Many thanks to the website Romantic Circles Reviews and Receptions for inviting me to guest post to their blog about my Rock and Romanticism titles, and many thanks to Suzanne Barnett for inviting me to do so.
The last couple of years have been really big on celebrity deaths. What’s been odd for me is that I realized I don’t really understand what emotional profile an artist has for me until he or she is gone. This is all the worse with rock stars, who project an image of eternal youth and vitality that is of course far from the truth.
The three recent deaths that affected me the most were the deaths of Robin Williams, Bowie, and Prince. Lemmy’s death was sad for me, but it was more like losing a weird uncle: your family just got a lot more boring and you wish you’d appreciated him more when you had him. The death of the last remaining original member of the Ramones hit a little harder.
I think that Prince, Robin Williams, and Bowie affected me so much because they’ve been a part of my life since my early teen years. I remember watching Williams on Happy Days and then Mork and Mindy:
I remember listening to Bowie on the radio since about the mid-70s and then seeing him on Saturday Night Live in 1979. I watched him up there in that purple skirt as the episode was being aired and thought… dude, you’re so weird:
And I hate to say it, but my earliest memories of Prince weren’t of Purple Rain. They were of the campy Batman stuff he did in the late 1980s:
This is a long time to have people form a part of your cultural background, and regardless of taste or preference, they possessed a rare level of genius and creativity. I think I took them for granted at the time, but after seeing many actors and musicians cycle through pop culture, these three stand out as genius.
What affected me the most after the fact of Prince’s death was the universal outpouring of love and grief afterwards. Could he have possibly known how people felt? I don’t know. Of his last twelve albums, one was platinum and two were gold (but six were top 10). I haven’t picked up a Prince album since Musicology, his last platinum album released in 2004. But still, I felt his death. I felt like something significant was lost — a certain level of genius that isn’t easily replaced, exactly what I felt about Bowie, who I had at least followed more consistently over the last twenty years. I was excited about Blackstar and loved that the video generated almost a million hits its first twenty-four hours on YouTube.
So I’m mostly wishing I’d appreciated Prince more. Paid more attention, watched what he was doing, listened to what he had to say, because he had (and still has, really) things to say. I hope he had people around him who let him feel that love and appreciation.
So now, in the most morbid possible tribute, I’m going to express appreciation for a few aging geniuses here.
Chrissie Hynde (b. 1951, turning 65 this year). Her latest album is Stockholm, and I’ve heard her next project will be a joint project with the lead guitarist for the Black Keys. That’s the best news I’ve heard in some time. She exemplifies paying your dues, taking risks, and saying exactly how you feel.
Patti Smith (b. 1946, turning 70 this year). She’s a poet, author, painter, photographer, songwriter, and rock star, and she released what is arguably the best album of her life in 2012, Banga:
Jeff Beck (b. 1944, turning 72 this year). He’s been amazing since the 60s. If you can catch his performances for the Rock Hall anniversary concert, do it. They’re on Apple Music:
Keith Richards (b. 1943, turning 73 this year). Just released a great blues/blues rock solo album (Crosseyed Heart) accompanied by a documentary. He knows he’s getting old, and he just wanted to tell everyone how grateful he was for the blues artists who inspired him:
Bob Dylan (b. 1941, turned 74 this year). His late career albums have been focused upon what his career has been always focused upon: Americana. He’s always paid tribute to great American music, either by performing it or reinventing it. He is our true poet laureate:
Buddy Guy (b. 1936, turning 80 this year): With the death of B.B. King — who if you’ve ever seen him live was the model of a gentleman — may be the last of our old great blues guitarists. I saw him at his club in Chicago in 2012. He mocked pyrotechnics in guitar playing, wiping his arse with his guitar while he was performing Hendrix licks (all the while praising Hendrix’s talent), this man can still play. Check out his latest album, Born to Play Guitar, which won a deserved grammy for Best Blues Guitar Album:
I could go on — Jagger and all of the rest of the Stones are getting old. So are the remaining members of Pink Floyd and the Doors. Springsteen will be turning 67 this year, Chuck Berry is 89, while Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are 70 and 72, respectively, while McCartney and Ringo Starr are 73 and 75. And I haven’t mentioned the Ramones, whose last original member recently passed away.
These musicians all came into their careers during a time when the music industry — though just as sold out as it always was — was looking for a new sound. Now it’s harder. Music companies are only looking to sell to a defined demographic and probably know just how many downloads (or streams) any given artist is expected to get. Remember: anyone in it for the money will always play it safe. Genius has less room to flourish now, and all members of the first three groundbreaking generations of rock and roll may well be completely gone in the next ten to fifteen years. Even the 80s stars are getting old: Debbie Harry is 70 while the Mothersbaugh brothers of Devo are in their 60s.
So what are we going to do with this vacuum? What will take its place? What will we do to nurture future genius? Rock and roll has encapsulated all human energies for decades now: our rages, fears, loves, hates, and passions. It screams about God and sex and politics. It’s been sold out and whored for every dime it could squeeze out of every kid who ever bought a record since the 1950s, but it has still maintained a purity and intensity of expression: no matter what happens, strictures could never contain it. Whenever it has become predictable it rebelled against itself, reinventing music over and over again. It’s been our vehicle for the uncontainable, the inexpressible, and that which can’t be bought. If it ever is finally tamed, we may well be lost.
I just finished watching Dharma and Greg season 3, episode 4. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it’s by Big Bang Theory creator Chuck Lorre. It ran from 1997 to 2002, and it explores many of the same kinds of relationships explored in Big Bang Theory, particularly that of the free-spirited woman in a relationship with an uptight man. You might think of Big Bang Theory as Dharma and Greg combined with Friends. There’s a subplot in this particular episode in which Dharma joins a garage band run by teenage boys just to get away from her husband, who as an out of work lawyer starts arguing with anyone and everyone because he has no other outlet for his skills. She gets fired from the garage band and then goes to audition for another one — which happens to be Bob Dylan’s band featuring T. Bone Burnett, Joe Walsh and others, really. Jenna Elfman, who plays Dharma, plays the drums, so jams with them. Check it out.
If the video doesn’t queue directly to episode 4, just click on the drop-down menu in the upper left hand corner of the YouTube window and select episode 4, “Play Lady Play.”
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