Retromania: Pop culture's Addiction to its Own Past. (New Simon Reynolds book).

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I just finished reading it a couple days ago and am still processing it. He gets less prickly as you get into it as the book becomes more of a warning rather than a straight-up rant.

It was interesting reading it while the new season of Mad Men was starting up. Reynolds pegs 1965 as the year the nostalgia virus breaks out and it's right around the time where the SCDP crew seems like it's losing touch of pop culture.

Reality Check Cashing Services (Elvis Telecom), Friday, 13 April 2012 08:10 (2 years ago) Permalink

What's SCDP?

Popular wisdom has modern cultural nostalgia as starting w american graffiti in 71...what are his reasons for 65?

dunno if there's anything about anomie of new suburbia tied in here tho that might be a touch earlier tho

coal, Friday, 13 April 2012 08:35 (2 years ago) Permalink

Reynolds is a writer to fit facts to his theories tho, not partic trustworthy as a writer unfortunately

coal, Friday, 13 April 2012 08:36 (2 years ago) Permalink

popular wisdom needs to be told that american graffiti didn't come out until 1973, well after the first 'rock'n'roll' revival (eg sha na na at woodstock)

Ward Fowler, Friday, 13 April 2012 08:39 (2 years ago) Permalink

Fair enough! I knew the film didn't come out till early 70s but haven't actually seen it

coal, Friday, 13 April 2012 08:43 (2 years ago) Permalink

Hate the phrase 'popular wisdom' but wasn't quite sure what else to put

coal, Friday, 13 April 2012 08:45 (2 years ago) Permalink

What's SCDP?

Sterling Cooper Draper Price - the ad agency in Mad Men.

Popular wisdom has modern cultural nostalgia as starting w american graffiti in 71...what are his reasons for 65?

It's when the demand for "newness" in British style culture outstretched the supply - the only way you could produce more culture was to start looking backwards. By early 1966, the Granny Takes A Trip shop opened up on London and became huge selling 19th century ephemera to rock stars.

The American timeline is different though, you already had Zappa's doo-wop album and Sha Na Na (Reynolds talks about them a bit, but their story seems wacky enough to merit their own book), but yah - 1973 and American Graffiti.

Reality Check Cashing Services (Elvis Telecom), Friday, 13 April 2012 08:56 (2 years ago) Permalink

Yea ok I guess that Victorian schtick was kind of a thing in haight-ashbury also?

coal, Friday, 13 April 2012 09:00 (2 years ago) Permalink

By setting their film O Brother, Where Art Thou before the era of the American folk revival (late 40s - late 70s), the Cohen Bros point out that the perceived "old timeyness" of music has been a selling point for a lot longer than we often remember. A lot of the country, folk and blues music that to us now seems simply "of its time" was actually nostalgic or revivalist when it was first recorded. It's hard to identify a single point at which popular culture began looking backwards in a sense that it never had before, but if there is such a point, it's certainly decades before 1965 or 1973.

BEMORE SUPER FABBY (contenderizer), Friday, 13 April 2012 14:40 (2 years ago) Permalink

Reynolds is a writer to fit facts to his theories tho, not partic trustworthy as a writer unfortunately

This should be at the top of the first post on all Reynolds threads forever really.

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 13 April 2012 14:59 (2 years ago) Permalink

I also just finally read it myself -- was my reading on the way back from EMP! -- and I had my own problems with it, namely that it was (yeah, granted by default) white Anglo-American in focus. BARELY any discussion of if/how similar impulses play out among black artists or culture here or anywhere else, beyond a couple of quick interview bits and an quoted assertion about how there's no hip hop equivalent to classic rock radio. I count Simon as a friendly acquaintance (and he and his wife throw great parties) but I came away going "Uh?" at that.

Ned Raggett, Friday, 13 April 2012 15:16 (2 years ago) Permalink

If you think of time in hour slots then at 4pm 10am is going to sound retro

If you think of time in day slots then you're going to see the similarities between 10am and 4pm not the differences

coal, Friday, 13 April 2012 15:35 (2 years ago) Permalink

I sometimes wonder what people listening in 200-300 years or so will make of late 20th century music. Like, will they be able to tell what came first, Hendrix or drum and bass, or will they listen and not really hear differences, think it was all happening at the same time?

Homosexual Satan Wasp (Matt DC), Friday, 13 April 2012 16:31 (2 years ago) Permalink

Did you mention this before? To me, as only a passing fan of classical music, I haven't really developed an ear for the various developments through the ages - it's all "classical" essentially until we get to stuff like Gorecki.

Scary Move 4 (dog latin), Friday, 13 April 2012 16:35 (2 years ago) Permalink

Yea ok I guess that Victorian schtick was kind of a thing in haight-ashbury also?

