Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"sometimes the presents seems so dated!" / retro in comix

retromaniacal tinge to this funnie

(via Stanley Whyte)

reminded me, rather tangentially, of this Dan Clowes strip about a timewarp cultist who lives in a perpetual 1966

Thinking of Clowes's work, reminded me that I have some disordered and unformed thoughts about why it is that the dominant mode in comix, cartoons, illustration is  retro.

because  it is, isn't it? Go into a place like Wacko in Los Feliz, LA, and everywhere you look you see new work done in old illustrative and graphic art styles.... vintage fonts and typography and lettering...  campy Googie-era Fifites here, Gothic American there, B-movie psychotronic trash kultur etc

is it because, being as close to the world of craft as Art, the illustration/comix world is less hung up on modernist precepts?

But most of the comic/cartoon/illustration styles being reworked or drawn on, in their own time, would have been innovative, presumably?


Here's a little thing I did on Daniel Clowes's Caricature collection (whence the 1966-dude strip comes from) for Village Voice Literary Supplement.

Daniel Clowes


Fantagraphic Books, Inc

Cartoonist Daniel Clowes's stories are set  in some  all-American twilight zone of Hopper-esque diners, lugubrious motel rooms and desolate streetscapes. Time and place are deliberately left non-specific--it's the Big City, any-postwar-year-- allowing Clowes to indulge his fondness for  the kind of quaint furnishings and appliances (e.g. barber's chairs) that now sell as overpriced antiques in  "architectural salvage" stores.  Some of the stories in Clowes' new collection Caricature veer into the full-on noir surrealism of  Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron  (his famous Twin Peaks-like serial driven  by non-sequiturs and a mystery narrative that never resolves itself). But most develop further the seedy realism of  his superb 1997 graphic novel Ghost World,  conjuring a world that's all the more uncanny because the blatantly supernatural rarely occurs. Caricature's most poignant stories seem autobiographical:   brink-of-puberty vignettes "Immortal, Invisible" and "Like A Weed, Joe", and  "Blue Italian Shit", a memoir of life as johnny-come-lately punk at the tail end of the Seventies. From the title story's fairground caricaturist to the decrepit  cartoon superhero in "Black Nylon" and the pugnacious epigone in "MCMLXVI"  (who believes American culture peaked circa 1966) Clowes's forte is stalled lives and blocked dreams. Nobody  can rival him when it comes to the physiognomy of anomie--he's  a virtuoso at jaded eyes, non-commital mouths, and the myriad facial nuances of affectlessness.

And here's theVoice piece by me on Ghost World the movie, which features quotes from Clowes as well as Terry Zwigoff, and has that whole retro-pathos subplot of the 78 rpm platter collector scene, the choleric Seymour character added gratuitously and largely eclipsing the Enid-Rebecca relationship.

Monday, July 22, 2013

archive fever, part 1923948238

http://www.hymanarchive.com/   -  the world's largest collection of pop culture magazine?

but does he have these?

retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time - #48

"Bosch and Brueghel were ahead of their time. They were fighting against enormous odds to make statements that might be seen as sinful. Looking at their pictures, I see these brown and red tones that seem to evoke history and madness at the same time, and I want to commend them for taking this plunge into madness...." -- Ed Ruscha, on his Vienna show 'The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas', New Yorker interview, 2013 

(Title for show stolen from Mark Twain's autobiography)

(Ruscha quote via Our God Is Speed)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Chris Ott is doing a series of interesting posts related to Retromania over at Shallow Rewards

here's the first

and here's the second

from the latter, Ott asks:

"What is the modern response for subjugated fans now that music distribution and recommendation platforms are profiting from their attention, regardless of the nature of that attention. You might be listening to something and just retching over how bad it is; you would never pay money for it, but because you landed on it, someone’s using you as proof of their popular (read: advertising) footprint. How can anyone delude themselves a referendum based on this kind of binary tallying is valid? This system cedes the same corrupt control over music promotion the industry had in the physical media era to digital publishers and the PR firms they’re coziest with."

Yeah, often thought that as a measure of popular taste and popular desire, a system based around buying records is much more revealing, I think.  For most people, the expense of buying a solid-form music commodity is significant, so it represents either A/ real desire or B/ real curiosity (which could be susceptible to hype, but hype so powerful that it might be considered a form of social reality in itself, indicating serious commitment on the part of the operators of the hype machinery).

