Here’s the full iTunes playlist for Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge 2022): click the image.
CFP: Romanticism and Heavy Metal
The editors Julian Knox and James Rovira welcome chapter proposals for the forthcoming anthology Romanticism and Heavy Metal. Like the collections Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington 2018), Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan 2018), David Bowie and Romanticism (Palgrave Macmillan 2022), and Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge 2022), Romanticism and Heavy Metal seeks to interpret heavy metal as a cultural, artistic, and musical phenomenon using the historical insights and theoretical tools provided by the study of Romanticism.
As in previous collections, “Romanticism” is broadly conceived as a cultural, literary, artistic, philosophical, and musical movement first identified and named in the late eighteenth century without being limited in scope to that period. As a result, the relationship between metal and Romanticism should not be considered only in terms of influence: metal is or can be Romanticism in the present. “Heavy metal” is conceived as a late twentieth-century world musical phenomenon inclusive of a wide array of sub- and micro-genres that has its origins in the sonic and thematic innovations of 1960s and 70s bands such as Iron Butterfly, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, and Metallica that continues into the present.
Chapters considering historically significant heavy metal bands that engage with Romantic works and themes are welcome, as are analyses of Romanticism in relation to metal subgenres including, but not limited to, doom metal, black metal, death metal, thrash, grindcore, folk metal, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, power metal, and noise.
Contributors seeking to define Romanticism outside of its usual eighteenth- to nineteenth-century periodization are encouraged, but not required, to consult Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity by Robert Sayre and Michael Löwy (2001). Chapter topics might include, but are not limited to,
- Romantic Satanism and heavy metal
- Romantic paganism and heavy metal
- Green Romanticism and heavy metal
- Brown Romanticism and heavy metal
- Individual author / painter / musician / band / album / music video comparisons
- Nineteenth-century musical Romanticism and heavy metal
- Romantic folk traditions and folk metal
- Working class Romanticism and metal
- Romantic celebrity and heavy metal
- Adaptations of Romantic texts in heavy metal albums
- Romantic visual art as album art
- Romanticism, metal, and political/social/environmental action
- Reception studies and fan communities
- Representations of apocalypse, post-apocalypse, and the world without us
Chapter proposals should be approximately 500 words in length, demonstrate familiarity with scholarship in both Romanticism and heavy metal, and should be accompanied by a one-page CV.
Please email all proposal materials by February 2023 James Rovira at jamesrovira at gmail dot com
If you need flexibility with proposal or chapter deadlines, please describe your needs in an email.
I’m pleased to announce the publication of Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2022), which is the first book-length work to explore the interrelationships among contemporary female musicians and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art, music, and literature by women and men. The music and videos of contemporary musicians including Erykah Badu, Beyoncé, The Carters, Missy Elliot, the Indigo Girls, Janet Jackson, Janis Joplin (and Big Brother and the Holding Company), Natalie Merchant, Joni Mitchell, Janelle Monáe, Alanis Morrisette, Siouxsie Sioux, Patti Smith, St. Vincent (Annie Clark), and Alice Walker are explored through the lenses of pastoral and Afropresentism, Hélène Cixous, Gothic, male and female Gothic, and the literature of William Blake, Beethoven, Arthur Schopenhauer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charlotte Dacre, Ralph Waldo Emerson, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Ann Radcliffe, William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Shelley, Henry David Thoreau, Horace Walpole, Jane Williams, Mary Wollstonecraft, and William Wordsworth to explore how each sheds light on the other and how women have appropriated, responded to, and been inspired by the work of authors from previous centuries.
You can read more about the book here.
I will be hosting a virtual book launch this coming Saturday, November 19th from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET (we’re off Daylight Savings Time now, -5 UTC). The book launch will be held simultaneously on Zoom and on Instagram live streaming at the account rock.and.romanticism:
The lineup is as follows.
If you’d like to attend on Zoom, please email me privately for the session login. Feel free to promote the session on social media and elsewhere.
