‘America’ in the Performance of Identity in the British Rock Memoir

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Dennis Kersten and Maarten Steenmeijer/ Radboud University, the Netherlands
contact email: 

The contemporary rock memoir attracts attention as both a very productive and increasingly varied sub-genre of life writing – the more so in the Anglo-American context, especially where it concerns subjects who were at the peak of their powers in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The current vogue for autobiographical retrospection in print media may be explained by the rock stars’ urge to set the record straight after a lifetime of mythologization by fans, critics and the media. Indeed, a great number of these memoirs focus on the sources of their authors’ authenticity.

Rock stars often anchor their life narratives by writing about their geographical backgrounds as sites of origin of their musicianship and artistry. In the British rock memoir, the fascination with ‘America’ (and/ or the fear of Americanization) plays an important role in the construction or performance of identity in relation to place. In the early to mid-twentieth century, including the period in which the life writing rock stars were born, British popular culture considered itself as lagging behind the US film and music industries. Up until the British Invasion of the 1960s, pop music produced in the UK certainly could not compete with the likes of Elvis Presley – not on a global scale, at least. It comes as no surprise, then, that to this day, many British rock stars have an ambivalent attitude towards America: they are in awe of its musical heritage as much as they are bent on emphasizing their Britishness. A case in point is Ray Davies’ continuous positioning of himself vis-à-vis American (popular) culture in a variety of forms – most recently, his 2013 memoir Americana and the 2017 album of the same name.

With the aim of publishing an essay cluster in a/b: Auto/Biography Studies we are seeking articles that explore the question of how representations of America function in performances of identity in contemporary life narratives by British rock stars. We welcome contributions that investigate which Americas are represented (as a physical space perhaps, and if so, which spaces or landscapes specifically), and how imaginings of America are invested with symbolic meaning – for instance, as the ‘British Other’, or rather as a culture, set of ideas or ideology British rock stars identify with. No less significant would be the issue of how representations of America in rock memoirs relate to their authors’ reflections on American (pop) culture and music in other ego documents or media such as interviews. In all of these questions ‘America’ refers to the images of the country, its culture and its people created by the life writing texts, which we understand as products of what Sidonie Smith calls “narrative performativity” (Life Writing in the Long Run, 2016: 262). 

Dr Dennis Kersten and Professor Maarten Steenmeijer, Radboud University, the Netherlands

If you would like to contribute an article, please send an e-mail with your details and a 300-word abstract to Dennis Kersten en Maarten Steenmeijer (m.steenmeijer@let.ru.nl) before 15 January 2018.