Michael Long


On his book Beautiful Monsters: Imagining the Classic in Musical Media

Cover Interview of February 19, 2009

A close-up

All of the chapters are sectional in structure, with section headers.  Anyone not interested in following the threads of the big arguments through the whole book might still find it interesting to read in bits.  In fact, to fans of classic pop music or films, I’d suggest starting with the index and doing a title search for favorites.

The bookstore browser should probably dip into chapter 1.  While it lays out the conceptual foundation for the arguments revisited throughout the book, chapter 1 also contains a bunch of illustrative case studies (including Jan and Dean, T. S. Eliot, Michael Jackson, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, Kiss, Max Steiner, and others).  They range in length from a few sentences to a couple of pages.  And they are, I hope, both enlightening and entertaining.

rorotoko.com Musical nostalgia as ceramic artifact. Photo by Arnold Berlin.

Readers interested in the history of film music might particularly appreciate the chapter on musical Yiddishkeit (chapter 3).  It is the most extended historical argument in the book, and draws popular literature into the mix along with music and film.

A serious reader interested in the humanities in general would find chapter 5, on “the dimensions of nostalgia,” especially interesting.  This favorite of mine uses examples drawn from a broad spectrum of visual and musical materials to grapple with how artists have, in a literal sense, constructed nostalgia.  That word has enjoyed tremendous circulation among academic writers, from literary critics to film scholars, for whom its implications rarely extend beyond those associated with “sentimental recall.”  Here I analyze visual items ranging from pre-Raphaelite art to the films of Tarkovsky, and music from Baroque chorales to eighteenth-century clavichord music to psychedelic rock.  I argue that nostalgia can serve as a surprisingly concrete and useful concept to frame specific modes of visual and acoustical expression.  I suggest that art and media from all historical periods have employed these “formal” elements of nostalgia.