Saturday, 7 July 2012

Nostalgia- An Old Path Forward

This blog has been prompted by an interesting article I read yesterday in The Age by Bernard Zuel, called Harmonious Recollections which discusses a revival in the West Coast sounds of the 1970's focusing on artists like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles etc. There has also been a resurgence in bluesgrass and early country music which has been generating renewed interest as part of the Americana revival of the last 10 or so years. Bands like Dawes, The Avett Brothers have captured the raw and introspective nature of the Laurel Canyon sound and given it a 21st century context, in an uncertain world this music has a new appeal. Neil Young captured that spirit of uncertainty in the word, and the ideal of that continual search for love and peace and the turbulent paths it often took him down. It seems that same ethos permeates the musical landscape today and it's refreshing. The idea of artists viewing their music through the prism of nostalgic reverence is nothing new, there are few genuine revolutionary sparks in music these days. The first of those giant tremors was the explosion of rock and roll, a vibrant contagious rhythm that permeated across popular culture. It was soon diluted, mass marketed, mass produced, given a short back and sides and given a collegiate sweater to wear. In the distance though was a new generation of musicians who were alienated from the mainstream popular music, taking the vitality and danger of rock and roll they gave it a new cloak to wear, speeding up the music, using new technology to give it a more pristine sound without losing the pulse of the music. It was born in the grimy dock cities of Liverpool and Manchester and in the decaying social fabric of inner city London, The British Invasion gave rock and roll a nostalgic re-birth with all the elements of American rock and roll plus a new focus on rhythm and blues that was added into the pot for good measure.

The decline is similar the initial spark is diluted, re-produced with far less creativity and imagination and soon it's a dull homogenised version, so the music drifts from one path to another waiting for the next generation to re-capture that spirit and take it, run with it and create something new. Punk was the next tidal wave that swept all before, less commercially successful it still had the effect of being a rallying cry to arms, it had that same original spirit taking something old and adding something to it fresh and new. The sound was raw rock and roll with no frills just the jangle of guitars and the wild howls of rebellion, in the states and in the UK a lot of these bands took their cue from 1950's rockabilly music and that was the nostalgic thread used in their new vision. It could be 20 years ago now my timeline is unclear to me, but it seems that in that period there was a new awakening, a desire for a music that came from somewhere more pure and still retained a certain darkness that corresponded with the times. Old time country and bluegrass offered the framework for this, and later folk influences found their own part in the mix. Bands like Wilco, The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo and Ryan Adams were early pioneers of re-creating that nostalgic thread, not back to the halcyon days of rock and roll but to the insightful and honesty of the Laurel Canyon sound. There will always be new music but the thread of nostalgia will always be visible, there will be of course period where there are profound changes or tremors you only have too look at electronic music and styles like dub and two-step which have created their own waves and who knows maybe in twenty years time those sounds will be re-discovered and linked to something new.

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