Study Guide

Watchmen Music

By Alan Moore

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It’s no stretch to say Alan Moore is a big fan of Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, and John Cale. He pulls chapter titles directly from their song lyrics. But he includes fictional and real musicians all over Watchmen, too.

For example, Laurie seems to like Devo. Gotta love the '80s. Dan Dreiberg, however, digs old-time jazz singers like “Billie Holiday, Nellie Lutcher, [and] Louis Jordan” (VII.10.2-3). This musical preference hints at Dreiberg’s nostalgia for the past, whereas Laurie is into the latest fad (a.k.a. the present). Compare that to Adrian Veidt who, during his interview with Doug Roth, reveals he’s obsessed with “avant-garde” as well as new Jamaican music that’s “a hybrid between electronic music and reggae” (Chapter K.4). The guy’s got his mind set on the future.

These characters’ musical tastes round them out, sure, making the superheroes (and villains) seem more human and relatable. But is there more to it than that? Music doesn’t only reflect popular culture. Music has the power to change it, for better or for worse.

Some of the fictional bands in Watchmen are Pale Horse (whose frontman is Red D’Eath) and Krystallnacht. Both of these hardcore groups are unlucky enough to headline a concert at Madison Square Garden on the same night Veidt destroys New York. And both of them are popular with knot-tops, in the same way that Juggalos are fans of Insane Clown Posse today. But that’s a clannish, narrow way to look at the power of music.

Music is universal, and can bring people together across divides. That’s why Chapter XII ends with the following John Cale lyric: “It would be a stronger world, a stronger loving world to die in.” Just like atomic power, music is a tool, and just like literature, music is a language. The main difference is that almost everyone can speak and understand it.

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