Monday, May 28, 2012

FOOTNOTES for Prologue: DON'T LOOK BACK:  Nostalgia and Retro


How humans have thought of the past (and the present and future) has varied hugely between epochs and across cultures, of course;  conceptions of  History and Change have changed through history.  There's an immense literature on Time that encompasses philosophy, psychology, the study of religion, and anthropology.  My interest, though, is not really in Time in any absolute philosophical or phenomenological sense, but in what could be called culture-time:  which is to say various competing ideas of what the past, present and future represent, how they relate to each other, along with notions like Zeitgeist or spirit of an age, and so forth. And my concern is really with how these issues have played on in recent history,  which is to say, the last half-century of Western popular culture: the different uses we make of  the past, the pressures that the past's relentless accumulation places on us,  and the implications this holds for pop's future. 


Alvin "Future Shock" Toffler noted that American conservatives like Barry Goldwater and George Wallace, who believed in small town values, had much in common with the hippies who formed "rural communes" and indulged in "exaggerated veneration of pre-technological societies."   Conservatism and counterculture both expressed a profound dissatisfaction with urban modernity, what sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies characterized as the the shift from Gemeinschaft  (organic community) to Gesellschaft  (society based around exchange relationships and the market).  And more often than not for similar reasons:  the existential instability and erosion of community that accompany a society organized around the profit motive, corporate oligopoly, and runaway economic development.

 Fascination for the era that immediately preceded your own is a common phenomenon.  Even during the early Sixties--the era of early space travel, Kennedy's new frontier, Phil Spector---you had people like the Pop Artists who were as infatuated with the Art Deco design of the pre-WW2 era as with the modern world.  "I think that they were much more modern than we feel now," said Roy Lichenstein of the era of the World Fairs.

In my case, as a teenager in the late Seventies, even as I was absorbed by postpunk, I was extremely interested in the Sixties: I read books like Playpower and the Situationist compendium Leaving the 20th Century,  and listened to The Doors, the Beatles, and the Stones.  I'd actually been biologically alive through all this but I hadn't been culturally present, give or take "Yellow Submarine" on the radio and young mums in mini-skirts and dolly-bird hair.


British folk revival / song collectors

Ken Russell talking about Cecil Sharp and song collectors and playing some 78s


Eliza Carthy versus freak folk
In some ways, I admire Carthy the tradition-maintainer/extender much more than the frekl folk/free folk, who have more than a slight tinge of hipster about them. At the same time, and perhaps indicating my own fatal infection with the retro-virus, I've enjoyed records by Wooden Wand, Joanna Newsom, et al,  much more than the Eliza Carthy albums I've heard. 

Freak folkers are painfully hip, but I don't think they are quite hipsters in the full pejorative sense. There is a real longing there, an idealization of the past, and a belief that the modes of music-making of that time (where certain folk styles met up with improvisation and non-Western trance music) are spiritually richer than modern music.  In that sense you could perhaps consider the free folk scene  closer to a genuine revival scene -- cults such as Northern Soul that were driven by a belief that History took the wrong fork in the path of time.  Free folk, however, is a revival of a revival (specifically, the more hippie, wacked-out end of the folk movement), so there is a kind of second-order, copy-of-a-copy aspect. 


Rough sketch for a typology of music movements in terms of their relationship to the past

Traditional:  Music genres that evolve slowly (to the point of seeming at a standstill, from the standpoint of the impatient and future-minded), through barely discernible increments, and whose relation with the past is one of respect.  Folk or ethnic musics are good examples, but you could equally argue that British indie rock has become a tradition of this kind.  When they become too hung-up on protecting the purity of a form, or too dependent on either government funding or tourism revenue, traditions become heritage styles, mummified and static.

Modernist: A fast-moving, dialectical genre which propels itself forward through reacting against its own immediate past; each new style breaks with the preceding one through inversion or swerve, often accompanied by gestures of repudiation, irreverence and ritual patricide.  Rock as a whole in the Sixties was modernist; thereafter particular subgenres of rock (prog, postpunk, some strands of metal) were.  Techno and electronica were modernist in the Nineties but only fitfully so in the following decade.  

