In Which the Prof Acknowledges He’s Pierre Menard.

Ran across an interesting article by recent blogrollee Alan Cross, on the subject of nostalgia, especially musical:

[Author Simon Reynolds] points out that for the first time in human history, we’ve never been this obsessed with our own immediate past.  Retro isn’t some antiquarian pursuit.  We’re nostalgic for things within recent living memory.

We still worship the music of the 60s.  The rock giants of the 70s — Zeppelin, the Stones — are as big as they ever were.  Clubs still hold Retro 80s nights and acts like OMD and Spandau Ballet are on the road again.  Lately, it’s been all about celebrating the grunge era of the 90s with reunions (Soundgarden), documentaries (Pearl Jam) and commemorative CD reissues (Nirvana, U2).

Meanwhile, current acts have become very successful by recycling the past.  I love the White Stripes, but hasn’t Jack White just put a fresher garage-rock spin on the blues?  The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand and Interpol are New Wave and post-punk with new coats of paint.  Isn’t Lady Gaga just Madonna 2.0?  And while Adele, Amy and Duffy have made brilliant records, they sound like something transported ahead from 1966.

This in turn reminded me of a passage from Frank Zappa’s book:

When you compute the length of time between The Event and The Nostalgia For The Event, the span seems to be about a year less in each cycle. Eventually within the next quarter of a century, the nostalgia cycles will be so close together that people will not be able to take a step without being nostalgic for the one they just took. At that point, everything stops. Death by Nostalgia. [Emphases in original — Prof. M]

Of course, I openly acknowledge that my band intends to carry the sound of 1966 — heck, we use that in our promo material. So, does that make my fellow Berries and me part of the problem? Again, I find myself turning to “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” While I’m writing and playing music that crested before I was out of diapers (and well before half my band was even born), like Menard I’m trying to write it from the workshop of my own life and experiences. I don’t play it as a gimmick, and I try not to write it as an actor creating a role (at least no more than any writer does)  — I play it and write it because I mean it, and it comes out like it does. Likewise, I don’t listen to the stuff I listen to because I want to somehow recapture an idealized mid-to-late 60s — I listen to it because I love the energy and passionate desperation of these guys who might only have had one shot to say what they wanted to say. Likewise, the Berries are my current shot at saying what’s on my mind.

At this point, it may be worth remembering that Zappa himself made Cruising with Rubin and the Jets, a collection of 50s/doowop music which he called his “neo-classical” work. In the liner notes, he talks about the greasy simplicity of the milieu in which he was working, but at the same time he protested that the guys “really love[d]” the music. Maybe that’s where I am as well. Or maybe I’m overthinking all this stuff.

After all, it’s only rock and roll. And I still like it.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Music, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to In Which the Prof Acknowledges He’s Pierre Menard.

  1. The Ancient says:

    Yet another example of the deleterious influence of the boomers, who just won’t shut up and die. (But give them time, give them time.)

    BTW, it’s useful to remember that sixties music — as people experienced it — wasn’t anything like what you hear on satellite radio’s sixties channel. First, it was all a big mash-up, all the time: hard rock, soft rock, Motown, pop, an occasional country cross-over. That’s what was coming out of the radio in your dashboard. Second, it was very current — you didn’t hear songs from the year before. (Except if you were near a jukebox.) Third, you never heard blues music. (If a major AM station had played Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor in prime drive time, heads would have exploded.) Fourth, the overwhelming majority of people had pretty eclectic tastes — see, for example, “John Lennon’s Jukebox.” And fifth, the good music peaked in 65/66, after which it started swirling round the drainpipe, culminating in a lot of the crap now played by the infamous Cousin Brucie.

    Still, when I moved to Europe at the end of the sixties, I made a point of listening to Armed Forces radio. Because rock-and-roll is really impossible in French.


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