Music is the cultural bundle package. It defined the identity of post-war social movements and their countercultures; it also acts as a commodity consciously bought, sold, and made marketable to prospective general audiences in the form of fads or trends. Why do certain elements of pop music persist in their popularity? Why do others become dated and kitsch? What is retro? What is vintage? Why do we like them? Why do the Beatles still sell records to 15-year olds? Why do 15-year olds still buy records? Isn’t this the Digital Age? Why does Maroon 5 write songs about Mick Jagger? What about Nick Waterhouse, whose contemporary albums made in contemporary studios are meant to sound as ‘sixties’ as possible? What about cover songs? What about cover albums? What about box sets? Why do people buy them? They’re expensive. Do people ever listen to them?
All 500 bootleg uncut versions of Queen Jane Approximately?
What about reunion tours? Who goes to see Pat Benatar at a casino for 9$? I did. I wasn’t even alive when she was at her most popular, but I went anyway. What about that Grateful Dead Archive? Can you really archive a musical event? Is that still relevant? Going to an archive is nothing like seeing a concert in person. Can you put punk rock in an archive? That’s not very punk rock. What about post-punk? New wave? No Wave? Why do people pay $15.00 for a mediocre hamburger at the Hardrock-Café-Wherever to gawk at Eric Clampton’s old unsigned red Fender behind bullet-proof glass? The guitar is not Eric Clampton. Right? Or Elvis. Or The Beatles.
If nostalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, what exactly do these trends say? If a generation begins longing for a past it never participated in, does that imply some sort of current cultural dissatisfaction? How can you feel homesick for a house you never lived in? Have visions of the future in the chaos of the postmodern world been recapitulated backwards?
Maybe the answer lies in understanding the nature of post-war consumerism and the advent of leisure time. People now had time to be nostalgic and culturally disaffected. People suddenly had the money, and the education, and the time to spend collecting tokens of the past, and constructing their identities around them. You could live in the 60’s and dress like you were from the 30’s, or from England, or from India, or from Bohemia. The rise of the service economy and upward swell of per capita income freed white America to be unsatisfied.
But! In the grander scope of larger more historic epochs, haven’t humans always been unsatisfied? Isn’t that what drives the need for progress? Even if we’re well fed, housed and exist outside the immediate threat of arbitrary violence, humans will find something to be discontented over. Maybe we’re not really post-anything. The music industry is a case study.