Ad nauseam homage won’t move us forward, but it might leave us behind.
So I’m at a party the other night and someone says, “I can’t stand Pink Floyd anymore,” which results in everything from gasps and pointed fingers to good old-fashioned vinyl junkie indignation. But I instantly agreed, listing other bands whose songs no longer hold any meaning for me.
The Beatles, The Doors, Zeppelin, early Van Halen: I kill the car radio when any of these come on the air and groan when I find myself somewhere where this crap is being fed to the public. Timeless my ass. Listen to any song 300,000 times in 20 (or 40) years and you’ll agree. There’s no excuse for commercial radio’s being so monotonous, but despite the digital world kicking it out the door it truly is. (Though what’s an iPod if not customized classic rock radio?)
A few days after the party I came across this very same argument presented far better at Retrospace and I’m now convinced that everyone hates Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” as much as I do. But nothing moves my hand to the dial faster than the first two chords of that re-used condom, “Light My Fire.” Ugh! Except for The Clash (and even they don’t get a completely free pass thanks to “Rock the Casbah”), really any song from the ‘80s makes me wanna hit the gas and steer the car towards a gas pump.
This is the point in the discussion where the justifying usually starts: “Well sure! They only play three or four of the same songs from these bands, so who wouldn’t be sick of ‘em?”
Right. But it’s more than “sick of.” The way your hand violently harpoons the radio when “Baba O’Reilly” comes on looks a lot more like hate. It also feels like hate, and it’s just as swift and prejudicial as hate too. You still shush others when they suggest you find a Beatles record to discover unfamiliar songs. So let’s be clear here: this is hate. I hate the Beatles, as I now know many people do, some even at the academic level.
The problem is, it isn’t just music. We’re culturally constipated. Wretchedly little imagination is slipping past the blockage. Of the inspired artists that do, too many are crafty mimics, borrowing from eras or creations not their own. None of this is news to anyone in 2011. Thankfully, it’s now being asked if nostalgia is stopping our culture’s ability to surge forward. Or are we nostalgic precisely because the culture has stopped moving forward?
One fairly informative cross-examination of this idea is Simon Reynolds, author of, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, and Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture. With his latest effort, Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past, he reports on what I like to call America’s re-make sickness, as well as the likelihood that demographic dynamos like Brazil, China, and India, will likely replace the Western world as our future source of entertainment and cultural inspiration. And seeing as I don’t mean dabbling in Ravi Shankar around some ingested acid, you Beatle-huffers and Boomers out there might want to think about that for a second. Every one of us slothful eaters of media dog food just may need such a shock.