Romanticism and Rock

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
John Denver
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
Flogging Molly
Genesis, Foxtrot
King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King, In the Wake of Poseidon
The Kinks, Arthur
Led Zeppelin
The Moody Blues, On the Threshold of a Dream and A Question of Balance
Ritchie Blackmore’s Night
Pink Floyd, The Wall: FilmFull 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, QuadropheniaWho’s Next 
The “New Romanticism” of the 1980s Spandau Ballet

Partial Bibliography

General

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.

William Blake

Clark, Steve, Tristanne Connolly, and Jason Whittaker. Blake 2.0: William Blake in 20th-Century Art, Music, and CulturePalgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Nick Cave

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.

Bob Dylan

Corcoran, Neil. Do You, Mr. Jones? Bob Dylan with the Poets and ProfessorsChatto.
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.

Mary Shelley

McCutcheon, Mark A. Techno, Frankenstein, and CopyrightPopular Music 26.2 (2007): 259-280.

Contributors
Hearty thanks to the following contributors, in alphabetical order:

Rick Albright
Ian Balfour
Suzanne Barnett
Rick Brenner
William Christopher Brown
Adriana Craciun
Kellie Donovan-Condran
Howard Doughty
John-Erik
Michael Falk
Neil Finlayson
Peter Francev
Sandy Gourlay
Gregory, Stephen
Arden Hegele
Joseph M. Johnson
Aaron Kaiserman
Rob Kilgore
C. Kimberly
Silvia Lombardini
Mark McCutcheon
Theresa McMillan
Terry Meyers
Richard Nanian
Aaron J. Ottinger
James Rovira
David Ruderman
Teresa Romero Sánchez-Herrero
Philip Shaw
Pamela Siska
Eugene Stelzig
Zinaida Taran
Chip Tucker
Ana Vukmanović
Sydney Waimsley
Julie Watt
Paul Yoder

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A Reissue of a Historically Significant CD

ddeluxe

NOTE: Revised and expanded 9-26-2014.

Indie/alternative band Daniel Amos has just reissued Doppelganger in remastered and expanded form, re-presenting DA’s music with a cleaner, bigger, fuller sound. Originally released in 1983, just as the religious right was rising to prominence as a power broker in US politics, Doppelganger serves as an incisive critique of materialism and power-seeking in 1980s U.S. Evangelicalism. In addition to its value as political and social commentary, it is one of the most literary albums I have ever listened to, in “Hollow Man” setting the poetry of T.S. Eliot to music while making further reference to Dostoevsky both in its lyrics, its central trope, and in its narrative continuation of The ¡Alarma! Chronicles!, of which Doppelganger is part 2.

Daniel Amos has been highly eclectic musically since their inception in 1974. Their self-titled first album was straight up 70s country, while their second album, Shotgun Angel, mixed Eagles-inspired country rock with ELO-inspired soft rock. Their third album, Horrendous Disc, began their adaptation of the late the 60s Beatles’ sound to 70s rock and roll, an adaptation that the band reinvented for the 80s, 90s, and 2000s in subsequent albums. Their fourth album, ¡Alarma!, the first volume of the Chronicles, switched drastically to a pared-down Devo-inspired sound.

The ¡Alarma! Chronicles was perhaps one the most ambitious uses of the concept album in the 70s and 80s, if not in the history of rock, especially if we limit our consideration to the albums themselves and not their extension into film and other media. This four-album series followed its protagonist’s journey of spiritual, psychological, and social awakening from a teenage boy’s bedroom to his vision of the universe as Adam Kadmon, the grand man. Every song on each album considers its insights either internally to the narrative or externally to its application, and sometimes, in songs such as “Faces to the Window,” a song describing how world poverty haunts western affluence, both at once. Each album represents, I think, a different kind of awakening, the first album revealing the hero’s awakening to his selfishness, insularity, and materialism, and the second album, Doppelganger, to his duplicity and hypocrisy. But while these insights are critical, they aren’t condemning: they are communicated with a great deal of empathy and self-awareness, and with the fine touch of Terry Scott Taylor’s poetic genius.

Doppelganger received some attention in the college-rock circuit of the early 80s and was perhaps the album that first established Daniel Amos’s credibility as musicians and songwriters. With this album they seemed to cut loose from their most obvious musical influences to create their own rock/punk/alt sound. I was fortunate enough to see them live when they were originally touring for this album, and in every sense of the word their concert was an advanced art-rock experience. Mannequins — symbolic of both idols and of the depersonalization of the individual in late 20th century American capitalism — lined the stage and had speaking parts, their lips glowing as each mannequin “spoke” its lines.

But that wasn’t the first time that I saw them. I first saw them in the Norwalk High School auditorium in Norwalk, CA, probably around 1981. I remember walking up close to the stage, checking out the band, and thinking… where’s the rest of the band? Where’s the rest of the drumset? The drummer had a snare, a tom, a cymbal, and a bass drum. That’s it. And I’d never heard such a big sound come out of a few drums, or even out of a much larger set, or out of a much larger band. They jammed.

As relatively unknown as this band is, they usually receive attention from professional critics whenever they release anything new, because the band’s musical direction and Terry Scott Taylor’s songwriting has been on an increasingly sophisticated arc since Doppelganger, perhaps peaking in the early 90s with Kalhöun and MotorCycle then peaking again with 2013’s Dig Here Said the Angel, which presents yet another reinvention of the band for the early 21st century indie-music scene. They no longer fit a clear genre of rock. I would say the listening experience is close to a Robert Plant album. They’re just making great music now. Check them out. The remaster of 1983’s “Mall All Over the World” is embedded below. Let them blow your doors off 31 years after the fact.

I have to confess a bit of intersection with my personal history too. The third volume of The ¡Alarma! ChroniclesVox Humana, introduced me to William Blake through the song “William Blake.” I have it embedded in a Prezi that I’ve created to introduce my students to Blake’s literary sources. After listening to this album, I ran down to the nearest B. Dalton (which by itself dates me) and picked up a copy of The Viking Portable William Blake. A couple of decades later I find myself writing my dissertation about William Blake, and then in 2010 publishing a book about him. Thank you, Terry Scott Taylor and Daniel Amos.