Sunday, January 5, 2014

decades as adjectives

"Halfway through the year, while editing this paper's music section, I began to notice that we were using an awful lot of apostrophes. They usually appeared in a reference to some decade -- "'70s," "'80s," or "'90s" -- and those decades were being used not as actual dates, but adjectives. Time periods were serving as shorthand for particular qualities of new music -- qualities we apparently found reason to invoke again and again, usually approvingly" -- so writes Ian S. Port of SF Weekly, in a Critic's Notebook post titled "In 2012, Our Obsession With the Musical Past Made More Sense Than Ever", and  illustrated with the cover of the US edition of Retromania.

"The question is why, at this moment, is the past so enticing?", asks Port, offering the hypothesis that "never since the birth of the recorded pop music industry have things been as uncertain and bleak as they are now. Album sales are at historic lows. Streaming is replacing downloading, and while more people than ever are listening to music, most of them aren't paying for it. The major labels still try to launch blockbuster albums, but whether it's Jay-Z or Lady Gaga, they usually disappoint. Mid-level musicians have seen one revenue stream after another disappear, leaving them with endless touring and/or licensing music to commercial interests, neither of which is very attractive long-term. The entire industry is waylaid with a fear of the future that seems entirely justified."  Same goes for the world outside music: "We're at an apprehensive moment as a country -- about our jobs, our lives, our impending adulthood (or middle age, or retirement), our ability to remain in the cities we thought we wanted to live in forever. Next to a future that offers lots of anxiety and little reassurance, the past, and its music, feels comforting. At other times in history, we've looked to music to propel us forward, to push us out of dark years from which we'd just emerged. But now it's our present, or our immediate future, that we're seeking escape from."

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