I was barely 2 years old when Kurt Cobain died, so that I came to Nirvana through playing Guitar Hero is probably upsetting to some people that actually remember hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio (or even kids stuck in some rock authenticity mindset), and not as an oldie on a Modern Rock station. So, this awkward relationship between 90s nostalgia and its current pop culture revival versus those who actually lived through the decade is humorous to me.
“The latter garnered good viewing figures, but what is striking about the recent “9ties R Back!” blather is the absence of any real sense of “by popular demand.” The retrospection feels rote, the predictable upshot of the way that commemorative cycles have become a structural, in-built component of the media and entertainment industry” says Simon Reynolds in his Slate piece “The Ghost of Teen Spirit”. As people were quick to point out Reynolds’ reading on this really misread the motivations behind some of the retro revivals. At school, I’ll hear people talk about wanting to play Nintendo 64 even when there is a Playstation 3 or a Xbox 360 that could be played, because for a lot of people one of these machines connects with them in an emotional way the other just doesn’t (also, 4 players games were kind of better on the N64).
There seems to be a constant worry about the corporate reasons of why certain things are reissued and brought back to the public conscious, but seems misplaced. At least among friends and people I know around my age (not much older than 21 mind you), there always seems to be a shared nostalgia for early 90s Disney movies (Lion King 3-D, anyone), but that doesn’t mean the same people still don’t love Pixar movies. Even extended to music reissues, which can range from useful to unnecessary (I mean a 4 CD version of a single album, might be a bit much); I enjoy reissues, because even if I don’t always buy them, they bring older music back to the forefront of the public’s conscious.
Last August, Lil B released a song called “Free Wayne”, which had him rapping over the instrumental of the Hot Boy’s 1996 track “50 Shots Set It Off”. The song is not that great, but more important than just being another clichéd “Free _____” song is that its 90s references would go by unquestioned. The reason is that even while Lil B gets plenty of credit as being a pretty unique rap personality; he still wears his influences of 90s Cash Money or even OJ Da Juiceman on his sleeves. The same is true of Lil B’s “(insert color here) Flame” mixtape series, which recall Pen N Pixel cover of 1990s No Limit and Cash Money Records. On one level this type of revival is on a way smaller scale than what has been happening with Nirvana’s legacy (which Reynolds in his piece spends a lot of time talking about), but running through his piece is that specifically revival of the 90s shouldn’t happen, and that this decade should be kept in the grave, unlike 80s, 70s, 60s, and every decade before.
The problem for Reynolds and older people who actually lived through the 90s is that they don’t really have a choice in this matter. Reissues continue to sell to those who love the band originally and those discovering them for the first time; bands will continue to reunite whether for money or artistic drive; books, TV shows, and movies will continue to talk about this magical era before smart phones and Twitter as if it was more than a mere twenty years ago. And you know what…I couldn’t be happier about it. I am fine with letting the popular masses and economic forces sort this issue pit and not getting angry when an artist covers or reference an artist one originally saw when they were 16 at their first show with their then girlfriend/boyfriend. The only thing I remember about the 90s were VHS tapes, the Charlotte Hornets (and Chicago Bulls), and Pokémon cards, so I’ll enjoy reliving a time I never fucking knew.
But wherever in the world you live, what you can glean from this sad parade is a shadow history of pop culture, the massive-selling tack that never makes it into the official account. Most of the records churned out in such a volume during the twentieth century still exist in the world…
Simon Reynolds, from “Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to It’s Own Past”.
Having spent a good amount of the last month going through my family’s records, cassettes, and CDs; it is interesting seeing how big albums: Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection, or anything by the Jackson 5 sit in a basement right next to local 1970s Funk 45s or cassettes of local church choirs. Then in the middle ground there are these albums by groups I would have to cross my fingers they would have a wiki page only to discover, they went gold with a couple of hits, but with a good 30 years since their last hit, that music that was once moderately popular is just as known as a those early 90s church cassettes to someone who was born well after that group had a hit.