Retro isn’t new. During the Rennaissance, the Romans were seen as the height of culture. The Romans idolized the Greeks. What is new is the rate of the cycle of the old becoming new again. Or never going away at all. Simon Reynolds’s “Retromains: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past” details the subject matter inside and out and inside and out again.
For instance, bands like Mission of Burman and Sebadoh playing reunion and reenactment tours is nothing new. What was once crystalized as a unique instant in time, or at least in hard-to-find bootlegs, now lives forever and accessibly on the internet. And then, of course, there’s vinyl.
Reynolds’s details on subjects like the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, CBGB’s and rave culture often exemplifies the stereotype he’s describing by reveling in minutia of different eras and their love for different eras. The book’s Insightful style is obviously written by a music nerd for a music nerd. It’s written by rock journalist: self-indulgent musings to rack up cool points with sparse content editing. A sociological study with some sort of conclusion or a more carefully woven chapter succession would have proven a point. This book just rambles.
Much like Woody Allen’s recent “Midnight in Paris,” glorifying the past as a better and simpler time is a human phenomenon that brings a sense of comfort to the nostalgic. What if things stop changing at some point? We stop progressing technologically. Western capitalist society learned to live on progress. What if there’s a limit to that progress and we destroy ourselves denying it. So much of what we accept as de facto history is a social construction. “The Outsiders” was pop culture’s concept of the past. “Grease” came out in the ’70s. Perhaps it comes down to wanting something that’s impossible. When you can never have it authentically, the era is distorted by the seekers perception of the object or state of desire.
Better book title: Reading a lot of things into a lot of things about music.