Monday, December 23, 2013

not got a legacy to stand on

When did people start using the word "legacy" as an adjectival noun? As in "legacy artist"? It's one of those vague but evocative terms that does the job in  an open-ended sort of way.  Perhaps it has some business world or media world usage I'm unaware of, to do with branding or marketing or something like that  ...  but the idea I get from its use in a music context is "established, time-honoured, with a history behind it". A history that then becomes capable of being revisited.

An example from 2012, Phil Sherburne summing up the year in dance:
"Legacy genres like house, techno, drum and bass, and trance soldiered on, as they must. No slight to them; just as Japandroids proved the enduring pleasures of back-to-basics rock’n’roll, there was no shortage of if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it classicism in dance music, particularly in that nameless space between underground and overground.

So the transition from emergent genre to legacy genre is the very threshold at which retro becomes possible, in all its permutations (commemorative releases, oral histories, reissues, revivals, homages etc).

In between though there must be a stage of reasonable duration where the genre is neither unknown nor over-familiar but is in its prime: freshly accepted, but still surprising, still growing. Perhaps that corresponds to what some call the Imperial Phase (usually with an artist not a genre:  when a group or performer is at at the top of the world AND the top of their game, creatively -- just runnin' tings). 

"Legacy" is  a nice way of saying "old news". Which is a way of saying, "something you can't be an early adopter with, because you're too late, mate". For journalists, "legacy" also means: hard to get an assignment to write about in magazines, apart from specialist publications. ("What's the story, here? "Techno, Still Pretty Good"?!?!)

Perhaps when a genre reaches the legacy phase, it has a history behind it - but it can no longer make history. Its normalisation -- its acceptance -- is both its triumph and its downfall, because it's just part of the landscape now. 

Is there a subtle difference between "legacy" and "heritage"? Legacy perhaps leaves open some kind of functionality in the present ("a living legacy"), an ongoing state of relative vitality, the mature refinement and perfection of the already-formulated. "Heritage" just seems to suggest a museum culture, a style of music to be documented, studied,  memorialized preserved - propped up with reverence. 

Perhaps they correspond to stages of life....

emergent / childhood-teenage
imperial / young adulthood-thirtysomething
legacy / middle age 
heritage / old age

1 comment:

  1. Yes, "legacy" has a specific definition in corporate jargon: it means a business that the company is in because of its history, as opposed to the exciting new markets that it wants to develop. A classic example - and probably the context when the expression was first used - would be retailers launching trendy online operations to get away from their boring brick-and-mortar legacy business.

    As you say, it carries an implication that the legacy business still has something going for it. Typically, it generates cash, which can be invested in the more glamorous growth businesses. But it will never be exciting, and usually it is understood that there will come a time for the legacy to be shed, as the company moves into the next (putatively more dynamic) stage of its evolution.

    As it turned out, that turned out to be an unprofitable approach. The legacy business typically turned out to be an albatross. The winner for books was Amazon not Barnes & Noble, and for music it was Apple, not Borders or HMV.

    There is also this specific bit of branding, too: