RETRO is SO Five Years Ago - Society's MEMORY Problem
MUSIC is not a GENRE - Season 2 Episode #23
ALL ABOUT IT
Tons of years ago, I created this cartoon character named Feek. As you can see on this shirt, he’s essentially a big-mouthed head with legs & feet.His whole purpose for existence is to shout things into general space that you’d be too timid to say otherwise. Some of his phrases (or Snerks) are more funny than angry, some the other way around. But ALL of them are observational. About feelings, issues, or the world in general. SIDE NOTE: A couple of years ago, my partner Cathryn & I started the company SnerkShirts by FEEK.We’re now selling Feek t-shirts, and will be expanding to masks & mugs & long-sleeves. SIDE NOTE OVER!
One of the phrases I had him shout was, “Retro is SO five years ago.” Get it? Yup. Aside from the wordplay, what I was saying was that there’s always something we’re looking back on, something we’re revisiting or recreating. And it doesn’t take more than ten or fifteen years for us to consider an era far past enough for us to characterize it, miss it, and want to recapture it in some way.
Think of the musical, Grease. It came out in 1971, barely a decade after the 1950s ended. Or how grunge adopted so much of the 1970s, again barely a decade out. Or how the Neptunes started using 1980s style production and sounds NOT EVEN a decade out. The list is extensive.
It’s part nostalgia, part fascination and fetishization, part excitement and rediscovery or even brand-new discovery. It’s reductive, as all nostalgia is, and often tends to overlook the negative in favor of the fond memories. Whether it’s deliberate rose glasses or willful ignorance, the end result can range from clever repurposing or reinvention (like most of the Neptunes’ catalogue or the band Unlocking the Truth) to lovingly faithful homage (like Grease or even The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”) to no more than an echo of substance (like Greta Van Fleet ... so far at least, or most of what the Black Keys do).
But repeating the past can be something other than nostalgia. It can be a complete accident. It can be the subconscious thinking it’s created something new and revolutionary that’s been sometimes over and over. It’s the old “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” schtick.
Your response to all of the above says a lot about you. It might reveal your age, your era, the era you wish you lived through, or the era you have no experience or knowledge of. It might shine a light on your socio-economic upbringing, whether or not you grew up privileged or semi-privileged or super underprivileged or somewhere in the middle. It might just show how open or accepting you are to anything that sounds good to you. Or it might bring out your inner critic - the one who believes that if someone is going to repeat the past, they damn well better get it right and make it good - however you define those terms.
So what’s my profile? I’ve got my eras, mainly ones I was actually a part of. I grew up semi-privileged - and more on this in a second. I get a kick out of some throwbacks, not so much from others. And I absolutely believe that if an artist is going to delve into the past, they should:
A. Not stumble upon it by accident and/or with no credit given to forebears;
B. Acknowledge that they are living and creating in THE PRESENT; and
C. Find a unique and substantive way to repurpose and/or reinvent the past elements they’re lifting.
Preferably those last two coexist in a way that isn’t just a loving homage (they’re fun but get old fast) but actually move the musical conversation forward.
We’re seeing in large letters what happens when we let people who cherry pick from the past try to recreate it in their image, to literally whitewash the present with their harmful brand of nostalgia. Mostly from privileged or semi-privileged people, those who don’t know or care about the negatives of bygone eras.We’re also seeing what happens when people who are trying hard to major facets of society, don’t acknowledge or even know about all those people and efforts that came before them.
That first group? Well seriously fuck them and I hope they go away to the past they so love. The second group? Positive effort is always a good thing. But if we’re going to bridge gaps, truly connect, and come together in a way that includes everyone, we need to respect and understand what people have gone through long before we came onto the scene. In essence, we need to bring forward the vital work of the past, recreate and reinvent it so it serves the present, and keep working it until it propels us solidly and lastingly into the future.