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

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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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five 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 (five years ago) Permalink

eight months pass...

this book is dumb imo

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

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


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 (five years 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 (five years ago) Permalink

feeling nostalgic for the time when i read this book.

tylerw, Wednesday, 2 January 2013 21:31 (five years 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 (five years 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 (five years 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 (five years 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 (five years 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 (five years ago) Permalink

two 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 (five years 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 (five years 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 (five years 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 (five years 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 (five years 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 (five years ago) Permalink


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 (five years ago) Permalink

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

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 20 January 2013 13:50 (five years ago) Permalink


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


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 (five years ago) Permalink

thanks for yr contribution to the thread

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

two weeks pass...

feel like this belongs in here:
not entirely sure what his point is, though! the 12-year-olds-think-rodriguez-is-bob-dylan comment is pretty lol-some though.

tylerw, Thursday, 7 February 2013 17:49 (four years ago) Permalink

this belongs here too, i suppose:
i dunno, this all ends up depressing me, like i should feel guilty for enjoying reissues of old stuff. why? should i feel guilty about reading henry james? [not to say that's the authors of these pieces' intention, but whenever i read this stuff, that's how i end up feeling. think about my feelings.]

tylerw, Thursday, 7 February 2013 17:55 (four years ago) Permalink

Yesterday I read an interesting anecdote about Paul Weller. Apparently an early review accused him of being a "revivalist" because of the clear debt owed to Pete Townshend. He cut it out, stuck it on a piece of cardboard and below it wrote "How can I be a fucking revivalist when I'm only 18?".

This struck me in particular because he was "reviving" a style that was less than 10 years old! I was a child of the 70s and a teenager of the 80s, and in retrospect culture was certainly moving very fast but can you imagine being accused of revising something from 2004 today?

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Thursday, 7 February 2013 18:53 (four years ago) Permalink

no, in part because we're pretty conscious of what every 2004 artist was reviving themselves

da croupier, Thursday, 7 February 2013 19:42 (four years ago) Permalink

the 12-year-olds-think-rodriguez-is-bob-dylan comment is pretty lol-some though.

not really related but it made me think of when Dylan went to china a couple years back and the young folks in the audience were singing along way more to his newer stuff than the old classics. Thought that was pretty cool.

brimstead, Thursday, 7 February 2013 20:06 (four years ago) Permalink

i'm guilty of overrating some things because they have a compelling back story or w/e, but ... who cares? back story is part of the fun. i think at this point, that rodriguez album is probably overrated. it's good but not THE MOST AMAZING RECORD YOU NEVER HEARD or anything. but that doesn't mean it's not a fun thing to listen to/think about/etc.

tylerw, Thursday, 7 February 2013 20:09 (four years ago) Permalink

two years pass...

so what do people think now? i really feel that in the years since this book came out i've been less bombarded with revivalism and 'retro' stuff in general. sure there are reissues and reunion shows and things, but they seem easily take-or-leave. it's quite nice really, compared to the last decade's infatuation with everything eighties.

just listening to old mixes i made myself in 2009, there was a strong stylised retrospective feel in even the most future-facing music which seemed to permeate the majority of the tracks - everything's very blocky and synthetic. and even though we've seen the popularity of things like 'uptown funk' and 'get lucky', which are obviously influenced by certain things from the past, they feel very much a product of today by comparison.

i dunno, i just don't feel as overloaded by retro-faddiness as even a few years ago. maybe it's an illusion, maybe not...


9 days from now a.k.a next weekend. (dog latin), Friday, 7 August 2015 15:09 (two years ago) Permalink

yeah things like 'play the whole album live, in order' feels like they've peaked. or maybe we just got used to it all?

piscesx, Friday, 7 August 2015 15:15 (two years ago) Permalink


and i think it's a totally natural and reactionary response to the music environment of the past six years. i've definitely heard things out of the punk and electronic circles lately that have me go "hmmm, that sounds new" or "oh they're actually kinda striving for something. i CAN'T just reduce that to an album from 1972"

it was gonna meet a dead-end eventually as technology and tastes evolved and we're in the midst of that right now

hackshaw, Friday, 7 August 2015 22:45 (two years ago) Permalink

Not music-related (unless you can't yuck, etc) but I've been thinking about it recently as we're in the midst of a 90s culture revival.

Insane Prince of False Binaries (Gukbe), Friday, 7 August 2015 23:50 (two years ago) Permalink

in terms of attitude and style, i think this generation takes a lot from the 90's just as they did from the 70's. and punk has definitely factored back into indie rock in a big way.... which it wasn't for awhile.

there's different things kinda happening at the same time thanks to the vastness of the internet. so there's no set theme as a of yet. but in comparison to the 2000's i think things are a bit "edgier"

the whole deal about getting shafted by the real world is very much at play which could be a little brother accomplice to the nineties kids who experienced the same thing

hackshaw, Saturday, 8 August 2015 00:17 (two years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

It's remarkable to see the long-term effects of how the internet reinforces and destroys geographical and temporal identities. The concepts that culture used to be able to rely on: authenticity, the underground, capitalism have been made irrelevant by an attention-based economy. At risk of sounding like an "I was there maaaann!" gen-x'er, I think that 90s ideas of trying harder at not giving a shit may just be the way to survive whatever hell you have to go through to be a creative in 2015.

Elvis Telecom, Monday, 24 August 2015 23:44 (two years ago) Permalink

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