Very true, but it seemed like a local phenomenon though... Almost as if the old SF Victorian architecture made everyone want to dress up like the gold miners and cowboys who were there a hundred years earlier.

Reality Check Cashing Services (Elvis Telecom), Friday, 13 April 2012 20:13 (2 years ago) Permalink

and I had my own problems with it, namely that it was (yeah, granted by default) white Anglo-American in focus. BARELY any discussion of if/how similar impulses play out among black artists or culture here or anywhere else, beyond a couple of quick interview bits and an quoted assertion about how there's no hip hop equivalent to classic rock radio

I thought the chapter on Japan was pretty incisive (but to be fair, it was how Japan assimiliates white American culture )

I need to post the audio of the talk Reynolds did with Bruce Sterling a couple months ago...

Reality Check Cashing Services (Elvis Telecom), Friday, 13 April 2012 20:19 (2 years ago) Permalink

Very true, but it seemed like a local phenomenon though... Almost as if the old SF Victorian architecture made everyone want to dress up like the gold miners and cowboys who were there a hundred years earlier.

But again, there'd been an olde-timey folk revival going on in NYC at least since the late 40s. Pete Seeger's Weavers had a massive hit with their version of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" in 1950. The Kingston Trio were an even bigger smash towards the end of the 50s and into the early 60s with similar material. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan came up in the early 60s, both originally performing mostly traditional songs. This wasn't simply the continuation of an ongoing "living" tradition, but was instead a secondhand recreation of the vanished past. The musicians and fans of this revival were reaching back into popular culture's history for "better" and "more authentic" ideas and expressions than those they found in the culture of their moment. Dylan on why his interests shifted from rock to folk (courtesy of wikipedia):

"The thing about rock'n'roll is that for me anyway it wasn't enough ... There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms ... but the songs weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings."

BEMORE SUPER FABBY (contenderizer), Friday, 13 April 2012 20:32 (2 years ago) Permalink

There were still enough traditionalists around to get might pissed off when Dylan went electric though

Reality Check Cashing Services (Elvis Telecom), Saturday, 14 April 2012 00:06 (2 years ago) Permalink

And don't forget that the old west and cowboys were hugely popular in the 1950s. Certainly since the advent of TV, and probably radio, the people running the stations have had their childhoods (or their parents childhoods) reflected in the mediums.

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Saturday, 14 April 2012 00:20 (2 years ago) Permalink

I'd hazard a guess that astronaut/sci-fi themed culture was equal in proportion to the westerns. Also, you could interpret the 1950s-western as merely American hegemony taking a post-war victory lap or alternatively as comfort food for a spooked American hegemony in the throes of uncertainty.

Reality Check Cashing Services (Elvis Telecom), Saturday, 14 April 2012 00:44 (2 years ago) Permalink

all of this shit is just making me think even more that there is no such thing as retromania its all just made up and depends where you stand on the hillside as to how far away things appear to be

coal, Saturday, 14 April 2012 01:10 (2 years ago) Permalink

^ think this is p otm, though it probably comes & goes in waves, like most things

BEMORE SUPER FABBY (contenderizer), Saturday, 14 April 2012 07:01 (2 years ago) Permalink

Agreed. In the LA Review of Books podcast interview Reynolds talks a bit about moving to Los Angeles and finding Hollywood filled with fake nostalgia and I wondered a bit about how much of his crankiness is fueled by his move.

Reality Check Cashing Services (Elvis Telecom), Saturday, 14 April 2012 07:53 (2 years ago) Permalink

eh it's not just nostalgia and revivalism he's talking about, which yeah happens in every era, but a lack of innovation and originality compared to previous decades - which I think he has a point on (well ...actually i'm seeing some mutation in certain undergrounds but not in the mainstream, which at best is 'now' at times but not exactly new)

Chris S, Saturday, 14 April 2012 08:48 (2 years ago) Permalink

I'm not critiquing the idea that this is particularly retro-besotted era (those come and go), just Reynolds' location of 1965 as musical pop retro's ground zero.

On that note, from the liner notes to Nashville - The Early String Bands Vol. 2 (Country Records, 1976):

Radio came to Nashville in fall of 1925. It didn't take Nashville radio stations long to find out that old-time music had considerable audience appeal. Two years before, Atlanta had begun broadcasting artists like Fiddlin' John Carson, Clayton McMichen and Riley Puckett, and 1924 saw the establishment of the National Barn Dance on Chicago radio. Recordings by fiddlers and old-time singers, which major companies had started making in 1923, were selling handsomely in the South. Henry Ford was sponsoring old-time fiddle contests at every Ford dealership in the South and Mid-West, and arguing in his magazine that America's morals could be revitalized by reviving the old tunes and the old dances to replace "jazz songs".

