Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

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Bent Fabric
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Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Bent Fabric » 05 Jul 2017, 17:47

If we were to specifically look at the second half of the 20th Century (and outlying) as an accelerated period in popular music, you could really observe a lot of people fairly hung up on getting into the now/the future/etc.

The evidence is everywhere - lots of musicians feeling outwardly smug/self satisfied and (perhaps rightly) proud of their own leaps into/out of a given moment and all that it signifies.

From its very inception, rock and roll itself seems tied to a certain premise of "Roll Over Beethoven"/shit your parents won't like or understand/It Will Stand/etc.

Motown was "The Sound of Young America".

The self-contained post-Beatles beat group boom, folk rock, psychedelic music, brown albums, glam (retro starting to creep in), punk, post punk, new wave, new pop, indie, high gloss 80s, low fi minimalist 90s - I'm barely scratching the surface here, and my argument isn't so much that 'time moved forward", but more that the people making the music seemed DEEPLY conscious of not getting stuck in yesterday's moment. You'd have people writing songs called "Goodbye Seventies", there'd be people in their memoirs (and I mean not especially forward thinking people...like...folks from Ratt or Aerosmith) talking about "being ready for the 1980s" (a decade I now look back on in much the same way as I look back on the silent film era). This was a big deal. An outward and transparent sense of wanting to be part of the next chapter. You read a certain type of self narrated history, and it is oft-propagated that "grunge killed metal", etc. Then you get the Britpop folks (I mean, I know the Gallaghers played Knebworth and Maine Road and "Wonderwall" and all that shit - who could ever tell them they DIDN'T reinvent music? Neil Innes, perhaps?) claiming to have come along with a big broom and swept things from a year or two earlier deep into the dustbin of history.

Look at a group like Stray Cats - ridiculously, cartoonishly retro...and yet, there it is in their first big US hit (and accompanying video) - "there's a real square cat looks a 1974": the rather explicit statement is that "our lean 50s rockabilly schtick is NOW/the pre-punk 1970s are shamefully passe". Similarly, the likes of the Jam/Weller...lots of 'tomorrow'/"modern"/all this talk about "moving on"/etc. on the basis of mining (variously) 10-15-20 year old idioms and signifiers. I'm sure the likes of the Black Crowes believed themselves to be throwing off the shackles of some 1980s hangover oppression by reviving Humble Pie.

Look at the Stones still talking about how "Jumping Jack Flash" separated them from the very same psychedelic bollocks that felled them months earlier. Look at the Band chest thumping about "that psychedelic bullshit" (this may have been mostly Helm).

I'm not necessarily debating anyone's accomplishments/goals here. What I do find endlessly fascinating is the thread that runs through all of these periods of hyper contemporary futurism. I definitely understand the commercial imperatives (who wants to compete in a ruthless world as yesterday's news? It's a fucking jungle out there and there is no angle of hustle a young contender is going to want to miss), but viewed as a series of individual obsessions ("No Beatles, Elvis, Rolling Stones", "You'll never hear surf music again", etc.), I find the ongoing and consistent evidence of "Oh, we're not MONDAY - we're TUESDAY!" deeply fascinating.

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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Bent Fabric » 05 Jul 2017, 18:00

Conversely, there are many examples of artists rather discreetly or tacitly making some actual leap forward (the "coming of age" Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder/electric Dylan/etc.) - people noticed, for sure, but it wasn't necessarily self heralded as "check me out NOW!".

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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Quaco » 05 Jul 2017, 18:02

It's everywhere, not just in the arts. It's basically "new and improved" soap powder, cosmetics, breakfast cereal. I don't think musicians always thought about it that cynically. They were probably already consumed by the notions of there needing to be a constant moving forward.

Interestingly, I think the Internet age and the easy access to EVERYTHING THAT EVER EXISTED -- I have occasionally thought 'what was that passing thought I had the other day? maybe I'll look it up' (?!) -- has finally brought about balance. People are finally seeing through the commercial imperative to always have something new, things that are usually not improved by the way, and finally have the wisdom and the tools to bring about quality things from the past, from the commercial side of this (Restoration Hardware, Sufjan Stevens) to the personal eschewing of new ideas for things that actually worked better. Whether this is just another form of "new" (like The Band), we have yet to see. But I'm hopeful because we all feel a bit more freed to choose from any decade/century/style/aesthetic and just do what we like best. It has obnoxious manifestations (beards, IPAs, steampunk), but still, we are all freer.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby sloopjohnc » 05 Jul 2017, 18:19

Quaco wrote:It's everywhere, not just in the arts. It's basically "new and improved" soap powder


Along with "free," still the most powerful words in marketing - even in new age of digital marketing.

