Rock and Roll Fantasy: Nostalgia in Early Seventies Rock
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Rock and Roll Fantasy: Nostalgia in Early Seventies Rock


This dissertation will explore the nostalgic fantasy worlds created by rock musicians at the start of the seventies. While popular culture of the entire decade saw a huge explosion of interest in the past, these early years of the decade are particularly interesting because they reveal a generation disillusioned with the sixties’ utopian idealism and yet not ready to abandon all hope in the future ahead. Theorizing nostalgia, medievalism, cultural memory and fantasy, I will examine how the imaginary spaces created by rock musicians of this era function as complex nostalgic expressions, articulating present values and needs. Looking at uses of the past in this pivotal moment, we see not only a complex of events and objects, but also the networks through which creative people made meaning out of the past in their own present. Chapter 1 will contextualize the beginnings of this nostalgic wave as a response to the experience of “future shock” as theorized by Alvin Toffler, and through a case study of Don McLean’s iconic 1971 track, “American Pie.” Chapter 2 will explore the fantasy space of a British past in the music of Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, situating the ecocriticism and medievalism found in this era as a response to the specific conditions in England at the time. Chapter 3 will examine how American rock musicians turned towards romanticized visions of the Old West as an Edenic, pastoral playground, in the music of James Taylor, Three Dog Night and The Grateful Dead. Chapter 4 will conclude the dissertation by exploring the role of nostalgia in futuristic fantasies of this period, which, like much speculative fiction, explore past worlds recreated in the future. It will follow an extended case study of the many ways Pete Townshend re-engaged with his own past though his Lifehouse project. This dissertation will use interdisciplinary nostalgia theory to explore the ways in which rock music’s fantasies of the past made new meaning for a generation of young adults at the start of the seventies.

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