Friday, October 12, 2012
The Nostalgia Trap
Rick Springfield released his 13th studio album of original material on Tuesday. You’re likely reacting to this news with one of three thoughts:
(1) Who gives a shiitake?
(2) Ooh! “Jessie’s Girl”!
or (3) Cool!
If you’re still reading, I figure you’re not in Camp #1. I’m part of the small fraction of our society who reacted with #3. Rick Springfield is an essential cog in the musical machine known as Power Pop, and I’m gonna get his newest album, Songs for the End of the World, as soon as my eMusic credits refresh at roughly 5 p.m. tonight.
Today’s topic is tricky camp of people who react with #2, whose sole meaningful connection to Rick Springfield is a single Grammy-winning song released in 1981.
Colin McGuire over at PopMatters wrote a gem of an essay about Misguided Nostalgia for the Musical ‘90s, wondering why critics who hated Matchbox 20 in 1998 would 15 years later compare their newest album to the one they hated as if the one they hated was some underrated pop classic. McGuire mentions other bands artistically “trapped” by their ‘90s time like Third Eye Blind and Everclear.
The misleading assumption of his essay is to suggest this fate befalls only ‘90s bands, or only one-hit or one-album wonders. I'm not sure The Nostalgia Trap is so selective.
Can anyone move past their biggest hit, their biggest album? Did Michael Jackson ever completely escape the shackles of Thriller? It became the miracle against which every future album was measured. If Kurt Cobain had lived to make 10 more albums, he could never have completely escaped “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The Nostalgia Trap doesn't merely snag the Hansons or Survivors of the musical landscape; it hits pop culture megastars, too.
Perhaps the only chance musicians have of escaping the zeitgeist is by failing to capture a peak moment in the pop culture timeline.
Perhaps the rose-colored blinders are on, but I follow Rick Springfield’s Facebook page, and the dude is busting his ass sideways to push this new album. He’s whoring himself to anyone with a camera and a cable channel, and if playing “impromptu” in an NYC subway terminal might sell a few more albums, he’ll do it (and did... and he made, like, $3 in the hat he put in front of him!).
The nostalgia of listeners is not something artists can fight, I don’t think. You can’t change the current just by swimming upstream. But what kills artists -- or at least what deadens me to them -- is when the nostalgia infects them too deeply as well. I simply don’t understand why so many of us pay $50, $100, even more, just to watch the older versions of musicians crank out the exact same concert they cranked out when they were crisper musicians and more passionate about their work. (See: The Pixies, Eagles, Backstreet Boys, and so on ad infinitum.)
Rick’s old and wise enough to no longer worry whether “Jessie’s Girl” is what people think of him. He knows damn well he owes a huge chunk of his last 30 years’ change to that song, but he’s not content to let his story end, and he’s not content to just keep cranking out concerts where the setlists haven’t changed in a decade or longer.
Maybe my tune will change in early December, as I sit with my wife, celebrating her birthday by cheering on Hall & Oates from the balcony. Maybe we’ll all just swim happily in our nostalgia, my wife and I, reunited with Hall, and Oates, like it’s some musical hot tub time machine.