My profession manages manipulation - I balance informing and getting people to buy shit without it looking like I'm coercing them so I spend lots of time researching what works in marketing. I started out when print was king. I've done direct mail and catalogs and now everything is digital. Email marketing, content marketing, subject lines.

In a related way, there are lots of similarities to pop music and marketing. The main difference is pop musicians seem to be more self-conscious about not appearing outdated to their audience whereas consumers just want the easiest way to visually lap up info. There is no self-consciousness in consumption.

My point, if there is one, is pop music since the inception of rock 'n' roll never wants to make it seem like it is speaking to adults, even when it is. Consumer studies show that people consistently feel 10 years younger than their actual age. I would bet that this "feeling' has persisted since baby boomers dominated and always wanted to feel young and youthful vs. my father and mother's generation, who wanted to become adults a lot more quickly and give up childhood. This attitude permeates the culture, including music.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Bride Of Sea Of Tunes » 05 Jul 2017, 18:36

I think Bent Fabric is Simon Reynolds in real life.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 05 Jul 2017, 19:04

Ah...this is one of my pet subjects. Sadly I'm not in the position this moment to get heavily into it - but I'll revisit.

In the meantime I'll just toss out that I do think that the progress narrative seems to hold more sway in pop music than in a lot of other art forms. You don't see the same need to cancel out the past in literature or film. Newness might be considered a virtue everywhere, but the notion that this work of art renders other past works irrelevant doesn't seem to be as prevalent elsewhere.

I'm of the opinion that most of this is down to the ham-handedness of most music criticism. But I could be convinced otherwise.

Again...will revisit.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby bobzilla77 » 05 Jul 2017, 19:10

BF It's interesting that you bring up the Stray Cats because even as a 14 year old, I was aware of the irony in that lyric - who's the hopelessly out of date clown around here? Hopefully the girl they were fighting over ditched both of them to hang out with Run-DMC, you know.

It's definitely a thing, wanting to represent the times and not be a re-enactor. But some of that music is so infused with nostalgia... you have these delberately old-timey groups with banjos and overalls and pieces of straw in their mouths, and it's part of the zeitgeist in 2017. Just like swing bands (more like jump-blues bands if you wanted to get all semantic about it) were the "hot new" thing of 1994.

Interestingly, I think the Internet age and the easy access to EVERYTHING THAT EVER EXISTED -- I have occasionally thought 'what was that passing thought I had the other day? maybe I'll look it up' (?!) -- has finally brought about balance. People are finally seeing through the commercial imperative to always have something new, things that are usually not improved by the way, and finally have the wisdom and the tools to bring about quality things from the past, from the commercial side of this (Restoration Hardware, Sufjan Stevens) to the personal eschewing of new ideas for things that actually worked better. Whether this is just another form of "new" (like The Band), we have yet to see. But I'm hopeful because we all feel a bit more freed to choose from any decade/century/style/aesthetic and just do what we like best. It has obnoxious manifestations (beards, IPAs, steampunk), but still, we are all freer.


I remember some of us on the Who forum talking about "what era of music do you most wish you had been alive to experience", and we were talking about how we wished we'd been around to go to shows in 1971 (and we could also see see Zeppelin and the Faces) vs 1965 (and see Them and the Small Faces), and one of the younger guys on the board responded "the best era for music ever is obviously right now, because we can listen to all the great music of the past, right up to all the great music that was made last week." And it took me aback. I'm used to thinking things like, oh if I had been 18 in the 60s I could have seen Hendrix and all these people who aren't around now, but also, I would be able to experience what it was like to hear that stuff for the first time... what must it have been like to live in an era where that music had never existed, and then to hear it? And this guy had no sense of that at all... it's all here, now.

Living in 1977, 1972 felt like a long time ago. The fashions, the music, the TV and movies were all different. And the distance from 1977 to 1982 is even more pronounced. Right now, thinking about 2012, I can't think of too many cultural signifiers that have changed that significantly.

I think that's down to a dilution of mass culture - you can't see the fashions change on magazine covers month over month any more. There are subtle changes in the landscape but not everyone is getting their information from the same source anymore. We're not as subject to manipulation because the information sources are more diverse & less susceptible to control.

So maybe, being totally now and in the moment, now means existing outside the context of ANY time and place. It's not just the end of an era, it's the end of the idea of eras.

