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'90s Nostalgia

Check out what was hip and hot in the 1990s.

    It's been said that there are no original ideas, but it seems we've given up. Listen, some smug music writers are even declaring the "return" of grunge. When did it leave? Where the hell was I? And what is grunge, but a revisitation of late '70s rock? It gets convoluted.

    Douglas Coupland, who wrote that book about that generation, calls this an accelerated culture. It's a theory that's reflected in the fact that nostalgia is cycling faster and faster. Nostalgia itself is a fairly new concept. "When I was growing up in the Depression," says my granny, who knows everything, "people were too busy just trying to keep it together. You need leisure time for nostalgia." Sadly, this corroborates much that's said about the current generation, hinting that we've got too much time on our hands and too little innovation.

    In the '50s, nostalgia meant dressing like flappers and dancing the Charleston. In the '80s, it was hippie skirts and '60s music. It made a kind of sense. Two decades or so is just enough time to age an era like a fine wine. Mathematically speaking, it only followed that the '70s would come back in the '90s, but they were "over" by '92, remember? Then the glam '80s were back to haunt us, complete with at least five major-label "best-of" compilations! Now they're passé. Again.

    But dammit, how can you reminisce about the present?

    I may have stumbled across the answer in my friend's back yard. I was at a barbecue-disco party for which the host had mixed some four hours' worth of dance music, from early '70s disco tunes to '90s stuff. And even though it was all equally danceable, the new tracks were driving all but the diehards off the floor. But everyone dropped drinks and conversations to boogie down when Gloria Gaynor or Sly Stone came on. Maybe it's because memories fade with time, making it easy to romanticize the past. That would explain the natural 20-year cycle. And why nostalgia compilations sell. And why the big boys in the executive boardroom are trying to sell us our own era--everything else has been done.

    But don't dust off your "Just Do It" T-shirt and your Bush/Quayle bumper sticker yet. The '90s surely will be declared "out" by some unseen denizens of cool before this even makes print. Soon we'll have nowhere to go. There will be February nostalgia and last week nostalgia and yesterday nostalgia and breakfast nostalgia--but this could get tedious for even the most gullible trend slave.

    I propose something completely different: Instead of constantly recycling a style or a sound out of the archives, we'll strive to make something new, something no one else could have thought of. We'll anticipate the future before it comes. Hell, we'll create the future! We used to have something like that. It was called "originality." But why bother? Pass me another smart drink and turn on Models, Inc., willya?

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From the February 22-28, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing and Virtual Valley, Inc.


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