11:55-12:10 – Jim Rovira introducing the book and session.
12:10-12:30 – Alicia Carpenter on William Blake and Patti Smith
12:30-12:50 – Rebecca Nesvet on Jane Williams and the figure of the rolling stone
12:50-1:10 – Sasha Strelitz on Janis Joplin and “electric Romanticism.”
1:10-1:30 – Christopher Clason – on Joni Mitchell and German Romanticism
1:30-1:50 – Diana Edelman – on Siouxsie Sioux and the male/female Gothic
1:50-2:10 – Sherry Truffin on St. Vincent, the Gothic, and the grotesque
2:10-2:30 – Kristen Zemke on Romanticism and Afropresentism in Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, and Beyonce
2:30-2:50 – Sherry Truffin interviews Jim Rovira on Schopenhauer, music, and women in German Romanticism, and the extension of that topic to the study of British Romanticism and women in rock.
Each section will reserve five minutes at the end for questions.
“‘It’s painful being a democracy because one of the. . . things you have to do is allow people to say what they want to,’ he [Bowie] said in 1991. Freedom of speech could be weaponized. Should a David Duke be allowed to run for office, to broadcast his racism? Bowie wondered. Hunt Sales pointed out that Duke had failed at the ballot box. Bowie replied that Duke ‘created a power base for himself. He should not be taken lightly, we have not seen the last of him by any means at all.'” Bowie’s comment probably seemed paranoid at the time, but in the light of the events in Washington D.C. on January 6th, 2021, they now seem eerily prescient. In his 2016 history of glam, Shock and Awe, Simon Reynolds drew these comparisons among glam, early Bowie manager Tony Defries’s management style, and Donald Trump: “The second [kind of entrepreneur] seduces using techniques that bypass the rational: charisma, word-magic, a sense of theatre. . . In some ways he [Defries] resembled a seventies music-biz version of Donald Trump. In The Art of the Deal, Trump wrote that ‘the final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies’. . . The showmen-businessmen understand the power of wild promises, impulsive investments, irrational exuberance.” While Reynolds doesn’t make this connection, he is also describing the fascist dictator as Bowie understood him. . .James Rovira, David Bowie and Romanticism, pp. 233-4
The conversation above comes from a 1991 interview held near the end of Bowie’s Tin Machine period. The interviewer had asked about the 1989 Tin Machine song “Under the God.” One of Bowie’s most directly political songs, it’s laced with bitter invective against white supremacy in the United States:
Skin dance back-a-the condo
Skin heads getting to school
Beating on blacks with a baseball bat
Racism back in rule
White trash picking up Nazi flags
While you was gone, there was war
This is the west, get used to it
They put a Swastika over the door
Under the God, under the God
One step over the red line
Under the God, under the God
Ten steps into the crazy, crazy
Washington heads in the toilet bowl
Don’t see supremacist hate
Right wing dicks in their boiler suits
Picking out who to annihilate
Toxic jungle of Uzi trails
Tribesmen just wouldn’t live here
Fascist flare is fashion cool
Well, you’re dead, you just ain’t buried yet
Under the God, under the God
Under the God, under the God
I wanted to start this discussion of David Bowie and fascism with Bowie’s 1990s’ invective against fascism because the starting point for chapter 10 of David Bowie and Romanticism, “1. Outside as Bowie’s Gothic Technodrama: Fascism and the Irrational Near the End of the Millennia,” is Bowie’s infamous, very badly conceived comment to Cameron Crowe during a 1976 interview: “I believe very strongly in fascism” (p. 221). My chapter attempts to answer a number of questions about this comment, which include
- Did Bowie really mean that? Why did he say it?
- What did he mean by fascism?
- How did Bowie view fascism over the course of his career?
- How might Bowie’s 1. Outside (1995) be a comment on fascism?