Now THAT'S post modernism, baby!
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby sloopjohnc » 05 Jul 2017, 19:19

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:I'm of the opinion that most of this is down to the ham-handedness of most music criticism. But I could be convinced otherwise.


I don't think that has anything to do with it. I think film criticism would have more an affect on how films view themselves, and as you write, we don't see it in films. Why don't even see it in light comedies made strictly for entertainment and quick box office takes.

Like I wrote, I think pop music is an art form based on youth and its passing fancies, and pop music needs to appear relevant at all times. Self-consciously so.
Bride Of Sea Of Tunes wrote:I for one wouldn't want to know what memories and deep and dark forces drive Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, or Radiohead, for certain.

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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Bride Of Sea Of Tunes » 05 Jul 2017, 20:36

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:Ah...this is one of my pet subjects. Sadly I'm not in the position this moment to get heavily into it - but I'll revisit.

In the meantime I'll just toss out that I do think that the progress narrative seems to hold more sway in pop music than in a lot of other art forms. You don't see the same need to cancel out the past in literature or film. Newness might be considered a virtue everywhere, but the notion that this work of art renders other past works irrelevant doesn't seem to be as prevalent elsewhere.

I'm of the opinion that most of this is down to the ham-handedness of most music criticism. But I could be convinced otherwise.

Again...will revisit.


Same here, it's fascinating.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 05 Jul 2017, 21:17

sloopjohnc wrote:
Davey the Fat Boy wrote:I'm of the opinion that most of this is down to the ham-handedness of most music criticism. But I could be convinced otherwise.


I don't think that has anything to do with it. I think film criticism would have more an affect on how films view themselves, and as you write, we don't see it in films. Why don't even see it in light comedies made strictly for entertainment and quick box office takes.

Like I wrote, I think pop music is an art form based on youth and its passing fancies, and pop music needs to appear relevant at all times. Self-consciously so.


Is it really based on youth? I mean...I get that that is accepted. But is it true?
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby bobzilla77 » 06 Jul 2017, 01:04

Maybe because I am one, I doubt that rock critics often get artists to change their artistic direction.

The one time they did that, was when they convinced KISS to make a prog rock opera, because critics love and praise that sort of thing. It was not successful and the critics only laughed at them harder for following directions. Stupid KISS!

Anyone who would decide not to make a particular record because it might get bad reviews, doesn't deserve to record.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Bent Fabric » 06 Jul 2017, 03:53

bobzilla77 wrote:BF It's interesting that you bring up the Stray Cats because even as a 14 year old, I was aware of the irony in that lyric - who's the hopelessly out of date clown around here? Hopefully the girl they were fighting over ditched both of them to hang out with Run-DMC, you know.


I would love to find out someday that the video director had her show up (with no fanfare) in a Suicidal Tendencies video a few weeks later just to tacitly prove a point.

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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Bent Fabric » 06 Jul 2017, 13:18

Quaco wrote:It's everywhere, not just in the arts. It's basically "new and improved" soap powder, cosmetics, breakfast cereal. I don't think musicians always thought about it that cynically. They were probably already consumed by the notions of there needing to be a constant moving forward.


Completely valid - we've all had "the placebo of progress" so thoroughly and relentlessly drummed into us that it may be built in to an extent (even in the pitch of someone who isn't explicitly "playing the game"). The area where I always see this is in logos and design - chain restaurants and brand name consumer products receiving some periodic update of graphic branding so they don't look like archaic and fusty old caves/stock (from a "food safety" point of view, I kind of get the psychology here - "implied upkeep" implies all sorts of other things). Interestingly enough, places that manage to do as little of this as possible eventually often end up appearing exotic in some way (there's a Studio 54 era music venue in town that looks fucking CLASS because they've really avoided "fixing" unbroken elements - similarly, I was obsessed for ages with a neighborhood Kentucky Fried Chicken which used the full, non abbreviated logo...psychologically, I was willing to believe that their food would somehow be more "classic", that it would taste like what I ate in 1982).

Interestingly, I think the Internet age and the easy access to EVERYTHING THAT EVER EXISTED -- I have occasionally thought 'what was that passing thought I had the other day? maybe I'll look it up' (?!) -- has finally brought about balance. People are finally seeing through the commercial imperative to always have something new, things that are usually not improved by the way, and finally have the wisdom and the tools to bring about quality things from the past, from the commercial side of this (Restoration Hardware, Sufjan Stevens) to the personal eschewing of new ideas for things that actually worked better. Whether this is just another form of "new" (like The Band), we have yet to see. But I'm hopeful because we all feel a bit more freed to choose from any decade/century/style/aesthetic and just do what we like best. It has obnoxious manifestations (beards, IPAs, steampunk), but still, we are all freer.


