New Nostalgia


My roommate recently started on an Outkast spree. “Hey Ya” blares on through the speakers and across the room. Reveling in the nostalgia feels glorious. Memories of riding back on the bus from public school in 2003, kids asking the driver to turn up the radio, come flooding back.

It would take endless effort to separate the song from childhood. The same goes with “Ms. Jackson” and “Roses.” I would spend the article space writing a love letter to Outkast and exonerating the good things of the late nineties and early thousands, if I were sure I really loved any of it.

Nostalgia works like a pair of rose-tinted glasses. Something slips them over my eyes whenever I glance at “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers. I loved the song once, do I still love it now? Is my mind caught as much in the music as it is in the past? “Mr. Brightside” remains buried with Outkast and all the old Kanye while modern favorites sit in all my playlists.

After all that time, can any sound penetrate the raw wall of nostalgia laced over each beat? There is no complete way of knowing. If the enjoyment feels sincere, run with it. No one needs another reason than nostalgia. For all the obfuscating it may do, I would not abandon nostalgia. I’d rather the past flow like honey, than sting like a bee.

    Rose colored air waves

But each moment of remembrance that made an old song feel so much stronger came to me from the radio. Billboard still got a few in one hundred in my head. Bands formed up vast waterways of sound. Labels became seas opening and genres oceans.

The radio made Somethings float to the top and gloss the surface of sound in every car. The radio formed up rivers of hit songs that we would trace back out to the oceans and seas. I got older and made it out to the ocean more often. I swam to the bottom to pick pearls up from the seafloor. Getting through the radio-pop gloss at the top made it worthwhile.

It seemed to work that way even for my non-musical friends. The most nerve wracking moments came in pooling up the jewels everyone gathered from the deep sea. We got to be explorers breaking through the surface trying to measure our successes using the ears of others.

When the water left my ears those old glossy songs on the surface sounded better then I remembered. The notes rang with radio intervals. Colorful personalities played it out to me. Sitting there, the radio brought plate by plate of commuter music. The rose colored air waves made it age like wine but it still felt less classy than a natty. The pleasure was guilty to the bone.

The radio brought the songs it beat to death back to life in vivid color.

    Radio is dead. Long live radio!

This image is from Broadcasting World's article: "ONLINE, DON'T MIRROR OFFLINE RADIO INDUSTRY"

Now radio dwindles and old seas grow into oceans. Everybody has a fond memory, and that reverie will create nostalgic ecstasies. With so many more bands, fan groupings, and new scenes I wonder how nostalgia will come of age.

Will kids ditch radio but stick with the top 100s? Perhaps radio will never die, not even faint, ever revived and kept alive to dish musical entrees out of large label kitchens. The kids might socialize it quicker, torrenting CD’s, speeding through discographies to keep friendly. Hit songs might not live long, and maybe memory will no longer wrap easy around the ears of a full generation.

It could all stay the same, just put in a different with new tools just used the exact same. Soundcloud and Google made it useful to scoop seaweed off the surface of the deepest oceans.

It would not work to try and divine nostalgia’s next line. But when dealing with the horizon you should make some stretches. To me it seems that something new might come through. With so much changed, media so rearranged, one true pop king might find harder to reign. Instead warlords come claiming teen scenes in scattered out places. The nostalgia of Orlando will not sound the same to kids from Kansas City riding high on the new Killers.

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Cover Culture


Cover Culture

 

In my recent song selection I played two covers, the first being BADBADNOTGOOD’s cover of three Legend of Zelda pieces. I assumed that most people would recognize the beat of the old video game classic, even shrouded in a layer of smooth jazz. When I played the song, the idea of a cover culture dug at me. Every month I see a new remake of a movie and wonder whether Hollywood degenerated. I remember discovering Franz Ferdinand and feeling irritated that after only three albums, they produced a remix album called Blood. Unique pieces felt discombobulated by a mesh of mash ups. I felt angry that The Killers made their cover album Sawdust after three albums and then announced that they intended to do more covers. I wondered if these bands weren’t just throwing in the towel, caring too little to shell out something new.

Blood and Sawdust. How timeless.

 

Despite all the resentment I felt for cover culture, I played two covers on air because I cannot bring myself to reject covers, reworks, remixes, remakes or re-anythings outright. I love the way BADBADNOTGOOD smoothed the edges of a classic video game theme. The old styling of Jazz hyperbolized the beautiful nostalgia of a tune that already brought me years back. The way the instruments smoothly slid over the flashy eight-bit notes gave the song a sunny and calm feel that made all that nostalgia hit harder. I wanted to play something original to BADBADNOTGOOD, an original creation of any band. Nothing, even elsewhere in BADBADNOTGOOD’s collection, could send shockwaves of materialized memory ringing across my appendages, like those remade Legend of Zelda themes did. In my mind that made BADBADNOTGOOD’s remake as unique as an original work.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCHTX_pgw6A

If you think I am being emotional, just read those comments

 

So much of a piece of art boils down to the effect on the beholder, and plenty of original works never sounded so stirring. I played The Bad Plus’s cover of Tom Sawyer for the same reason. Tom Sawyer brought me into my musical identity. I remember getting struck by Tom Sawyer’s stupefying speed and rhythm long before I got into progressive rock. When Bad Plus played that song, they preserved the frantic rhythm of the original version and converted so much of it into a sound all their own, versed with a unique sense of drama as they built up to let the rapturous roll of the drums explode outward. Once again the wash of memory surrounded me, and I congratulated covers on eviscerating emotions and provoking ponderings in a way other works cannot.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXAbGUxLMRM

 

It is easy enough to judge the validity of a remake based off its merit. Blood sounded cheap and dull to me, so I dubbed it invalid, while Sawdust sounded better than some of The Killer’s original stuff, so I could at least say it wasn’t a waste. But I found a profound danger in that line of thought. Covers held more to them than their merit. Covers carried the banner of the past and more importantly of authority. Authority can restrict knowledge, talent and reason into the arena of the dull, or it breed something intriguing and new. The covers and remakes often sink underneath our skin because we recognize what they can take away. Sure, Sawdust sounded pretty good, but what if The Killers used those influences to create a unique album? Even if the remake of red dawn turns out to marvelously, the money used to make it could have funded an original idea.

We do not face a new issue. Even back in Enlightenment Europe Kant thought the authority of ideals kept people shackled in tutelage, restrained from ideological independence. Kant’s worries about tutelage are not entirely comparable with our worries about remakes, but it does show that even centuries ago we were worrying about this urge to copy the past.

Little known fact: Kraftwerk is Kant’s jam.

 

The cover shelters no special sin in its unique anatomy. The remake and the remix only highlight an age old fear of a culture coated in the authority of the old. Fighting all remakes or even remakes of recent works is not valiant or fair. After all, original works do not escape the script of the past. As humans the past shaped us, so of course we haul the past into the present. History figuratively repeats itself every day. The repetition does not teleport us back to the seventies; it just lets us walk through the important bits and pieces of it. I played two covers because in trying to move forward, I am walking back through the romanticized decades as much as anyone else is.

 

~Austin R Ryan