Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past by Simon Reynolds

Folks, I can’t ever remember being this pissed off at a book without knowing exactly what I’m mad about. Reynolds is doing a lot of different things here, and a lot of them are WRONG, and I don’t even know why he felt like this was an argument worth making.

Honestly, I’m not sure if he does either? He wrote the introduction before the body of the book, and it had a lot of questions he was going to poke at, and I don’t think he ever reached a satisfying conclusion. That doesn’t mean the project was a waste of time — he brought up a lot of interesting ideas throughout. But the whole argument is so incredibly flawed I want to chuck the book across the room, or maybe through the screen from my seventh floor window, but it’s a library book, so I’ll stop myself.

I really respect Reynolds as a writer. His book on post-punk is an exhaustive guide to a scattered genre. His book on rave is similarly in depth, to the point where I still haven’t finished it because I kept on finding three new songs I loved and then putting it down for a while. It’s sitting on the floor in my parents house in Minneapolis, and I’ll finish it at some point, I’m sure. I bring up these two books not just to explain why I started reading a book that upset me, but also because I think the movements covered in these books say a lot about Reynold’s perspective as a critic. He grew up listening to post-punk, which responded to punk’s incitement by going in about ten thousand different weird direction. And then he was into rave, which moved very fast, always onto the next thing, always moving. And now he thinks that there isn’t anything new.

That’s WRONG.

There are new things.

I realize this book came out in 2011, and some of my examples are later than that, but not all of them, and the point stands. There are lots of new things.

He doesn’t seem to finds newness in rap music, which is baffling. I guess Kanye West’s more expansive albums came out after this book, but he was still around. Kendrick wasn’t around then, but like. The possibility for him was.

One of my favorite corners of hip-hop is the corner where rap music mixes with indie rock. Reynolds would probably say this isn’t new, because it’s just blending two different genres, but I’d disagree. At their best like Why? or Buck 65 becomes more than the sum of influences, into something new and stunning. I heard “The Hollows” for the first time at an all ages show at a cafe in Hopkins when I was fourteen, and I’d never heard anything quite like it, and it still sounds fresh.

He mentions grime, but dismisses it for not being big enough? Which is a bad reason to dismiss something. Maybe it’s because I’m American, but how can you not think grime sounds new? It takes the basic idea of rap music but transports it into a different culture.

Newness for him seems to be all about sound, not about the people making it, which is the kind of thing a straight white man would say. Perfume Genius sounds fresh to my ears, but also the thoroughly queer perspective makes feels revolutionary. Against Me! are making close to the same kind of punk rock they were making ten years ago, and it wasn’t all that revolutionary then, but having Laura Jane Grace on stage shouting about her journey as a trans woman feels huge.

He doesn’t seem captured by the way music is becoming more global. M.I.A. doesn’t count because she samples things he recognizes? Which seems like bullshit. I don’t know what he’d make of Swet Shop boys, whose last album was one of the freshest things I heard in 2016.

Was there really nothing new like this in 2011? I doubt it.

My major critique of his post-punk book would be the omission of American hardcore, and he seems to still not get that it was a thing, or think that it was all subsumed into college rock that became mainstream after grunge, or mellowed into indie, or something. Or maybe he just doesn’t find it interesting, but the newest sounding rock music I’ve listened to lately has been like, Bomb! The Music Industry and Jeff Rosenstock’s solo stuff, which does expand punk’s palate in certain ways, and also has ideas about how the music business itself should change. That sort of revolutionary spirit stays new.

Reynolds doesn’t understand the scale of fragmentation of culture by the internet. He’s looking for a new mass movement. I’m not sure that’s possible. The internet is full of all these different corners where people are doing new weird little things. There might not be another huge new thing. And honestly that’s fine? I’m a punk, I’m prone to assuming that mass culture is mostly boring. More specifically, I’m an American punk, and punk was never really successfully here, not like it was in England. Sure, it kind of broke through with grunge, and after that Green Day and emo and stuff got big, but punk was not a pivotal split in American music the way he seems to understand it. Maybe it was in England, but not here.

(There is an argument to be made, about whether emo, by taking the bones of pop punk and shining them to a high gloss, is something new. I’d find this particularly intriguing with Panic! at the Disco, and how their first album drew in both dance music and burlesque, but Reynolds would probably disagree.)

This is the kind of book a man writes when he enters middle age and is disappointed by the world not catering to his expectations. Which yes, that can be a very disappointing sensation, all my ships are rare pair ships, and there are not nearly enough space adventures about lesbians. But most people wouldn’t write a four hundred page book complaining about it. (To be fair, maybe a quarter of it is whining, the rest of it a very interesting look at people looking at the past. I liked a lot of the book. Just not the central thesis.)

He just wants to hear something new. It’s all about him. I think that’s a tremendously dull way to think about music.

