Sunday, November 06, 2005

john darnielle had a few comments about my A Past Gone Mad post, the first in a series (where have you heard that before eh? no honest this time I mean it) , namely, in reference to the idea i suggested of a loss of a sense of forward temporal propulsion, he wondered:

"is there such an erosion? Or is that sense of forward movement something that dies for everyone, and for every generation, in some new and different way, via different signals? Is there an historical narrative here (one didn't used to see this, now one does), or is there rather a mythic narrative, one which is occult 'til a person (you; me) has been kicking around long enough to notice it, at which point it's a new story? After all - in older pop worlds (jazz, classical really [Vienna being a very pop> scene in its day, albeit with shockingly different social cues & mores], vaudeville) the same entertainers-sticking-around-as-long-as-they-possibly-can tendency is also present; see also film, where Bela Lugosi was appearing in whatever no-budget production would have him, stage or screen, up to the week of his death. And Maria Callas starring in Pasolini's Medea after her voice was shot. Chaplain's "Limelight." Etc".

to which I responded:

"Well some of this had crossed my mind a bit--the idea that entertainers keep on treading the boards and always have done (cos what else can they do?). but i think there's differences. one is that the reformation thing--bands coming back after having split up, a long time after they split up--is pretty unique to rock/pop. (As is the tribute/clone band thing, come to think of it). i also think that showbiz/variety/MOR/whatever you want to call, it is not based around the idea of moving forward/progression etc as rock was in its identity-defining heyday, either on the macro level of the music-culture and on the individual level of the career (the artistic need to progress, change styles, a big jump with each album, etc). i do think rock is uniquely afflicted by this retro inundation effect--and it's made worse because you have a whole bunch of syndromes going on at once. You have the natural greying of the music 40 years into its existence (bands just carrying on, becoming cabaret versions of themselves), you have the endless reformations, you have the reissue explosion; you also have sampling and the whole 'record collection rock' thing i've written about. You get remakes of songs and cover versions. Mash up culture. You have an explosion of historical documentation: TV and film documentaries, books, magazines that are heavily slanted to retro like Uncut and Mojo, at least in their features. And then there's all the spin-off issues, like the Mojo specials: magazines that are like smallbooks, one on synthpop/New Romanticism, one on ska/2-Tone, one on punk, one on prog, and so on; some on individual bands like The Clash. NME has done all these similar books, basically reprints of old reviews and interviews: one on Britpop, one on Manchester--really recent history becoming dug-up, in a way that feels premature to me. Then you factor in VH1, all the endless documentarys, the I Love the 80s, I Love the 90s things, etc. So I do think it is a unique predicament for rock music and for this era--it started a while ago, but it just keeps building and building, and I wonder if it's reaching a tipping point, when the present is buried in the past.

"One thing that chimes with your point about MOR folk treading the boards forever, though is that I remembered Broadway Danny Rose, where the guy that Woody Allen's character is managing is a washed up MOR singer who had one hit in the 60s. But then "the nostalgia circuit starts to take off" and the guy's career gets a big shot in the arm, which is why he ditches Woody for a big-name manager. But then it's actually kinda hazy what era Broadway Danny Rose is set in, anyway... but it did make me curious about nostalgia, and about when it actually became an industry. The first nostalgia phenom I can remember is 1920s nostalgia in the early Seventies, which was in fashion, in movies like The Sting. I wonder if there have been any historical studies of nostalgia? Were there nostalgia crazes in the Victorian era, in the 18th Century?"

John also wondered:
"is this an erosion of our sense of time, or is it a clearer view of time? When we stop moving forward, might it not be the case that we only noticed we weren't really moving forward in the first place? I don't think of this as a depressing possibility but a liberating one, since I suffer from the dual attractions of classical studies & poetry, where the possibility that time is a painting rather than a film drives further engagement. The best point of a night out dancing, I mean, are those moments in which one feels certain that the flow of time has been somehow changed - the sorts of words used to describe this feeling, such as "lost in the moment," point directly at this thirst for an ahistorical experience of life/music/what-have-you."

to which i responded:
"that's a good point, but i think the kind of "in the now"/"outside time"experience you talk about to do with dancing is something different from retro time. i think there's some Greek term for that kind of ecstatic immersion in the now, kairos maybe, it's the opposite of chronos, which is like the everyday time of routine and work and going about your business. Kairos, if i've got the word right, it means intensified time or epiphanic time, or ritual time--something like that. At any rate i think it's different from retro time--there's an uncanniness when you see certain bands where it all refers back to a period in rock history. Or a reformation, seeing Gang of Four live on their current tour was strange and bleak, as powerful as they still areas a band. I always felt the rave-now was a kind of future-now, like the music was totally immersing you in the present moment but somehow that moment was tilting into the future at the same time."

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