Oh, it's real. I think (erroneously or not) that the appearance of things as "retro" will continue to diminish, as elements from different periods are continually blended and incorporated into the present. Amy Winehouse seems relevant here - same thing for those damn kids from a few years back whose name I now can't remember...I remember one of them giving an interview saying (basically) "WE never lived in a time without YouTube - footage of Dr. Feelgood or the Yardbirds has always been every bit as easily accessible to us as whatever is on the radio right now". Similarly, I'm loathe to say anything negative about a group like the Lemon Twigs - people less than half my age speaking a language that is deeply fluent in Rundgren, ELO, All Things Must Pass, etc. just kind of makes sense in the present day. And I think you can now do that sort of thing without looking like....you know...Lenny Kravitz or Sha Na Na. Without holding up a sign that SAYS you are doing a thing.

(It's morning here - I'm nursing my first bit of caffeine and my children are doing morning chores/playing/having breakfast/etc. My oldest - 12 - son just got up and told me he'd just had a dream in which his summer camp went on a field trip to a movie theater where the Monkees were performing the JAWS theme...Quaco's "everything at once" theory is certainly alive and well in my house this morning)

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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Count Machuki » 06 Jul 2017, 14:59

Bent Fabric wrote:Similarly, I'm loathe to say anything negative about a group like the Lemon Twigs...


I'll say it if you like: that record was garbage!
I can't believe a BCB recommendation steered me that far wrong.

Anyway, I'm reading with interest, guys...hope I can add something if work hits a lull.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby The Modernist » 06 Jul 2017, 15:13

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:
sloopjohnc wrote:
Davey the Fat Boy wrote:I'm of the opinion that most of this is down to the ham-handedness of most music criticism. But I could be convinced otherwise.


I don't think that has anything to do with it. I think film criticism would have more an affect on how films view themselves, and as you write, we don't see it in films. Why don't even see it in light comedies made strictly for entertainment and quick box office takes.

Like I wrote, I think pop music is an art form based on youth and its passing fancies, and pop music needs to appear relevant at all times. Self-consciously so.


Is it really based on youth? I mean...I get that that is accepted. But is it true?


It was, but it hasn't been that way for about thirty years when any kind of generation gap disappeared.

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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Charlie O. » 06 Jul 2017, 15:22

Generation gap or no, I think teenagers continue to be more novelty-hungry, generally, than their elders.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby fange » 06 Jul 2017, 15:27

I think there will always be a generation gap as long as there are teens. Teens need to have it.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 06 Jul 2017, 15:30

All well and good. But teenagers aren't the center of the musical universe anymore. They haven't been for a long, long time.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby fange » 06 Jul 2017, 15:37

The demographic has gotten broader and longer, but i have two teen girls and i know exactly how much the music they love means to them and their friends. And in their world there is still a very strong sense of attachment to the music being produced right now.
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Re: Fleeing from the past/racing towards the future

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 06 Jul 2017, 15:57

Which is great fange. But they aren't likely as interested in progress as they are novelty. Am I wrong?

The thing that I think is most false about the progress narrative is that implies that this whole thing is always improving. Meanwhile you can look at a top 40 from 50 years ago and it's demonstrably clear that progress isn't always better.

That's what I was getting at by mentioning rock criticism. There's been a strong prejudice towards telling and re-telling the pop music story as a kind of "x begat y" story of accumulating influence and great leaps forward.

I have a friend who is a professional rock critic. We had a conversation recently about the Halk of Fame. His contention was, that if one had to exist, that only the "game changers" ought to be inducted. In his mind sustained musical excellence and even the demonstrated longevity of an artist's body of work is all secondary to the perception that one moved the ball forward. He's not alone in making that argument - and is perfectly happy with a storyline that elevates Kurt Cobain over Allen Toussaint in the pantheon of greatness.

Meanwhile we've been stuck in a terrible rut for decades now. You hear pop songs on the radio today, and they'll still mix in allusions to hip-hop into tracks that aren't hip-hop asa means of conveying modernity. This despite the fact that hip-hop is almost 40 years old.

I don't begrudge anyone the desire to avoid staying on one place. I see the importance of letting the past be the past and fully embracing the now. But there is a difference between the pursuit of the novel isn't always progress. Sometimes it is...sometimes it isn't. In my mind, it would be progress of a sort to admit as much.
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