- Charles Wolfe, Dec. 1975

This passage suggests that "retromania" has existed approximately as long as radio and what we now think of as "country music" in America, and that it's popularity in America has not a little to do with the history of race relations in this country.

BEMORE SUPER FABBY (contenderizer), Saturday, 14 April 2012 18:22 (2 years ago) Permalink

Matt DC are you saying nevermind had no cultural impact in the UK or the US? cuz if you mean the UK i guess i'll have to believe you if you say so

but if you're saying the US, you are straight up crazy.

― amada thuggindiss (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, July 27, 2011 4:27 PM (8 months ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

Weird comment either side of the Atlantic I think. Thought Nevermind pretty instantly became the lp that everybody was playing. That was right in the middle of my band following hitching era. Used to be that if somebody put you up on tour you'd often discover records that you hadn't heard before being played to you then suddenly seemingly everybody was playing that.
& from the proliferation of Nirvana tshirts that were around for the next couple of years it did seem very widespread. Seemed to be a band whose tshirt that was on a lot of 17 year olds from that point on

Stevolende, Sunday, 15 April 2012 15:54 (2 years ago) Permalink

Yea ok I guess that Victorian schtick was kind of a thing in haight-ashbury also?
Very true, but it seemed like a local phenomenon though... Almost as if the old SF Victorian architecture made everyone want to dress up like the gold miners and cowboys who were there a hundred years earlier.

― Reality Check Cashing Services (Elvis Telecom), Friday, April 13, 2012 9:13 PM (2 days ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

Possibly more directly a fashion begun by the members of the Charlatans?
The band that started the local rock scene and also had members who owned antique outlets.
From what I've seen of the styles of the time Victoriana was just one of several, Cowboys, Indians, Valentino-esque arabs and various other film stereotypes being among the more dressy-uppy. I think more prevalent was a style they referred to as 'mod' which was a warped take on Carnaby street and tends to be what you see bands like Jefferson Airplane & the Grateful Dead wearing. doesn't seem to come directly from actual mod but took its name from there.

& thinking of mod it has always struck me as deeply strange that a style (or set of them) that was constantly changing and trying to keep itself as cutting edge as possible should become something stereotypically retro

Stevolende, Sunday, 15 April 2012 19:41 (2 years ago) Permalink

strange that a style (or set of them) that was constantly changing and trying to keep itself as cutting edge as possible should become something stereotypically retro

yeah, but the most self-consciously "up to date" things always date the fastest and usually become what we remember as retro

BEMORE SUPER FABBY (contenderizer), Sunday, 15 April 2012 19:47 (2 years ago) Permalink

8 months pass...

this book is dumb imo

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Wednesday, 2 January 2013 21:18 (1 year ago) Permalink

"I posed the question on I Love Music, the hyper-intelligent discussion board"

vs

hey how about instead you eat my ass you clueless cum bubble

― simon trife (simon_tr), Thursday, September 26, 2002 12:31 AM (10 years ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

finally rich, fun-packed, fulfilling (Whiney G. Weingarten), Wednesday, 2 January 2013 21:23 (1 year ago) Permalink

The library has this book, but I've never gotten around to reading it.

this will surprise many (Nicole), Wednesday, 2 January 2013 21:29 (1 year ago) Permalink

feeling nostalgic for the time when i read this book.

tylerw, Wednesday, 2 January 2013 21:31 (1 year ago) Permalink

yeah, this book is really dumb. As usual he is good at writing condensed histories of bands, scenes or whatever but his theorizing wavers between being utter bullshit or else so totally OTM that it amounts to stating the bleeding obvious.

everything, Wednesday, 2 January 2013 21:38 (1 year ago) Permalink

well tbf after twenty pages i decided to sleep instead but

i. the preface's eliza-carthy-vs-joanna-newsom opposition is problematic -- claiming that carthy feels free to make the kind of record she does because she relates to folk as a living tradition whilst 'freak folk' only works on the basis of record collecting is ... problematic? i mean, yes, i like newsom and don't care for carthy but i don't think reynolds genuinely gives a shit about either, and if he did he'd have realised this makes a bad example.