Revivalist: A conscious reversion to an earlier stage of musical history, or resurrection of a lost style, usually accessed through recordings and other archival deposits.  The relationship with the past is extreme reverence mingled with a painful, futile desire to turn back Time; the relationship with the present is rejection and secession. 

Retro:  Playful appropriation and recombination of materials from the musical past that's neither especially reverent or especially irreverent, but looks for delight, amusement, wonder, thrills, surprise. Although there may well be an element of dissatisfaction with the present day music scene,  retro is not motivated by the profound alienation felt by the revivalist; it's more on the level of "how come they don't make cool stuff like this anymore".  Retro is about enhancing the present (improving its décor) rather than escaping it.

Revenant:  Close to retro in method and sensibility, but more ambivalent and haunted,  self-consciously concerned with questions of memory, loss, abandoned or unrecoverable utopias.   


An Incomplete Chronology / List of Revival in Popular Music

Trad Jazz

Folk Revival

Rock'n'Roll Revival

Northern Soul

Pub Rock

Then Beatlemania Redux (beatlemania theatre show, ELO, Rutles movie, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club awful movie with Frampton, Beegees etc)

Sixties Revival #1: Power Pop

Sixties Revival #2: Mod Revival

Psychedelia Revival #1: Soft Boys.

Ska Revival

Rockabilly Revival #2: Cramps, Polecats, Gun Club, Stray Cats, Panther Burns,

Zoot Suits: Salsa, Latin music, big band (ZE, Kid Creole, Modern Romance, Blue Rondo A La Turk) 

Soul Revival (Sixties version): Dexy's Midnight Runners, Costello's Get Happy!, Big Sound Authority, Faith Brothers.

Sixties Revival #3: The Television Personalities, The Times,

 Psychedelia Revival #2: Teardrop Explodes, Echo & the Bunnymen

Garage punk #1: The Chesterfield Kings, The Lyres, the Prisoners, The Milkshakes, The Barracudas, the Hoodoo Gurus

Cow-punk, Americana, Alt-Country

Sixties Revival #4:  Compact Records, Mari Wilson, Respond
Psychedelia Revival #3: The New Psychedelia-- Mood Six, Shelle Dolance & the Amazing Sherbert Exposure, and Marble Staircase, Dr. and the Medics
Psychedelia Revival #4: Paisley Underground (Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate)

Soul Revival (Seventies version): The Style Council, The Christians, Kane Gang

Sixties Revival #5: Creation Records -- Biff Bang Pow!, The Revolving Paint Dream, Nikki Sudden and the Jacobites, Primal Scream, Jesus & Mary Chain.

Folk Revival (Men They Couldn't Hang, Pogues, Band of Holy Joy, Mekons)

C86 -- Sixties, Velvet Underground, girl groups, punk, DIY, 

Hard 'n' heavy rock revival: The Cult, Zodiac Mindwarp, grebo

Acid rock revival -- Spacemen 3, Butthole Surfers, Walking Seeds

Doom metal: Saint Vitus

New Wave of New Wave

Britpop: patriotic mish-mash of Sixties pop, glam, and New Wave

Romo: 1995’s premature attempt at New Romantic/synthpop revivalism

Ska Revival Revival: No Doubt, the Mighty Mightly Bosstones.

Swing Revival: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Hepcat

Garage punk #2

Freak folk

Postpunk Revival

"Golden Age of Rap" Revival: The Cool Kids, Ugly Duckling, Kidz in the Hall, The Knux

Soul Revival: Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Duffy, Adelle

Nu Rave

C86 Revival -- the Pains of Being Pure At Heart, The Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, Frankie Rose

Shoegaze revival

Late Eighties UK psych-heavy revival revival: The Men

Yacht rock revival:  Destroyer's Kaputt

(towards the end these cease to be revivals as such, and more like phases in an artist's influence-trajectory, or modalities for a particular album or project -- exercises, or genre studies) (there is no sense of identity formation, making a stand with a style as 'what i'm about')

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