Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Pixies, Doolittle, and our addiction to nostalgia

Simon Reynold's Retromania is a must-buy for pop culture fans

Posted by Chris Haire on Thu, Jul 14, 2011 at 8:21 AM

I haven't had the chance to see Super 8, the J.J. Abrams-directed, Steven Speilberg-produced sci-fi flick, and I can't say that I'm particularly anxious to either. After all, Super 8 looks like yet another unwelcome ode to nostalgia, the primary style in these naval-gazing, do-nothing times.

From what I have seen and read thus far — articles, trailers, movie posters — Abrams quite consciously lifts from Speilberg's late '70's-early '80's oeuvre: Close Encounters (which he wrote and directed), E.T. (which he directed), Goonies (which he produced), and Poltergeist (which he wrote, produced, and more or less directed). And while those flicks were certainly charming in their day and age, they are quite honestly of a time and to try to mimic that is to create not a new work but to recreate a piece of history ... and to fail at doing so.

The truth is, nostalgia is never completely satisfying. It's tempting, yes. And it can be a pleasant albeit bittersweet experience, but it does not excite the soul the way that a new creation does.

British writer Simon Reynolds examines these ideas quite well in his book, Retromania: Pop Culture Addiction to Its Own Past. As you some of you know, I've been harping on this matter for some time now — whether I'm trashing Girl Talk or dissing Glee — so it was quite nice to discover that our current cultural obsession with mashups and remixes, reboots and remakes had become a cultural obsession for someone else.

So far, I've only made it through the intro, and let me tell you, it packs a wallop. Here's a taste of it:

We live in a pop age gone loco for retro and crazy for commemoration. Band reformations and reunion tours, tribute albums and box sets, anniversary festivals and live performances of classic albums: each new year is better than the last one for music from yesteryear.

Could it be that the greatest danger to the future of our music culture is ... its past?

Maybe that sounds unecessarily apocalyptic. But the scenario I'm imagining isn't a cataclysm so much as a gradual wind down. This is the way that pop ends, not with a bang but with a box set whose fourth disc you never get around to playing and an overpriced ticket to the track-by-track restaging of the Pixies or Pavement album you played to death in your first year at university.

Interesting, yes?

Of course, I hope that doesn't stop you from picking up tickets for the Pixies' show at the North Charleston Coliseum when they go sale tomorrow. Doolittle is a great album, and I'm sure it'll be great to hear it live. As for me, I got my Doolittle fix last week. Unfortunately, it's a feeling that pales in comparison to hearing it when it was a groundbreaking work and not a pop culture museum piece.

Now, if only there was something out there today that was as fresh and exciting as Doolittle was in its day.

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