'it's in her blood' is an icky argument for carthy -- like, any agency she might possess is just thrown out already. meanwhile to claim that yr average freak folk band consists of listening to records from the 70s and tries to Do That is ... silly, i know devendra banhart sings like a young marc bolan but the musical DNA of the thing as the whole is far more to do with the living tradition of jam bands obv --

but then this is also to ignore the fact that 70s folk is itself already in a deeply complicated relationship with the past, is basically forced to invent its own past as it modernises

but then you don't even need to go there, just ... does simon reynolds go to a sunburned hand of the man gig or listen to 'have one on me' and think "yes nothing original is taking place here" because at this point i just totally cease to trust his ears

ii. and then having failed to define his case he sets out to investigate it by narrating in the first person some recent experiences of his own in museums and suchlike -- i know the anecdotal recourse to stuff that's already been on the blog or in the paper is nice for composing a book but i think recalling one's own recent experiences is a bad motor for a book proposing to investigate the notion that recall of one's own &/or the culture's recent experiences has become a (cough cough) cultural dominant

iii. there's, like, two index references to jameson, try harder

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Wednesday, 2 January 2013 22:20 (1 year ago) Permalink

I thought it was entertaining.
Was like reading a 500 page-long old Momus blog post or something (if you're into that kinda thing).

mr.raffles, Thursday, 3 January 2013 03:08 (1 year ago) Permalink

I'm a hundred pages into it. The beginning is kinda rough, as most of his points are pretty obvious, especially if you've read his blogs or interviews. I'm hoping it will get better and more about specifik artists.

Frederik B, Thursday, 3 January 2013 11:33 (1 year ago) Permalink

I think general consensus is it's a good read so long as you take the initial premise with a pinch of salt. Luckily most of this is in the beginning and final chapters, so it's easy to do.

besides Sunny Real Estate (dog latin), Thursday, 3 January 2013 12:32 (1 year ago) Permalink

2 weeks pass...

p. 26-31: reynolds points out that the 'i love the __s' documentaries are banal, with wholly cosmetic reference to derrida

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 02:08 (1 year ago) Permalink

p32-3: barry hogan cited as an authority on the economics of rock music

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 02:10 (1 year ago) Permalink

p33-34: "Musician/critic Momus railed against the 'museumification' of pop, comparing it to the way that classical music has a repertory of 'venerated masterpieces' that are endlessly reinterpreted."

...

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 02:12 (1 year ago) Permalink

"Mitchell and Forsyth and Pollard were forthcoming and engaged about all these 'how' aspects of their re-enactment projects. But somehow the 'why' kept eluding us in our conversations. The same thing happened when I checked out art criticism on this subject, which left me with little more than a vague impression that the work was timely and resonant."

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 02:27 (1 year ago) Permalink

"But what's really significant isn't so much the 'total recall' as the instant access that the Web's cultural databases make possible. In the pre-Internet era, there was already way more information and culture than any individual could digest. But most of this culture data and culture matter was stashed out of our everyday reach, in libraries, museums and galleries. Nowadays search engines have obliterated the delays involved in searching through a library's murky, maze-like stacks."

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 02:29 (1 year ago) Permalink

best way to read this is as reynolds trying to externalise his own midlife crisis + read its features on the culture at large, i think -- when you personally stop practising exegesis and just process cultural developments as a series of trends it's easy to imagine that the trends that are going on are uniquely empty of semantic content -- what's funny is how when he actually bestirs himself to *think* about the modes of past-obsessed music (like in the section on nico muhly and ohneotrix point never) it sounds like it is doing something interesting, vital, original

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 13:05 (1 year ago) Permalink

suspicions:

i. the global archive existed in our heads before it was a reality, which is why none of the stuff he isolates is exactly *new*
ii. it took a decade or two longer for the situation to become as obvious in pop music (by which i mean 'everything except improv and classical') because it's impossible to make 'historical pop music' in the same way as it is possible to make a 'historical film' or write a 'historical novel' -- so pop music appeared to continue to do 'new things'
iii. addiction to the novum, as an aesthetic mode, is as much a symptom of culture under capitalism as dependence on pastiche

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 13:11 (1 year ago) Permalink

Tell me that quote from Momus was laughed at by Reynolds.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 20 January 2013 13:50 (1 year ago) Permalink

no!!

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 14:05 (1 year ago) Permalink

his cultural myopia is astounding : ipod, therefore i am a "pilgrim's progress for the twenty-first century music fanatic"

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 14:56 (1 year ago) Permalink

this two pages after he's ragging on paul morley for sounding too much like a wired writer who refers to steve jobs 'building his brand like michelangelo painted the sistine chapel' ( = from a scaffold, presumably)

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 14:57 (1 year ago) Permalink

whatever.

i'm enjoying this so far. only 'wha?' moment for me was when he lumped 'naturals' in as a retro porn fad.

sometimes tits are just tits, man.

gnarly_sceptre (+ +), Sunday, 20 January 2013 20:42 (1 year ago) Permalink

thanks for yr contribution to the thread

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Sunday, 20 January 2013 21:12 (1 year ago) Permalink


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