Post-Modernism and the Popular Music of the 90s: Pastiche, Parody and False Nostalgia, Mirroring the Ghosts of the Past
By Cyrus Manasseh 2020
There had of course been Hip, Hop, and many different music styles as well as Heavy Metal which hadn’t disappeared, yet became reconfigured. (Manasseh)
There is much in the culture that seems mystifying especially if we look at what had happened in the sphere of popular music in the 1990s with regard to music, fashions and hairstyles. In fact, the period saw the strong and more tangible introduction of the post-modern age and thinking into popular culture, which saw mainstream and alternative music styles become somewhat joined together in the minds of many. It was a time when everyone said that everything should be accepted resulting in a pick n’ mix culture appearing, which had seemed to come out of nowhere in a sense, yet was all around us.
With all of this taking place especially in Anglo Saxon cultures/countries, with also the 90s being an age of powerful technological tools for recording, which had made the studio mixes and the thickness of the sound even more powerful, a large diversity of the groups, which revealed the idea of what was classed as mainstream pop music melded with what had previously been classed alternative. These had filled the music scene and was heralded as being able to produce a fresh new originality and liveliness which had generated much new excitement in the culture. As part of this excitement, recording changed with the increasing use of digital formats. VHS started to disappear and compact digital discs which supplanted analogue records, made music appreciation more “convenient for consumers and opened the door for longer albums…”. (Beacham 2017)
Yet while this had helped make things all seem quite new, very fresh and original, it is something difficult to understand, but it would seem many music groups frequently without a feeling of true nostalgia, used the advances in recording quality to take an inordinate amount of inspiration from the sound and look of musical groups, which had come from what they had imagined had existed in the past. Yet it was a dream of the past, of something that had never actually existed.
For 90s pop musicians, in addition to the heavy groups of the early 70s, the British Invasion (though not specifically confined to it), which began with the Beatles in 1963 seemed especially influential and significant. Although, many of the bands and singers that would make it in the 1960s, such as Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and The Everly Brothers, had already had mainstream success in the 1950s, the look and sound of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones – particularly John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Brian Jones appeared to be emulated, whether it be a vocal style and timbre or jackets, vintage 60s sunglasses or by those taking what seems fake inspiration from the music, dress, and an interpretation of the attitude of the past. For example, things like John Lennon’s white Roll’s Royce, would be put on an album cover.
In fact, the British Invasion which began with the Beatles in 1963 had included Adam Faith, Billy Fury, Manfred Mann, The Yardbirds, Procol Harum, The Animals, The Kinks, The Spencer Davis Group, The Zombies and The Rolling Stones. (Puterbaugh 1988) and 90s groups like Blur and Oasis, The Stone Temple Pilots, Lenny Kravitz, Canadian group The Tea Party, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Cake in an age of parody, pastiche and false nostalgia seemed to indirectly reference, modify, borrow ideas, motifs and guitar riffs which in a rather ghostly way would seem to mirror the sound and feeling/sentiment and style of those found in those old groups as well as in groups like T, Rex, The Sex Pistols, The Who, Cream, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, King Crimson, The Velvet Underground, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, The Stooges, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd and especially Led Zeppelin.
Veenstra and Kuipers state that for Fredric Jameson in his discussion of postmodernism, “Vintage seems to fit seamlessly into this postmodern understanding of style.” (Veenstra and Kuipers 2013, p, 360) In fact, as early as 1984, Fredric Jameson related this to the “disappearance of the individual subject, along with its formal consequence, [for which] the increasing unavailability of the personal style, engender the well-nigh universal practice today of what may be called pastiche.” (Jameson 1984, p. 23)
Given that this is true, in an age of parody and pastiche there therefore could be no real stealing of anything from that which had taken place before in the culture, since all was parody and pastiche and instead only an appropriation of something that was mistakenly thought to have existed before. As Jameson stated in relation to postmodern music, art and culture, it was the “random cannibalization of all styles of the past” which therefore, by no means entail an actual or real hungriness or nostalgia for the genuine or literal past, but instead, a simulacrum “an identical copy for which no original ever existed”. (Jameson 1984, p.194) Perhaps, because of this, the pop/rock stars of 90s had more closely and freely aligned themselves to those of the late 60s and early 70s without repercussions or any recriminations in the 90s. Perhaps because of this, everything had been taken as part of a normal, yet new culture, and it is perhaps why hardly anyone had batted an eyelid regarding the various strange ghostly mirroring and false sense of nostalgia that could be found, even though these apparent similarities could sometimes be startling. Perhaps it was because all of us were living a life immersed in it all - that is, living in a world of parody, pastiche and false nostalgia.