The casual, aimlessly drifting, itchy-click-trigger nature of net browsing means that all kinds of very weakly or barely at all cathected attention accrues to things.

In response to this other part of post #2:

"At fourteen, I paid $28 for a copy of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s The Impossible Dream because Robert Smith said he loved Alex Harvey. Not only was I stuck with an expensive and impenetrable piece of glam-era lunacy, I had to confront that my biggest idol had really questionable taste. Granted, I’ve come to appreciate SAHB in my golden years—particularly "Anthem"—but I endured repeated listens of a record I could not understand or stand because I had nothing else to do but work out why it mattered to someone I worshiped and not to me. That will never happen again, not the way we’re set up. You will click away the second a song loses you, and you’ll never learn anything about yourself. I mean it: you will never unlock or awaken new neural paths in your brain if you continue to gravitate toward music that satisfies your expectations. That is Easy Listening"

... Tom Ewing speculates intriguingly:

"My suspicion is that listening (and watching, etc.) is ultimately going to enter the grey realm of willpower: people will have attention regimes, in the way they follow dietary regimes and exercise regimes*, and will have them in public: a proclamation of one’s listening regime will become a kind of social marker. Demonstrating you can pay attention in a world of instant clicks will be a mark of presumed character (and bragging rights) in the same way demonstrating you keep fit in a world of chairs and screens is among white-collar workers now.

"Exactly what form these attention regimes will take I’m not sure. They won’t be quite the same as having rigid or even ‘refined’ tastes. But we’re seeing signs of their rise now - the vogue for #longform posting (mostly regardless of density of ideas or quality) for instance. They will go some way towards solving the problem Chris Ott outlines, assuming you feel it’s a problem. They will also introduce their own neuroses and snobberies, which might be even worse."

Related to the cult of the long-form post, it's interesting that a couple of high profile web-only magazines (in one of the cases, very high profile: indeed synonomous with the internet and making a success in that medium )  (I'm not naming them because I'm suddenly not sure it's been publicly announced yet) are in the process of putting out print-only versions of themselves on a quarterly basis. Presumably a really challenging undertaking, going from digital to analogue -- learning from scratch everything from production to distribution.

It is possible of course to flick desultorily through a printed magazine in the same way one drifts shiftlessly across the infosphere, but something about the bounded, enclosed nature of the magazine seems to encourage getting pulled into a story... and staying with it until the end. And I do mystically believe that printed words somehow imprint themselves better on the brain than electronic type.

Friday, July 19, 2013

the outward urge



 Thought I had read everything by John Wyndham, but I have no recollection of this one at all: The Outward Urge, published in 1959.

 [from wiki] It is a future history, set from 1994 to 2194. It tells the story, with chapters at 50-year intervals, of the exploration of the solar system, with space stations in Earth orbit, then moon bases, and landings on Mars in 2094, Venus in 2144, and the asteroids. This is told through the Troon family, several members of which play an important part in the exploration of space, since they all feel "the outward urge", the desire to travel further into space. They all "hear the thin gnat-voices cry, star to faint star across the sky", a quote from The Jolly Company by Rupert Brooke.[2]

In 1994 "Ticker" Troon is killed foiling a Soviet missile attack on a British space station, and is later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

In 2044 a major nuclear war between the USSR and the West wipes out most of the Northern Hemisphere. Inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere — virtually the only survivors of humanity — call it "The Great Northern War", the far earlier war of the same name seeming very minor in comparison. Only after hundreds of years, with radioactivity going down, do expeditions from the south start carefully exploring and preparing to re-colonise the ravaged northern hemisphere.

Brazil is left as the main world power, which then claims that "Space is a province of Brazil". However Australia eventually emerges as a serious rival. Consequently, English and Portuguese become contenders for the position of the major world-wide (eventually, Solar System wide) language.

Eventually, space explorers break away from the tutelage of both earthbound powers and establish themselves as a major third power, called simply "Space"; the Troon Family plays a major role in this as in many other events."

Swiftly overtaken by events, of course... and interesting how one of the later Penguin covers depicts a naturalistic rendering (or is it actually a photograph?) of a rocket taking off from Cape Canavarel, unlike the more abstract or future-fantastic earlier covers.  

Fun fact -- "Lucas Parkes" was one of Wyndham's alter-egos, so this is a collaboration with himself.