- How does the study of Romanticism help us understand Bowie’s responses to fascism over the course of his career, especially on the album 1. Outside?
So, in order, then —
Did Bowie really mean that? Yes and no. Crowe gave Bowie a chance to walk back his comments, and Bowie took it. Near the end of the interview, when Crowe asked, “Do you believe and stand by everything you’ve said?”, Bowie responded, “Everything but the inflammatory remarks” (p. 220). In the same interview, Crowe described Bowie as “a sensational quote machine. The more shocking the revelation, from his homosexual encounters to his fascist leanings, the wider the grin. He knows exactly what interviewers consider good copy; and he gives them precisely that. The truth is probably inconsequential” (p. 220). Furthermore, within the same interview, Bowie describes German fascism as a terrible thing: “The attitude that says the artist should paint only things that the proletariat can understand, I think, is the most destructive thing possible. That sounds a little like Hitler’s going around to museums and tearing modern paintings down, doesn’t it?” (p. 223). He clearly recognized that Hitler’s governance was terribly destructive.
That sounds like a no. Why yes and? Oooh, that’s…. complicated. More below.
Why did he say it? Also really… complicated. Many people ascribe Bowie’s comments to cocaine psychosis around this time, which is well documented, and Crowe reported Bowie’s inability to sit still for very long. But I think there was more to it than coke. More below.
What did he mean by fascism? This question is probably the most important for understanding his 1976 interview. Bowie’s definition of fascism within this interview — and I believe it became more sophisticated over time — is just “ordering people around.” It’s authoritarianism. And he points out that the entertainment industry is run this way: solo artists making an album are in charge of their music if they’re not completely at the mercy of the record company. They tell the other musicians what to play. Producers and directors order people around all of the time. Overall, Bowie’s working definition of fascism during the interview included:
- Authoritarianism, ordering people around, telling them what to do: Within the interview, Bowie defined fascism as a “dictatorial tyranny” and then elaborated: “The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that’s hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over with. People have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership. . . I can’t stand people just hanging about. Television is the most successful fascist, needless to say. Rock stars are fascists too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars” (p. 221). But note that it was a stage to get through, not an ideal state. He hoped that fascism would speed progress, most importantly, and then be left behind.
- Charisma: Crowe asked Bowie to elaborate on the whole “Hitler was the first rock star” comment, and he did: “Look at some of his films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Jagger. It’s astounding. And, boy, when he hit that stage, he worked an audience” (pp. 222-3).
- Media manipulation: Elaborating on the “he worked an audience” comment, Bowie said, “Good God! He was no politician. He was a media artist himself. He used politics and theatrics and created this thing that governed and controlled the show for those 12 years. The world will never see his like. He staged a country.” I suspect Bowie’s primary referent for Hitler was Leni Riefenstahl’s The Triumph of the Will (1935), an artfully constructed Nazi propaganda film. An entire city was essentially transformed into a set for the sake of this film. But he also mentioned Goebbels (Hitler’s Chief Minister of Propaganda) in this interview and the spectacle of Hitler flying from one German city to the next on an airplane.
At this point, Bowie is starting to sound uncomfortably sincere, explaining my yes and. He’s expressing real admiration. But I also think his ideas at this point are politically unsophisticated. He seems most impressed with “getting things done” and with the performative aspects of fascism rather than thinking through fascism as a political system.
At this point, though, I think it’s fair to ask, What did Bowie think of fascism over the course of his career? His first mention of fascism in interviews corresponded with his first reading of Nietzsche and the recording of the song “The Supermen” in 1970 for The Man Who Sold the World. He makes the unusual claim that Hitler’s goal was to block the arrival of the Übermensch rather than the usual claim that he just misunderstood it: “I wrote a song called ‘The Supermen’ which was about the Homo Superior race and through that I got interested in Nazism. I’m overwhelmed at their methods — diabolical. I have no room in my head to entertain their theory, the gross effects, the terrible disregard for human life, especially for particular races and religions. . . Hitler wanted to develop an Aryan race. For what reason? To fight Homo Superior” (p. 221).
