2- Sounding the Past: On Nostalgia, Class, and Americana – Kreg Abshire, United States Air Force Academy

11:30 AM, Sunday 26 May 2019 (2 hours)

I would like to explore the relationship between nostalgia and traditional American music. Specifically, I hope to illustrate how the Coen Brothers capture in the impossible chronology of Inside Llewyn Davis the role of nostalgia in Americana music culture as a disruptive force, undermining the temporal discourses with which the emplacement of working-class subjects and the distinction between working- and middle-class subjects has been built and maintained. In the U.S., class does not exist solely as an economic marker of wealth nor as a measure of cultural distinction. Class is also a marker of time. We might consider somebody to be more or less developed, more or less the beneficiary of progress. Commercial neo-traditional music (Americana or alternative-country music) also works across a dimension of time: put simply, it sounds old and working class.

The Coen Brothers cinematic nostalgia runs parallel to their sonic nostalgia. They have increasingly been drawn to neo-traditional American music; and, I argue, their interest extends well beyond its potential as background sound. Based on a close reading of Inside Llewyn Davis, I propose a complex view of nostalgia that accounts for its future and dynamic potential, expanding our idea of nostalgia beyond escapism into some static image of the past. The film captures this notion of nostalgia in its circular form, captures, that is, the work of an old-sounding song—“If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song” (Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis).

Johnson & Wales University, Denver
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