June 8, 2010
Aside from the crass commercialization of the underground rock scene of the 80s, the invention of “alternative” music, and the subsequent deluge of thinly-veiled, entirely corporate rock groups sent to piss on Kurt Cobain’s grave, the 90s were a hotbed of ill-advised genre revivals. Every couple of years, something that had already been done came back. These revivals were alternately good (punk-ska melding the positive vibes and dance-y rhythms of 2 Tone with punk rock’s manic energy), and horrible (while “Boy bands” may not seem like the real stuff of revival, the Backstreet Boys, et. al, reminded me of nothing more than the New Kids on the Block, version 2.0). In the case of the former, the revival happened on the underground – it was great to live in Detroit in the mid 90s, seeing ten or fifteen different ska bands every weekend, and not being bombarded with it on the radio – until the end. In the case of the latter, the revival was all over the mass media, radio and television coated with slickly produced teen idol pop (and if you were just a few months too old for the New Kids on the Block, version 2.0 wasn’t even bad in a good way. It was just bad).
A truly weird genre that came back into prominence in the 90s, though, was the swing revival. Overlapping the punk ska scene and the Boy band juggernaut, there were a couple of funny years in there where it was somehow cool to put on a zoot suit, consume cigars and fine whiskey, dance in an antiquated and difficult-to-master way, and eke out a living selling pencils and dice on street corners. Okay, not so much that last one, but swing WAS a completely period fetishistic movement based as much around aping the fashion of the day as it was about the music; which, itself, was not updated from the music of the period, beyond heightened production values.
The movement, as far as I can tell, began with the 1989 formation of Royal Crown Revue-who you may remember as the “Hey! Pachuco!” band Jim Carrey grooved to in The Mask. For a few years, Royal Crown Revue and their ilk (Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, etc.) served a strange, commercial-yet-not-in-your-face role as “the band that plays when something zany/hip happens” in movies and commercials. To be fair, though, this was how most ska bands that transcended the underground scene made their first impression on the commercial map-remember the Mighty Mighty Bosstones as the cool dance group that Alicia Silverstone and friends groove to in Clueless, or the rally band at Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s home games in BASEketball (a role that Reel Big Fish ultimately played in real life, too, briefly providing theme music for the Florida Marlins in the late 90s).
December 19, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1997, the evils of an ironic Goo Goo Dolls cover, Jan Wenner being solely responsible for the downfall of the music industry, and Mr. Pridemore listing his top five 1997 albums. For earlier installments, go here.
So, my interest in music — which, we established a few weeks ago began in 1993 and immediately escalated to zealotry — has kept me interested in the aural side of popular culture long after many of my early peers (folks who got to play in the cool bands in high school, and such) dropped off the radar and stopped taking in new music. Over the last year or so, I’ve even noticed the kind of ironic nostalgia from people younger than me over songs that I (and most other self-respecting people) never wanted to hear again in the day, and certainly don’t want to be reminded of ten or more years after the fact. Younger bands I play shows with have started doing ironic covers of Goo Goo Dolls songs, the same way that the cool bands I knew growing up did ironic covers of Eddie Money songs. Get it? It’s circular.
And I’m befuddled by this kind of ironic nostalgia in the same way that hipsters ten years my senior must have been befuddled by my ironic nostalgia for the 80s at the time. This kind of detachment is thrice problematic:
1. The ironic cover of a passé pop song idea jumped the shark in 2002. It’s true: Dynamite Hack’s (remember them? Me neither)’s white boy acoustic ballad version of the NWA classic “Boyz in the Hood” was the last nail in the coffin.
2. All nostalgia is at least somewhat poisonous. Jan Wenner and David Geffen are still trying to get you to buy repackaged Doors collections, rather than invest emotionally in current artists. This is not because the Doors are a better band than, say, the Smoking Popes. Rather, this is because it is much easier (read: cost-effective) to sell the same old shit to each subsequent generation than spend energy cultivating new artists. Plus, when you get down to it, Jan Wenner couldn’t give a shit less if you like the stuff you consume, just so long as you pay through the nose for it. Keeping overhead low is priority number one for guys like Wenner. Never forget that.
(Folks, I don’t entirely know why Jan Wenner’s my particular scapegoat here. There are a lot of people responsible for the current industry slump. My only guess is that Wenner’s refusal to allow the Monkees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has something to do with it (further, if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame really had anything to do with Rock and/or Roll, wouldn’t the “and” be shortened to an “‘n”? Just asking.))
3. Ironic nostalgia gets in the way of a lot of the good stuff that happened. I know I personally didn’t discover any of the truly great, groundbreaking bands that came out in the 1980s (Black Flag, the Minutemen, the Replacements, the list goes on) because I was too busy banging my head to Goldfinger’s version of “99 Luftballons.” Would my life have been so much better, so much sooner, had I eschewed the Goldfinger record for, say Black Flag’s blistering semi-cover of “Louie, Louie,” (an afterthought on their seminal The First Four Years) or the Minutemen’s jammy take on CCR’s “Don’t Look Now” (ditto on the band’s magnum opus Double Nickels on the Dime)?
Yes. Jesus Christ. I would probably also have been spared obsession with Mustard Plug’s punk-ska take on The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman.” Which, to be fair, was actually pretty funny, and not really nostalgia at all: the two versions were released a year apart-than one band paying cheeky tribute to their friends.
I hope I’ve made my point. And if you’re still with me:
Five Records from 1997 for My Children (and my Children’s Children):
More on #14: 1997