Monday, January 3, 2011

American Pop Culture is Dead! Long Live Its Zombiefied Corpse!

A blog, oh my god!!!  Yes, it is true I have finally dove into the blog waters (and yes, I fully realize how disgusting that sounds.)  As for what this blog is about, well, it’s about things I’m interested in, and if you know me, that is a lot of various and sundries. If you don’t know me, welcome, and hang on because you’ll find out…

Things Fall Apart

One topic that I will writing about a lot on this blog is the period of 1972 to 1976, with a particular emphasis on the simply magical, and totally screwed-up and scary year of 1973.

Now, I’m sure a big part of my recent fascination with this time period is because I’ve reached the point where I can’t forestall “middle age” any longer, and that ole debbil mortality is starting to peek over the horizon at me.  But as I’ve been digging into some personal archeology, I’ve made the discovery that a tremendous number of my best memories, and my first exposure to the pop culture that would shape my attitudes and tastes for the rest of my life hit in 1972 to 1974 with a major epicenter being the autumn of 1973.

Looking back from the first tenth of the 21st Century one can see an uninterrupted lineage of American pop culture that began around the time of World War I and extends into the late seventies – and then everything began to change.  Part of the change was technology, part of if was in the psychological make-up of how America viewed itself, part of it was how the world had changed, but whatever the reasons, the old internal combustion engine of 20th Century American Pop Culture began to sputter and miss and would never run the same again.

Now don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I’m not saying that what came next wasn’t as good, (although I may feel that way sometimes…) but it was different. Through the Eighties everything was in transition – music, movies, fiction, comics, art, design.  At the time there was a feeling that we were on the edge of something. We didn’t know what, but we could feel that something was about to change.

I think The Replacements captured that moment perfectly in their 1985 tribute to Eighties “alternative” rock and college radio, “Left of the Dial.” The excitement, the spark, is there. Not in the lyrics necessarily, but in the whole feeling of the song.  If you were there at the moment I’m talking about it’s a feeling you know well.

But along with the excitement there was a bit of foreboding. Seen through the rearview mirror of the last twenty-five years, part of that excitement was the undercurrent of “This is our last chance to get it right.”  Now again, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  I’m not declaring that everything went to crap with the dawn of the Nineties (although I may feel that way sometimes…)  What we were really sensing was the final winding down of the 20th Century American Pop Culture machine. Once Nirvana went to number one and REM became millionaires, once there was a Star Trek TV series that not only managed to stay on the air but become a success with “mundanes,” once movies became accessible any time you wanted to watch them, once Watchmen made comic books into “novels,” there was no going back.

As the Nineties began with remakes and “retro” what we were really seeing was the birth of 21st Century Pop Culture.  And the first thing this petulant progeny did was devour its parent whole. Nothing can now be made without the knowledge and awareness of what came preceded it. Sure this happened before. The pulps of the 1920s and 1930s had devoured and regurgitated the newspaper serials and dime novels of the 19th Century.  Early country and “race” music had its roots in tin pan alley and minstrel shows of the 19th Century.  But unlike before, the threads, roots, and illicit liaisons and conceptions are all fully on display.  Pop culture has become self-aware.

So, how did I get so far away from 1973?  It was a magic time for me because I was ten years old, but it was a weird and magic time for many other reasons too.  But that is for subsequent blogs…

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