s an excellent album by The Man on the Margin called Songs of Innocence and Experience. Difficult to find but definitely worth it
Thanks… I will add it to the list.
I would leave Tom Jones out because he is a Picaresque hero and not at all a Romantic. I would start with Rousseau’s “Emile” and pair it with Pink Floyd’s, “We don’t need no education.” I would follow that with Wordsworth and Coleridge’s, Preface to Lyrical Ballads, because Romanticism = Revolution. Follow then with “The Prelude ” and the section about the French Revolution.
Great suggestions, thank you.
The Norwegian Black Metal / Experimental band Ulver have a full album called “Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” if you wish to include that sort of stuff in your definition of ‘Rock’!
Great idea though!
Thank you! Adding it to the list.
wonderful choice, otherwise my favourite period.
Thanks very much, glad you like it.
Reblogged this on Nada Radenković and commented:
Love this guy! Good luck Jason. My favourite period.
Thank you for the reblog!
LikeLiked by 1 person
It was a pleasure. It’s an excellent post and excellent programme. Took me back to my student days. Loved it!