I apologise in advance for delving into my own archives again. It must be some new diachronic strain of narcissism.
Simon Reynolds had a great piece in The Guardian this week on 'retromania', in advance of his new book on the topic. He argues:
What seems to have happened is that the place that The Future once occupied in the imagination of young music-makers has been displaced by The Past: that's where the romance now lies, with the idea of things that have been lost. The accent, today, is not on discovery but on recovery. All through the noughties, the game of hip involved competing to find fresher things to remake: it was about being differently derivative, original in your unoriginality.
No doubt the book goes into greater depth as to why this might have happened, but the article doesn't provide much of an answer. Which reminded me of this post of mine from a couple of year's ago, which attempts to grapple with the same issue. In the spirit of dialogue with Reynolds' article, and no doubt stirrings of diachronic narcissism, this was my speculation:
Pop music... tends to have a 'fleeting' strand and a 'timeless' strand. Did anyone who actually saw the Velvet Underground in 1968 truly understand the significance of what they were seeing? No, of course not. This is why washed-up old hacks (such as I aspire to be) have spent years since extracting the sublime meaning from iconic photos of gigs they never actually attended. It's only a short step before bands themselves join in, pinning their music onto themes, icons and chords that seem timeless, but posing, shouting and playing in a way that is immediate and fleeting. (By persisting with this for over a decade, Oasis missed the point, making it seem like the immediate and fleeting had been going on for bloody ever, thereby turning modernism inside out).
In 2009, a new settlement has arisen. The 'fleeting' and the 'timeless' are now split by a generational division of labour. In the age of myspace, Urban Outfitters, Londonlite, 'illegal'-but-actually-sponsored squat parties, youtube, corporate folk festivals and ipods, the fleeting rush of youth is delivered by a rapid turnover of skinny-jeaned kids. This is the stuff which comes free with a mobile phone upgrade. The fleeting aspect of pop is elevated to new heights, by the fact that the bands themselves are gobbled up in an endless churn. I can tell you which Suede record accompanied my GCSEs and A-Levels; today's teenagers would tell you which band. Within the fleeting wing of indie music, less is permanent than ever before.
Meanwhile, the 'timeless' bit is delegated to anyone whose records we're still listening to years later. Authenticity, timelessness, talent and musical prowess are delivered by an entirely separate bunch, whose age is increasingly irrelevant. This is the stuff which comes free with a £50 ticket and a £10 'discretionary' booking fee. Frankly, the generational and cultural divide between Neil Young and Blur (the other two Glastonbury headliners) is now less culturally important than what they share, which is the ability to endure and to present music as intrinsically worthwhile. This is why the kids need Springsteen. Chris Anderson should write a follow-up to Free called Expensive: why most things being free leads us to over-value what remains.
As you can see, potlatch is gradually turning into a sociological version of Dave TV, and will soon just be quoting itself on loop, 24 hours a day.