Everything is new to someone. Simon Reynolds is a music critic, who spends all his time listening to stuff, who has a professional responsibility to be familiar with the classics and keep up with the latest releases. He gets to dedicate a lot of time and money and energy into this. Most people, even people who like music a lot, are not that way. Have a bit of chill dude. Sorry that what people are putting out now are not exciting and future looking enough for you. That’s rough.

The whole book makes him come off as an old curmudgeon who’s disappointed by what young people are doing. He’s also an audiophile, which is a terrible thing to be. Yes, I agree, records sound great, but in giving up sound and presence for accessing all the music I could possibly want a moment’s notice because I have spotify on my phone is a great deal.

I’m trying to come up with a conclusion here, but I’m just so frustrated. This is not a good argument, and it doesn’t even seem like he’s completely convinced himself, and really, I feel bad for the dude. I wish he could enjoy things that aren’t super innovative and futuristic without getting all conflicted and having to write 400 page long books. Like, yeah, the Strokes sound a lot like the Velvet Underground, but they’re good, alright? I enjoy them. Enjoying things that are obviously in debt to the past is not the danger Reynolds seems to be making it into. Not a good argument. I’m just so tired.

the song “nausea” by jeff rosenstock instead of actually explaining myself

so I haven’t been blogging. idk. it was the election, and then I took the GRE, and then I was busy finishing grad school applications, and the election had still happened, and I didn’t have a lot of energy to tell you all my thoughts about books. it wasn’t just here, I gave up my two fancy pretending to be a real writer guest blog things. not that I was ever very good at those. I guess I missed it.

I think it’s good for me? not telling you about books necessarily, but having a space where I make myself put words out in the world. and telling you about books too. I’ve almost only ready theory or books with spaceships this year. a few exceptions, but mostly spaceships. lots of star wars novels. that’s something I wasn’t expecting.

I might go back and tell you about everything I’ve read and seen since I stopped blogging regularly. I might try to write more about music. I move to Chicago for school in a week and a half, and I start my master’s at the end of the month, so maybe I won’t have any time for anything. but writing here is good for me.

I have this theory about writing, that it’s good, because it’s an output, and it’s a processing device, and even if you’re writing about something totally different than the life stuff you need to be processing, even if you’re writing fan fiction about Wedge Antilles, you’re still doing the work of processing, of turning things into words, and it’s good for you. or at least it’s good for me? the act of writing makes me feel better, and it has very little to do with what it is I’m actually writing.

if I felt up to writing anything coherent, I’d try to explain my feelings about Bomb the Music Industry! which I have been listening to non-stop for days now. I went and saw Jeff Rosenstock play last week. it was the funnest thing, to go to a punk show in the suburbs with my best friend, who doesn’t really like punk shows, or suburbs, or that much noise. it was amazing. I still haven’t figured out what I’m trying to say. something something not carrying how it looks, making a fool of yourself, fugazi, yadda yadda, so hot on a summer nigh, nobody followed the rules on the wall about not crowd surfing.

the important thing is the act of writing, not the words. the important thing is the act of processing, not words. the important thing is the shouting, not the words. I don’t actually believe that, but sometimes it is a good thing to hold onto as a process philosophy, and sometimes the important things is the process, and not the words.

Rain the Color Blue With a Little Red In It


This was super fun. The Trylon showed it last month as part of the ongoing Sound Unseen series, which features films that involve music. This was a remake of Prince’s Purple Rain, set in Africa. It’s in Tamajeq, which does not have a word for purple, hence the title. It’s super great. The way it translated the story into a different setting was so spot on. It’s very much it’s own thing, and my friend who had never seen Purple Rain had a great time watching it, but I also had a really great time seeing how it followed the different beats of the original. The music was incredible. Mdou Moctar is in the Prince role, and he’s a great guitar player, and really good at looking cool on stage. I went in knowing nothing about this sort of music, or the scene the story is set in, but it does a great job explaining what the world is like, and why Moctar’s music is special.

Since Prince died, echoes of him have been all over Minneapolis as the Cities mourn one of our idols. It’s really incredible to see how far his influence has traveled, and what his story can mean to people so far away. It’s a super great movie, and I’d recommend it to fans of Prince, people who like good music, and people who like sweet movies about following your creative dreams.

important Queerness

Last night I saw Grant Hard play in Loring Park, and it was really amazing. At the start of the show he kept on interrupting the Current DJ who was introducing him, being a punk, mocking the sponsor. He told the crowd that the popcorn was free — it wasn’t. He had a conversation with someone up the hill about rent in some building in Saint Paul. He sounded really good.

