Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past by Simon Reynolds; Faber and Faber, 458 pages, $16 paperback original. "We live in a pop age gone loco for retro and crazy for commemoration," writes Brit pop critic Simon Reynolds in "The Re Decade," his introduction to "Retromania." "Band reformations and reunion tours, tribute albums and box sets, anniversary festivals and live performances of classic albums: each new year is better than the last one for music of yesteryear. Could it be that the greatest danger to the future of our music culture is its past?"
No, says Reynolds, he's not suggesting a "cataclysm" but a "gradual wind-down. This is the way pop ends, not with a BANG but with a box set whose fourth disc you never got around to playing and an overpriced ticket to the track-by-track restaging of the Pixies or Pavement album you played to death in your first year of university."
Rampant recycling is going on. "Too often with the new young bands, beneath their taut skin and rosy cheeks, you could detect the sagging grey flesh of old ideas." Not to mention, with 48-year-old pop critics, the hilariously metaphorical excess that rock criticism has been famous for since Tom Wolfe taught it how to amp up exuberant clanging noises on its own without ditching scholarship or needing to wait for anyone's music to catch up.
Retro, Reynolds informs us, isn't antiquarianism. It's a "fascination for fashions, fads, sounds and stars that occurred within living memory."
He sees it everywhere -- in Hollywood, theater, advertising. And he expounds altogether brilliantly on its history and manifestations (he's particularly acute on rock museums) and its technology, the obvious culprit if indeed malfeasance exists (McLuhan could have explained years ago how all new media always seize on older content). Read Reynolds on the iPad and you'll know why every other pop music attraction surrounding us this summer seems to come from another era.
Here's a critic and self-described "future addict" who can write and think at the same time (and, no doubt, chew gum, too).
-- Jeff Simon