Yet while parody and pastiche can be empty and without a root, it was legitimised by the culture itself. As Fredric Jameson wrote, “parody finds itself without a vocation; it has lived, and that strange new thing pastiche slowly comes to take its place.” (Jameson 1984, p. 23)
The late 60s and early 70s
Yet, if so much parody and pastiche had actually existed, what had been so attractive in the culture of the late 60s and early 70s for many of the 90s groups? What was happening in the 90s that had made the late 60s and the sound of the early 70s so attractive for them and what was it that exactly inspired them? Although the group The Jam in the late 70s had also done it in a sense with some Beatles influenced music, and there had been many groups after the Beatles and other significant groups of the 60s that were copied, there would never be so much regurgitation, parody and pastiche as there had been by 90s groups. To try to understand and answer such questions, we must, more carefully look at the time of the late 60s and early 70s. What seems interesting about this period in relation to the 90s is that the music of all these periods more so than perhaps the 80s focused on social issues.
In fact, the 60s, like the 90s, had been a time of great change in society: fashion, attitudes, views, politics. In the early 60s, and the following years, various social and political influences (Kennedy’s death for example, which had influenced many musicians to write differently) altered popular music helping to shape the diversity that would be experienced from thereon end.
In fact, the late 60s, like 90s’ criticisms of the social systems of the 90s as well as those in the 80s and its music, had been a time when criticism of the systems in society and the status quo was strong. In addition to the politics, the late 60s and early 70s were a time when institutions, including museums showing art were being criticised. Stereotypical attitudes to producing art works which extended to their appreciation by gallery and museums audiences saw an ongoing intent by artists to erase and reconstruct the perceptions and views of everyone going to see the art in galleries. (Manasseh 2010, pp. 4-5)
But while the 90s in an age of parody and pastiche saw a rejection of previous values like the late 60s and early 70s, in the 90s, criticism of political and social conditions was, in a sense, somewhat twisted. In fact, because much of the 90s saw a curious appropriation or re-appropriation of old ideas which were combined to exist with many of the new things that were happening in the world along with the structures, designs and ideas that were still in place, we should remember that the 90s was a time of a great manifestation of the post-modern, which had meant a re-hashing of much of what had come before to exist as an appropriation of the old into the culture to exist along with, for example, things such as new discoveries in technology and its various new applications.
This tendency to appreciate and appropriate the old into contemporary culture was particularly significant in art as well as music. For example, Charles Jencks, writing on the postmodern architecture of the period states that, “The imperative for the hybrid language existed in architecture, the iconic building and the various mixed languages…characterise some architecture… eclecticism and the impurity of signs…”. (Jencks 2010, p.22) Like the popular music of 90s, the new postmodern buildings of the period which amongst many would include One Canada Square, The Sainsbury Wing in London, The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and The Bank of America Corporate Center in North Carolina, would combine to sit alongside and in between everything that had been built before, resulting in a great mix of genres and styles which added further to the existence of an ever-present pastiche culture in the 90s.
We can conclude then by saying that perhaps though much of the music of the 90s appears to regurgitate certain things about the past, it doesn’t but instead mirrors the past in a false way. Perhaps the rejection of the values of the ideas and styles of the 80s in the 90s resulted in 90s groups wanting to ignore the immediately preceding decade and instead hark back to a time immediately before that but what was going on in the culture perhaps made us see everything being produced as entirely different and new because it actually was an age of parody, pastiche and false nostalgia in popular music. Moreover, perhaps the time and technology made it all seem all the more unique and fascinating. To my mind, in an age in which it had been important that everything should be accepted, the excitement generated alone had seemed to always ‘normalise’ anything that had been going on no matter what it had been. Yet, perhaps rather than revitalise the importance of the popular musical culture of the past, it had helped to blur and discredit much of its significance in the history of popular culture. I don’t know if it is true but perhaps the ghostly emulation, parody, pastiche and false nostalgia of the past - a ghostly re-materialisation in a sense of so much from the past in music in the 90s had helped erase or alter some of the past’s true essence an actual truly innocent spirit from much of society’s and the world’s collective memory.
- Quote paper
- Professor PhD, Celta, BA Hons. Cyrus Manasseh (Author), 2019, Post-Modernism and the Popular Music of the 90s. Pastiche, Parody and False Nostalgia, Mirroring the Ghosts of the Past, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/900491