When I got home I was still having a lot of feelings, so I decided to start on the biography of Hüsker Dü that I’d picked up awhile ago. I got about three paragraphs into the introduction before I had to put it down in a rage. In Hüsker Dü: the Story of the Noise Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock Andrew Earles very straightforwardly explains what he’s trying to do, which is to cement Hüsker Dü’s importance. I’m there for this argument, I agree. But then he writes, “The fact is Hart’s and Mould’s sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with why this band is important.”

Fuck that.

The fact that Bob Mound and Grant Hart were queer men in a punk band through the 80s is incredibly important. Their very presence in the macho hardcore scene is worth remarking on. While they weren’t loudly out during this time, they weren’t deeply closeted either, it wasn’t a secret. Throughout the 80s queer people became increasingly visible, but often as stereotypes. Hart and Mould are a reminder that queer people look all sorts of different ways and act all sorts of different ways. Some of them like disco, some of them create revolutionary punk bands.

Hüsker Dü were revolutionary. There is an argument to be made for their importance that looks at the music and nothing else. Adding the songwriters’ sexuality to the mix is just another layer to their importance and their legacy.

Earles argument seems to be that Hüsker Dü’s influence needs to be recognised (though he may be headed somewhere else, I only got three paragraphs in). He cares about their legacy, and the people they inspired. To say Hart and Mould’s sexuality doesn’t matter is disregarding a huge part of their legacy.

I love Hüsker Dü for their music. And I love that they’re from my cities. And I love that they’re queer.

It is incredibly important to me, and a lot of other queer people, to see queer singers in a punk rock band. If they were straight I wouldn’t love them as much. Sexuality isn’t a huge part of their music, but it’s a part of how their audience engages with them. Maybe not as much when they were an active band, but today their sexuality is an important part of their legacy, and to write it off is near sighted and near insensitive.

Hüsker Dü didn’t really make music about being queer, but they were. “Whatever” is embedded in the concept of Zen Arcade, but it feels like a song about being a queer kid talking to their parents. There’s a queer reading present in their music, which I am not interested in ignoring.

I understand the point Earles was trying to make. He was explaining that it wasn’t going to be full of juicy gossip or speculation of whether anyone slept together. He was explaining that he was going to stick to the music, not the interpersonal drama, which apparently sexuality is to him.

I don’t know, but I bet Earles is straight. Sexuality doesn’t seem important when yours is never remarked upon. Sexuality doesn’t seem important when you can assume all the singers in your favorite bands have the same orientation as you.

Grant Hart was in a revolutionary punk band, and has a fascinating solo career — his most recent release was a long concept album about Paradise Lost, which sounds like a terrible idea, but is actually fantastic. Last night he played some old Hüsker’s songs, and stuff from different eras of his solo career, and it was all great, and it would have been a fun night of music no matter much. But it meant more to me because Grant Hart is queer like me. His legacy isn’t just about punk rock, not just about the Minneapolis music scene, it’s about his queerness.

Watching Grant Hart play in Loring Park last night was an incredible experience, in part because Loring Park is a queer space. I was sitting on a hill, watching my idols play music, in the same park that hosts Pride. It meant a lot to me as a queer young person to sit on a hill listen to an older queer person play music. That there is a history to Loring Park, a legacy of queerness that Hart is a part of, and so am I. That is so incredibly important. More than importance, it makes me feel better about the world.

I’m going to read the rest of the book, eventually. I’ve heard good things about it, and I really do love the band, and want to learn more about them. There’s a fair chance I stop being mad at the author. But wow, that was not a good note to start on.

middle school jams

it’s getting close to two in the morning, and I’m listening to Stadium Arcadium, which is objectively a Bad album, but it does have some damn good songs. It’s far too long — anything that takes up two CDs is simply too long, even if it’s all good music that’s too much music at once. And this is not all good music! some of it is the opposite of good, and a fair chunk of it is mediocre. but like, “Dani California,” that’s a tune. it was on the radio a couple weeks ago, and we were watching music videos earlier tonight, and I remembered that it had a great one. that was one of the first music videos I ever remember watching. I was in middle school, and we were using laptops for something, and the school had youtube blocked, but not google video. I definitely didn’t get all of the references at the time, but it was still pretty entertaining. I want to make a playlist of all my middle school jams. this era of Red Hot Chili Peppers is the furthest outlier from what I’m into now, what I’m the least likely to admit to digging. I own my emo stage of Panic! and their ilk. I have no shame about Green Day being my punk rock gateway drug. Death Cab, the Killers, Franz Ferdinand were all signs of what was to come, things that fit in with my current listening if they come up on shuffle. I don’t know what to make of this Chili Peppers album. back then the Cities still had an alt rock station, which I listened to more than the Current. it played the singles off this album all the time. there was a summer where I swear to god every second song was either “crazy” or “steady as she goes.” it wasn’t a bad summer at all. Drive 1-0-5. they played some good stuff. and then, like, fucking Guster or whatever. stuff that I can’t call good, but does have a certain nostalgic appeal. it’s not shame I’m feeling, but just — I know better now, alright? I need you to trust me, I really do know better, I make better decisions than this. I mean, the evidence might contrary, what with the listening to Stadium Arcadium when I really should be sleeping. but I swear, most of the time I listen to much cooler shit in the middle of the night. this is just a throwback. a lot of the stuff from my life is stuff I’d never want to return to in a million years, I was kind of miserable back then. but this is a decent song. it made me happier when I was in like seventh grade? I don’t want to google the year. I bought the CD from the Borders on Snelling. it’s all just a throwback. I’m not going back there — that Borders hasn’t existed for four years now. this song can still make me happy now, if I let it.