Hugely popular and widely read in his day, with Day of the Triffids and Midwich Cuckoos both made into successful movies (the latter as Village of the Damned), John Wyndham is a bit forgotten now -  he never had the cool or cachet of your Ballards or P K Dicks or Moorcocks, being an older era figure with no bohemian or countercultural affiliations, a sort of bridge perhaps between H.G. Wells and the New Worlds lot. (Never realised that he died in 1969, i.e. several years before I picked up Triffids and The Kraken Wakes.). But under-rated, I think. I really like the cold, dour Britishness of his novels and short stories and recall Midwich Cuckoos and, especially, The Chrysalids as particularly powerful and chilling.  The latter would make for a good movie, I reckon.

here's my keynote speech at the Tomorrow Never Knows symposium on the future, in Glasgow, June 22

here's Paul Morley's response

and here's Steven Bode's opening remarks

Thursday, July 18, 2013

time smashing

neophilia flips into retrophilia: the birth of vintage in the middle Sixties


the self-effacing cover version

Been fooled twice this past week by hearing this on the radio and thinking it's the original at first.

Normally with a cover, a group strives to "make it their own". Bring out hidden dimensions. Make style the locus of originality, not content.

But this interpretation is uncommonly faithful, to the point of redundancy

The Bunnymen even got Ray Manzarek to play keyboards on it. Actually, Ray produced the single.

It's like a Medieval illuminated manuscript, a perfect replica of a sacred rock text requiring absolute self-erasure on the part of the craftsmen.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Yesterday's World

Jeune French-American deejay-producer Yan Wager dit que c'est moi qui est accro de passé.

Accro means addicted, passé means past obviously.

He's a blurb I found on Yan's music:

"He writes and performs all his songs, merging electronic beats and sounds with a low and crooning voice. His influences span many genres and time frames, from Depeche Mode to D.A.F., from Prince to Tangerine Dream, from neo disco to early Detroit Techno... All these entrenched in a timeless Pop gesture."

Many genres and time frames, except that they're all the 1980s and apart from Prince, basically electronic pop!  (And Prince did electro-funk stuff some of the time anyway).

A young man, in 2013, making music based almost entirely around a time when I was a young man!

On  songs like "Recession World" he sings like a gruffer John Maus.

This mix he done starts with "Love Action"

Here's his remix of a synth-pop outfit called Tomorrow's World, a song called "Drive". Presumably the car is set in reverse.

"Atemporality", yeah, okay, but the back-to-Eighties was already done once in living memory (electroclash) and then twice (La Roux et al) even more recently. How much more can be eked out of this patch of sound?

If I'm "accro" at least I'm "accro" to things I experienced the first-time around, in real time. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Surprised to find one of those whatever-happened-to-the-future essays on Daily Kos of all places - by a dude called Mark Sumner

Who draws parallels with the curious fact about acceleration, that "as an object approaches the speed of light... you can throw more and more energy into accelerating that object" but  "it becomes increasingly reluctant to pick up speed. Instead, that energy gets added to the mass of the object, making it even harder to accelerate. Eventually, despite any effort you might make, the object just becomes more massive, stubbornly staying short of exceeding, or even completely reaching, the speed of light"

and limits-to-growth, innovation-gets-harder-and-more-expensive type ideas

  "As John Horgan pointed out in his book The End of Science the cost of making fundamental technological discoveries has been a steady march from basement tinkers to the Large Hadron Collider. Where we could once make fundamental leaps for the cost of some polished lenses and a few pounds of chemicals, it now takes massive international efforts to move the goal line an inch. To make the kind of breakthroughs required to reach the Singularity, or clear any of the hurdles standing in its way, an investment greater than anything we’ve seen before will be required."

as well as the mystery of why we haven't heard from alien civilisations yet, given that there's millions or even billions of solar systems that could have planets that might support life.

"Maybe civilizations just … run out of steam. Maybe instead of a never-ending climb, we’re doomed to just follow an arc of our own making, right back into the ground.....  perhaps the answer to “where are they” can be derived simply from the one intelligent civilization we know. Where are they? Nowhere. They didn’t spread to the stars. They didn’t reach a technical nirvana. Instead they just … failed.... They built systems in which technical progress was too closely allied with the profit motive, and as the scale of investment increased and the prospect of gain became both more long term and speculative, they simply stalled out. Like a rocket with insufficient velocity to achieve orbit, they surged up, up, up but eventually could not move any higher, or even maintain the peak of their flight. They fell back. They used up, wore down, wore out....

