“Will you stay”: “Kooks,” Hunky Dory, and Romantic Childhood

Poised at the start of the 1970s, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory now feels prophetic in its visions of a cynical “world to come” and the embittered generation who lived the long post-Woodstock comedown. This essay argues that the album mobilizes a discourse of idealized childhood that is one of Romanticism’s most enduring legacies, in order to enact a generational struggle that is both personal—the anxiety of the parent who fears creative displacement by their child—and public: the nostalgic and idealistic parent generation of the 1960s versus the bitter realism of their descendants. Tracing how “Kooks” replicates the image of the ‘Romantic child’ as articulated primarily in Wordsworth and Coleridge’s poetry, the essay situates the narrator’s reactionary impulse to keep the child a child forever against the album’s surrounding cast of angry, knowing teenagers. It argues that the Romantic child discourse—and the ways in which it still shapes, implicitly or otherwise, ideas about the relationships between parents and children, authors and texts, and reproduction and creative genius—enables the album to dramatize as a coherent text the ways in which those who inherited 1960s counterculture might, like Romanticism’s children in the 1820s and 1830s, resist calls to mythic, timeless unknowingness and instead turn to face painfully unfolding knowledge.