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Get over “Retromania” and Move Forward

Get over “Retromania” and Move Forward

As long as I am in this music posting mode., I might as well tell you about another article I recently read in The Atlantic.

First the setup: I bought the October 2011 issue of Mojo Magazine last week, and the CD compilation that came with it is titled Return to The Dark Side of the Moon, a reinvention of the original 1973 album by several groups covering the songs plus a few songs from Wish You Were Here.

I put the disc in my car and listened to it on the way to work and on the way home.  I’d probably listened to the Pink Floyd album at least a hundred times, so I know it note by note, word by word. I was, however, not familiar with any of the artists on the reinvention album, and I ended up liking a few of the covers. I especially liked The Pineapple Thief’s cover of “Money.”  But, I was much more interested in hearing another band performing “The Great Gig in the Sky,” because that track – with the wordless melody sung by Clare Torry –  tripped me out more than anything else on the record.  How could anyone cover that song?  The Last Hurrah!! gave it a go but it was kind of a letdown.  So when I got home I figured what the hell, I’ll just load up my Pink Floyd cd’s, listen to the original recordings, and chill while drinking a beer.

The new issue of The Atlantic had arrived in the mail that day and I came across an article by JamesParker titled, “Everything Old – Our obsession with music nostalgia is strangling pop.” I thought to myself: This is weird. Here I am, listening to an album recorded 38 years ago that sold over 45 million copies reading an article about our obsession with music nostalgia. I was thinking I should change out the cd’s before reading it because I am not one of those people that is stuck in some kind of time warp where the only music I listen to now is music I discovered while in high school and college. (I left the Floyd running.)

So I read through the article:

Has pop culture, uh, stopped? Why do the major musical developments of the past decade include Guitar Hero, reunion tours, hip karaoke, the rise of the tribute band, pop stars made entirely from bits of other pop stars, and Van Morrison re-performing Astral Weeks? Lady Gaga, bless her radical retro soul, is Cher after three weeks in Warhol’s Factory. Cee Lo is Motown with swearing. This month, even as Roger Waters breaks temporarily from his transglobal plod-through of Pink Floyd’s 32-year-old rock opera, The Wall, Roger Daltrey sallies forth with a production of The Who’s 42-year-old rock opera, Tommy. One salutes the unkillability of these gentlemen, one reveres their work, but, honestly.

Early in Retromania, Simon Reynolds’s recent compendious and slightly nauseating (in a good way) account of pop-cultural backward-looking, the author visits 315 Bowery—once the site of the punk club CBGB, now a John Varvatos clothing boutique. Reynolds is on the heritage trail: he’s already been to the British Music Experience in London…

The floating simultaneity and endless availability of all recorded music, the deadening sophistication of the average listener—these are not spurs to Art. “It’s glaringly obvious,” Reynolds writes (indisputably in my view), “that all the astounding, time-space rearranging developments in the dissemination, storing and accessing of audio data have not spawned a single new form of music.” The key word in there is data. Encoded, flattened, trimmed, compressed, and abused, music in the digital age is turning its back on us. It’s a fact, Jack: MP3s sound horrible. I suspect they are bad for your brain. Dionysus will not be treated as information.

We might of course be old farts, Reynolds and I, with old-fart ears and old-fart memories, freaked out by the world that is blossoming at our old-fart fingertips. It may be that to complain (as he does) of feeling “splayed and stuffed” when you go online is merely to say: Yes, I am middle-aged. But Retromania goes deeper. Burrowing backward in search of retro’s first cause, Reynolds traces the reactionary roots of punk rock—its claim to be rescuing rock and roll from the bloatations of the early ’70s.

He concludes with “the fix is in” as if it’s all been done, so what now?

Well I disagree.  The fix is not in.  There are so many new bands making really great music these days. I left the article thinking that Mr. Parker needs to stop thinking and writing about the past and start paying attention to bands that are making great music now.  He thinks that many new artists borrow from the past, but I say, who doesn’t?  So what?  It’s okay to take something from the past as long as you don’t just copy it, but move it forward.

So James Parker and Simon Reynolds, if you come across this site, may I suggest for your listening pleasure the following bands:

Capsula (my favorite band right now)

The Duke Spirit (my favorite band before I heard Capsula)

Grinderman (featuring my favorite singer and song writer, Nick Cave)

Sons and Daughters

First Communion After Party (a new discovery via Tulip Frenzy)

Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter (recently discovered by James Buckley at Tulip Frenzy)

White Denim

The Pimps of Joytime (another new discovery)

Saul Williams

Wild Flag (familiar faces in a new band)

…just to name a few, and yeah they sometimes borrow from the past, but they are using what they borrow to make new and exciting music.

Listen to their music.  Move forward.