kill yr idols so they can’t surprise u & die in the middle of what’s already a bad week

I want to write something about Prince, but I’m not sure what I want to say yet. It hasn’t even been a full day yet. I was barely awake when I got the news. A friend asked me if I was alright, and I didn’t what it was about, and I already wasn’t. I’ve had a cold for half a week, the Wild played some exceptionally sad hockey, and there was a thing about having to do the dishes when I got home around midnight last night that I’m not going to try to explain, but made me cry. So waking up and finding out one of my favorite rock gods had ascended to another plane was not a fun morning.

But honestly, I think I’m alright? I mean, I listened the “The Cross” on a website called GodTube and cried some, but like, other than that, I’m alright. I turned on the Current, which was playing all Prince, in chronological order. It was still in the early eighties. I got dressed — purple jeans, purple striped socks, purple hoodie, purple lipstick, and my awesome Minnesota Nice shirt with a picture of Prince on his motorcycle. All that purple was able to protect me from the terrible world. Work was quiet. We talked about how sad we were, and I kept on listening to the Current’s stream, through the highlights of his career. The DJs shared their Prince stories, and everyone talked about how sad they were. It helped.

Tonight I could have gone out and done something. There was a block party, and then dancing at First Ave, but I have a cold, and I hate crowds, and rain, and sad drunk people. My sweetheart came over and put up with me being sad and sick and clingy. We watched half of Purple Rain on MTV, and then caught up on The Outs. Maybe I’ll regret missing some sort of landmark occasion, but tonight I’m too tired to care. I’m doing alright. I’m maintaining my fragile alrightness. If I tried to go anywhere I definitely would have cried more.

When musicians I adore die one thing I think about is how when Lux Interior died in 2009 I started listening to the Cramps. I had heard of them before, and I knew it would be something I’d like, but I hadn’t taken the time to really explore their music. But then seeing the collective mourning from other people I respected motivated me to check it out.

There’s some kid out there who’s really listening to Prince for the first time today, and it’s changing their life. And sure, he didn’t have to die for another kid to realize how great he is, but at least there’s something good coming out of this. He might be gone, not throwing parties or showing up out of the blue, but his music is still here. I’m not going to run out of Prince music to be fascinated by any time soon.

Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of

Okay um so where to start… So. There was a tumblr post about this movie, and how awesome it was. I don’t really remember what it said, or who posted it or anything. I’m pretty sure I didn’t reblog it. But it was a pretty convincing tumblr post, and I put this movie in my netflix queue, cause like, it sounded interesting, and I like variety. I don’t watch a lot of movies about aging boy bands.

I was a bit too young to really get into the boy bands. The songs of the Backstreet Boys and N’sync were present in my childhood, but I was never attached to either band, and mostly can’t sort their catalog out.

I was more into the younger brother, Aaron Carter. I had both of his CDs when I was little. “Aaron’s Party” is a solid nostalgia jam that I am not willing to look up and see if it’s as embarrassing as I suspect.

I went in hoping for fun/scandalous show business stories. And it had those, looking back at their early shows where they played in high school gyms, their time as German pop stars before finally making it big in America. Which just created a new level of ridiculousness and extravagance.

Their life was so crazy. Just so much. The music business doesn’t exist in the same way anymore, and it’s ridiculous to see how much it’s changed within my lifetime. It isn’t all glamour though. They talk about manager Lou Pearlman, who was responsible for getting them together, but who was also pretty terrible. The boys visit his now abandoned house, and talk about the way things used to be. They went to all of the boys hometowns, and saw where they grew up, and talked about how they got into music. It’s very humanizing to show how having this band was such a huge opportunity for these guys, how it really changed their lives.

This made me care. A lot. Much more than I wanted to. I have a favorite Backstreet Boy now. (It’s A.J. Of course it’s A.J.) By the end of it I had so many feelings. I didn’t want to care about the Backstreet Boys. I don’t want to care about the Backstreet Boys. I don’t care about the Backstreet Boys. I’m not going to start listening to their music, but it was a really good movie, and you shouldn’t judge me for enjoying it so much. It’s on Netflix. I dare you not to get invested.