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Monday, 18 August 2014

Nostalgia for an age yet to come

A recent conversation touches on the subject of nostalgia in music. Yeah, nostalgia.

It's awful but unavoidable, I say. Memories (definitely not based on nostalgia) come to mind of Radio One in the 1970s. Playing “oldies” like The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas, The Beatles, The Kinks. Or even Elvis Presley. Bewilderingly ancient stuff when you’re 14 and it’s 1978. Why do they always play the same records, you sort of (dimly) ask yourself. You put up with it. Then, gradually, gropingly, John Peel drags you out of the mire, the quicksand of the old-but-supposedly-loved ...

Great! Now it’s all Spizz Energi, The Lurkers, Siouxsie And The Banshees. Brand new stuff. Except ... then there's that corny Peel institution the All-Time Festive 50, showing us even then that punks had quickly become the new conservatives. Always voting Anarchy In The UK and Love Will Tear Us Apart into the top three. No more Beatles or Rolling Stones indeed.

Worse, John Peel then apparently has to fend off wave after wave of refuseniks. People hating rap (“What's this Sugarhill Records crap?”), hating acid house, hating drum and bass, hating grindcore, hating nu-Country (er, no, that was probably me actually). Oh god, take me back, back to the Roxy ... Nostalgia for “real punk” (for “77 Punk” as I’ve recently seen it described) has probably been the most virulent strain of all the nostalgias of recent decades. Punk’s not dead etc, but it certainly likes to revive the nearly-dead ...

So, as I say, it’s awful. But nostalgia's also horribly unavoidable. Reformed bands. Tours to promote “classic” albums. Faithful” (ie reverential and deeply boring) cover versions. It goes on and on, and over time … it doesn’t get any better. Unsurprisingly, the world of commerce treats all music as one giant set of "nostalgia" buttons - ready to be pressed whenever it aids the selling process. Bit of Rock The Casbah. Kerching! Bit of Girl From Mars. Sold mate!

Nostalgia milked for profit is surely one of the most nauseating aspects of modern life. It almost makes you want to flee the present, to seek out a better time.

In a recent WIRE review of a book about hyper-dedicated record collectors (indeed collectors of 78s from the 1930s), Sukhdev Sandhu quotes a collector who says the intense appeal of this collecting is that it's "a world that can save you from the modern world". Right. It's a beyond-nostalgia form of nostalgia. There are better worlds ...



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