Bowie is unquestionably critical of Hitler and fascism in 1970. Leap forward to “It’s No Game” from 1980’s Scary Monsters and Super Creeps and you find these lyrics: “So where’s the moral / When people have their fingers broken? / To be insulted by these fascists / It’s so degrading,” and then nine years forward again and you have “Under the God” from Tin Machine. So I think it’s fair to say Bowie’s career was openly anti-fascist, and his comments during 1976 were uncharacteristic of his attitudes towards fascism throughout most of his life.
So why did he say it? Some answers have been suggested already, from the shock value of the comment (his own media manipulation) to cocaine psychosis. But at different points in David Bowie and Romanticism I discuss Bowie’s relationship to his own creative production in terms of a painterly metaphor, one which Bowie used himself at times in interviews. We should remember that “David Bowie” is an invention, a stage name — the real human being is David Jones. I suggest that David Jones is the artist, David Bowie his canvas, and his string of personas throughout the 70s are his paintings. I think that he eventually collapsed into fascism briefly, somewhat before the summer of 1976 or a little earlier, right before finally leaving the US for Europe, because of his loss of internal control. He was killing himself with coke. So he may have painted a controlling, fascist persona — the Thin White Duke — onto his exterior to compensate for his loss of internal control.
But leap forward just four more years after that Tin Machine interview, to 1995’s 1. Outside, and I think we encounter Bowie’s most sophisticated comment on fascism. His horror at David Duke’s following–which was not Duke building a following for his own future political career, which didn’t materialize, but for Donald Trump’s–was just the beginning of his fascination with and shock at the world of the 1990s, a reaction exacerbated by the impending turn of the twentieth century.
1. Outside expresses Bowie’s horror and fascination with self-mutilating outsider artists, 1990s’ fascism, and the rise of the internet near the turn of the millennia. The fragmented, partial narrative describes the “art ritual murder” of Baby Grace Blue from the point of view of Prof. Detective Nathan Adler. Baby Grace Blue, a teenage girl, was dismembered, her body parts mounted around different parts of a museum in New Jersey. Her memories were then culled from her bodily fluids and processed through a computer which wrote haikus from them. These poems were broadcast through speakers mounted onto Baby Grace’s body parts. The murderer is the “Artist-Minotaur,” a figure represented in videos as a human being with a bull’s head.
This artist figure, a human being with a bull’s head that uses advanced computer technology to create art out of murder and dismemberment, represents the combination of technology with the irrational, which leads us to the insights that Romanticism can provide into this album. Romanticism as a form of fascism has been a small niche within Romantic studies for some decades now. Löwy and Sayre’s Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity (2001) develops a taxonomy of Romanticisms that includes “Fascistic Romanticism,” which they define as a “‘paradoxical combination of irrationality and technics’ whose outcome will be that ‘humanity will shortly reach a higher stage'” (p. 226). And there it all is in a single sentence: the desire to speed progress that Bowie expressed in 1976, the combination of irrationality and technology evident in Hitler’s media manipulation and the album 1. Outside, in the figure of the Minotaur as an artist who uses human dismemberment in combination with computer technology to create art, all of it coming together at the end of the millennia.
Bowie was prescient, and he saw in advance where the United States was heading. That Trump was mentioned in a paragraph with David Duke is no coincidence. Trump, with his irrational exuberance technologically played out on a mass stage through his media manipulation.
Check out the iTunes playlist for David Bowie and Romanticism.
James Rovira teaches literature and writing on Florida’s Space Coast and has published poetry, creative non-fiction, short stories, reviews, articles, and a number of books.
