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"The Playlists: Rock and Romanticism" by James Rovira

Tuesday, July 16, 2019 - 17:25

Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books) and Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan) both appeared about three months apart in 2018. They began when I approached Lee Fearnside, then Associate Professor of Art and Director of the Diane Kidd Art Gallery at Tiffin University, with the idea for the exhibit Rock and Roll in Ohio, which ran from October 5 to November 9, 2016. Lee’s exhibit featured the works of photographers Anja Proudfoot, Taylor Fickes, Emma Sipes, Ray Ford, Jr., and Nik Vechery. Taylor Fickes deserves special mention because her rock photography was my inspiration for this exhibit, and she contributed the photographs that became the covers of both Rock and Romanticism collections.

However, the anthologies most directly resulted from my June 5, 2015 post to NASSR-L asking for suggestions for an honors class on music and literature which I hoped would run concurrently with the exhibit. The post was titled “Romanticism and Rock.” Responses were so generous and enthusiastic that I issued a call for papers for an edited anthology just four days later, on June 9. While the honors class never came to be, I received fifty chapter proposals in response to my CFP, which led to the publication of twenty-five chapters, including my introductions, distributed across the two anthologies. Both introductions provide similar, brief accounts of the history of the term “Romanticism,” identify A.O. Lovejoy’s 1924 PMLA article “On the Discriminations of Romanticisms” as a defining moment for problems with the term, and then propose Sayre’s and Löwy’s Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity (Duke UP, 2002) as a viable solution to Lovejoy’s challenge to define Romanticism almost eighty years earlier. Romanticism is, for Sayre and Löwy, an emotional impulse that pushes back against the self formed by the union of capitalism and the Enlightenment.

The chapter proposals I received leant themselves to the divisions represented by the two anthology’s titles, dividing their approaches across the pastoral and the Gothic and across generational divides in both the music and the literature discussed in the volumes’ pages. The generational gap between Blake and Wordsworth and the Shelleys and Byron seemed paralleled by the generational divide between 60s and 70s artists and those recording after the 90s. While the Blake and Wordsworth anthology defines its work in terms of Kierkegaardian repetition, the Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal collection, after exploring the interrelationships of the Gothic and the Romantic, and then the implications of the female Gothic, defines English Romanticism as beginning with John Milton’s Paradise Lost and continuing into the present. Romanticism is not just inspired by Milton, but begins with him, and rock and roll, similarly, is not just inspired by the Romantic art and literature of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries but is continuous with it.

One of the most gratifying aspects of doing this work was the numerous emails I’ve received from contributors saying, “Thanks for this, I’m really enjoying writing this chapter.” The Blake and Wordsworth collection has been nominated for an ASCAP music writing award, but more importantly, the work continues. As of the time of this writing, David Bowie and Romanticism: The Chameleon Poet and the Changeling Self has been awarded a contract, and the proposal for Women in Rock/Women in Literature: The Emancipation of Female Will is under reader review.

The iTunes and Spotify playlists linked here are global for each anthology and combine all of the songs discussed in each book’s chapters into a single playlist. Separate playlists for each chapter can be accessed through my iTunes profile and through the book pages on my website. I owe Dr. Mark McCutcheon much gratitude for his enthusiastic work on the playlist for the Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal collection. Needless to say, these eclectic playlists range from folk and classic rock to grunge, emo, rap, and Norwegian death metal. Like your counterparts in centuries past, you are welcome to enjoy—or to cringe at—the many forms Romanticism continues to take today, each one representing an individual voice pushing back, consciously or not, against a greed machine that separates us from our natural environment and from one another.   

Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018):



Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018):