And more Watchmen (page a day day 5)

The following is part of my Page a Day project and some rough writing from my forthcoming essay on Watchmen, music, and nostalgia.

Not a great day for writing, but here is something. Some of this is the same as yesterday (the first two paragraphs), but I think I have found the thread: 1) deal with Adrien Veidt, nostalgia, Nostalgia (the cologne), and Veidt’s weird idealization of the past and how it connects to Nazism; get into Dylan and the way “The times they are a-changin'” and “Desolation Row” frame the novel and especially the way that “Times” connects with Veidt and his cologne); get into the fictional music in the novel and its apparent connection to fascism; bring it back to Dylan who may not exist in the world of the novel because of the way the counterculture failed to get off the ground or find traction with the public in the wake of the US victory in Vietnam).

In any case, here it is:

This essay discusses the intersection of music and nostalgia in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, a graphic novel published in serial form from September 1986 through October 1987. Watchmen reimagines the United States of the mid-1980s and late Cold War. That US is a nation that has repealed the 22nd amendment to its constitution to allow Richard Nixon to run for (and win) a third term (and a fourth). This alternate history was made possible by Dr. Manhattan, the one “costumed hero” amongst the novel’s menagerie of superheroes with actual superpowers—superpowers that led to an American victory in Vietnam under Nixon.

As a result of this victory, the counterculture of the 1960s celebrated and deplored (depending on one’s point of view) for its resistance to Vietnam and the military industrial complex, seemingly fails to impact the public imagination of Watchmen’s ersatz America. For example, while there are several references to historical musicians such as Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, and Devo within the novel’s world, the most explicit references to the music of the counterculture of the 60s, here the lyrics of Bob Dylan, come in the epigraphs to two of the novel’s chapters and in advertising copy for a fictional cologne, Nostalgia by Veidt. I will turn to Dylan in a moment, but for now suffice it to say that the novel at once celebrates Dylan as a prophet of the historical counterculture and deconstructs simplistic understandings of his music that reify him as such. Without him, the novel suggests, popular rock music becomes merely the province of hoodlums and takes on a fascist bent, as made clear by the two bands that perform at Madison Square Garden in the novel’s climactic moments: Pale Horse and Kristallnacht. I shall return to this concern later when I focus on fascist and Nazi imagery in the novel and connect that imagery to the conflict between progress and nostalgia at the novel’s center.

For while the novel’s narrative moves inexorably toward this concert and the destruction that occurs simultaneously with it, Dylan, more than any other musician fictional or historical, informs Watchmen’s themes. The novel’s first chapter, “At midnight all the agents,” takes its title from a lyric to 1965’s “Desolation Row,” which also provides the chapter with its concluding epigraph: “At midnight all the agents, and the superhuman crew/Go out and round up everyone that knows more than they do.” Likewise, a later chapter takes its own title, “Two riders were approaching,” from 1967’s “All Along the Watchtower.” A longer excerpt of this song’s lyrics also appear as an epigraph at the end of this chapter: “Outside in the distance, a wild cat did growl, two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.”

I will begin with the novel’s final reference to Dylan, less explicit than the two just mentioned. Where the lyrics to “Desolation Row” and “All Along the Watchtower” are attributed to Dylan, the title to “The Times They Are A-Changin’” appear unattributed and very slightly altered as advertising copy for a fictional cologne: Nostalgia by Veidt. The advertisement in question appears in a sort of interchapter the follows the narrative section of chapter eleven. After each of the novel’s chapters, save chapter twelve, appear various fictional documents—psychiatric case files, autobiographies, history, etc.–that provide backstory for characters and events. This interchapter is an interview conducted by a reporter from a fictional left-wing newspaper, Nova Express. The subject of the interview is “the world’s smartest man” Adrien Veidt, also known as the costumed avenger Ozzymandias and the man behind, among other things, the aforementioned cologne.

Chapter eleven, “Look on my works, ye mighty” (a reference to Shelley’s “Ozymandias”), focuses on, first, Veidt’s backstory, narrated by him to the servants he just murdered to protect his secret and horrifying plan to save the world from nuclear war. Second, it focuses on the nature of that plan. It concludes with Veidt telling his former costumed hero colleagues Nite Owl and Rorschach that the plan has already been carried out. The last images we see are of death and destruction as a large part of Manhattan is destroyed.

The contrast between these images of death and the self-assured, good-natured interviewee of the interchapter is jarring.


One Response to “And more Watchmen (page a day day 5)”

  1. […] Another lite day of writing–although I got tons of work done today. I was going to skip this altogether, but I am glad I did something, however litter. This follows directly from what I wrote yesterday. […]

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