In a culture generally unaccustomed to theatrical displays of male plumage, the glittered, feathered, frequently half-naked David Bowie of the glam rock 1970s presented an affront to traditional notions of gendered norms, introducing instances of “gender expression” some forty years avant la lettre. Fast-forward to the relatively conventional final decades of Bowie’s private life, and his legacy takes on a sort of prismatic function, separating into strategic deployments of gender, sexuality, and desire that both piqued and provoked the public, disrupting notions about masculinity, desirability, the function of the artist, and the future of mankind.Samuel Lyndon Gladden, David Bowie and Romanticism, p. 163
One perhaps lesser-known synchrony between the Romantic era, especially British Romanticism, and the rock and roll era is celebrity culture. Celebrity culture magnifies the personal lives of famous individuals to international importance. Often tied to scandalous behavior, figures who become famous for writing poetry or recording rock songs soon become famous for being an object of gossip and then, eventually, famous for being famous.
Figures in this position soon learn how to leverage it further through affairs, gossip, and outrageous behavior. Celebrity culture as we understand it today originates in the Romantic era, most notably (but not solely) with George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824). During his own time, Byron was infamous for being “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”: he had a number of famous affairs that eventually drove him from mainland England to the European continent for the remainder of his life. The most famous (but least likely) of these affairs was with his half sister Augusta Leigh; his ex-wife Anne Isabella Milbanke (Annabella) spread the rumor aggressively, finding it very easy to think the worst about him.
Byron, for his part, did little to suppress these rumors and in fact seemed to play them up, indulging in teasing references to incest in his play Cain. Byron’s dialog imagines a twin sister Adah born alongside Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain. Byron here spells out the implications of a Genesis narrative in which all human beings were sons and daughters of Adam and Eve: by necessity, brothers married sisters. Adah, hearing from Lucifer that these marriages would be condemned in the future, is shocked:
Adah. But all we know of it has gathered / Evil on ill; expulsion from our home, / And dread, and toil, and sweat, and heaviness; / Remorse of that which was—and hope of that / Which cometh not. Cain! walk not with this Spirit. / Bear with what we have borne, and love me—I Love thee.
Lucifer. More than thy mother, and thy sire?
Adah. I do. Is that a sin, too?
Lucifer. No, not yet; It one day will be in your children.
Adah. What! Must not my daughter love her brother Enoch?
Lucifer. Not as thou lovest Cain.
Byron is, to say the least, being unhelpful if he wants to defuse scandal and rumors. But he does not. Confronted with a dumpster fire, Byron brings the gas can.
Other aspects of celebrity culture involve the visual representation of the celebrity in culture. Both Byron and Bowie were famous for publicly disseminated images; we could even say the variety of paintings of Byron could represent personas in a way parallel to Bowie’s numerous personas adopted through the 1970s.
Rock music transformed the male gaze of traditional western culture from a gaze upon women’s bodies to a gaze upon men: men became dandies, wore makeup, suddenly cared about clothing beyond generic expressions of masculinity which, in turn, upset gender norms. The scandalous celebrity benefiting and suffering from celebrity culture invariably became a rebel.
Samuel Lyndon Gladden in “‘Rebel Rebel’: Bowie as Romantic ‘Type,'” chapter 8 of David Bowie and Romanticism, argues that during the era of Bowie’s superstardom (which, for Gladden, begins in the 1980s with Bowie’s best-selling album, Let’s Dance), “Bowie remains constantly visible and cycles through artistic phases in rapid succession” (p. 167).
Check out the iTunes playlist for David Bowie and Romanticism.
Bowie’s superstardom moves through three distinct phases in Gladden’s chapter: a heteronormative era during which he is accused of selling out (1980s); an era of experimental work and early adoption of new musical styles (1990s); and a third era of discovery (2000s). Each of these have their parallels in Romantic era literature.
Samuel Lyndon Gladden serves as Professor of English and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Education, and Human Development at the University of New Orleans. He has published widely on key figures in nineteenth-century British literature with books on Percy Shelley and Oscar Wilde and articles on Mary Shelley, Wilkie Collins, Bram Stoker, and others.