 "One day going to the moon was a dream. Then it was a fact. Then it was history. Then it was a myth"

This "Moon landing as myth' idea reminded me of two things -- Daft Punk's "Contact", which I talked about at the Tomorrow Never Knows Symposium as an elegy for Space and the Western Faustian drive of a "perpetual spiritual reaching out into boundless space" (Spengler) and then I quoted not the bit that DP  sampled from Eugene Cernan on "Contact" ("there's something out there" etc etc) but what he actually said, as the last man to stand on the Moon's surface, when he climbed up the ladder into the lunar module:

“As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I'd like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow.

The other thing "then it was a myth" re. the Moon missions reminded me of was that when I did an interview with Salon.com about Retromania, and during the course of it mentioned the space race, some idiot in the typically-Salon.com rebarbative comments section made fun of that: "how dated, he's talking about the space race" . As if the idea of Humanity pushing beyond its terrestial confines was somehow camp - not an epic civilisational project or essential spiritual imperative - but more or less on the same level as the open-necked shirt and medallion-in-a-nest-of-chest-hair.  Something that went out of style in the Seventies.

Actually the analogy is more with something like Woodstock -- the Space Race, as a locus of excitement and expectation, now regarded, with the enormous condescension of posterity, as a form of generational over-estimation - something it's embarrassing when the old folks keep banging on and on about it....

Sunday, July 14, 2013

savages versus banshees

Funny post from Tendenzroman on Savages that echoes Adam Curtis's remarks:

Do you like Siouxsie and the Banshees? Then you’ll love Savages!*

*Subject to terms and conditions. Savages do not accept responsibility for listeners feeling that they are trapped in a nightmare reality where they are doomed to listen to music that sounds like a carbon copy of music their parents listened to, and that they live on an exhausted husk of a planet which has nothing new or surprising to offer any more. If symptoms persist consult a doctor. Side effects of medication may include but are not limited to: Nausea, loss of appetite, feelings of hopelessness, lack of awareness, dizziness, shallowness of breath, compliance, apathy.

Funnier thing, though, is Tendenzroman is this dude Curtis I had an interesting dialogue with a couple of years ago about Retromania, in which he took dispute with its thesis (before having read the book!) and in fact one of his arguments was that postpunk groups had been often quite derivative and retro-pastiche oriented. (Actually the dialogue was me responding to an earlier post of his).

I disagreed with that "postpunk just as retro argument as music today" naturally (as I vehementally disagreed with people who tried to make out that the Beatles and the Stones were derivative and "retro"). When postpunk groups were derivative it was a second-division group copying a first-division one (eg Red Lorry Yellow Lorry vis Joy Division). And retro-eclectic Orange Juice and The Specials were the bridge out of postpunk into New Pop aka postmodernism aka the Dawn of the Era of Retromania.

But it does raise the question of what is it that makes the leading postpunk groups's relationship with their precursors and inspirations (in Banshees's case, glam, Krautrock, Doors, Velvets,  I would say a bit of Jefferson Airplane, etc) different from Savages-type bands's relationship with their precursors/sources/inspirations? Is it something to do with a narrowing of the musical gene pool, or a degree of precision that makes the effect more replication than evolution?  How much is it to do with the spread of the notion of curation, which is not a self-conception that postpunk groups would have had of themselves?

What takes place, in terms of actual musical practice as well as guiding outlook/approach/sensibility, that results in the former (postpunk) being so much more generative than the latter (neo-postpunk)?

Because Siouxsie and the Banshees were literally genre-ative - they gave birth to Goth, a huge and longlasting musical-style movement-subculture. Savages are not going to lead to anything. In the same way that the early-2000s neo-postpunk wave - Interpol, Franz, Rapture etc - hasn't led to anything.

At the same time, Banshees were not averse to showcasing their influences in a vaguely postmodern way, although truthfully really in a glam way (in 1987 they did that whole, rather dispiriting treading-water album of covers, Through the Looking Glass, in the mode of Bowie/Pin Ups and Ferry/These Foolish Things).  But  very early on they covered "20th Century Boy" by T. Rex, and their biggest hit was "Dear Prudence" off the White Album. 

But a cover version made from a position of aesthetic strength (the state of having already innovated) is different from the disavowed cover versions, the all-but-a-cover-version of the Savages-type bands, who write putatively new, "original" songs in an older, other's style. With the Banshees (or Ferry), it's s just a gracious tip of the hat to ancestors that you have in some sense equalled, pulled up alongside in the pantheon. It's saying to your fans, "you want some more greatness? Go check out what nourished us when we were just fans too, like you".