The Modern Appetite for Nostalgia


One of my favourite films is Cameron Crowe’s unashamedly nostalgic and semi-autobiographical take on the early ‘70s music scene Almost Famous. The film’s ironically tongue-in-cheek line from the pushy manager Dennis Hope, “If you think Mick Jagger will still be out there trying to be a rock star at age fifty, then you are sadly, sadly mistaken”, will bring a smile to those familiar with the film.

And of course, Mick is still going strong at 73. I saw the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury in 2013, playing to a crowd of whom the septuagenarian rockers could be parents and even grandparents to. And they were still rocking, and still whipping up a crowd who could and did sing along to every word. Nostalgia is big business, but that’s a relatively modern phenomenon.

There seems to be an almost infinite appetite for nostalgia; the Stones may be an almost uniquely iconic band, straddling the generations in a way that maybe only the Beatles and Bowie could match, but they certainly aren’t unique in their ability to cash in on their back catalogue. Only this month, Bananarama have become the latest 80s band to reform, and the Stone Roses’ resurrection in 2011 was met by public acclaim - and they continue to bang the drums to sell out crowds in 2017.

This certainly hasn’t always been the case, though. A history of modern pop culture tells us that music once moved in cycles that didn’t offer much kindness to their cultural predecessors. A band such as Led Zeppelin, for example, simply slipped away, as through the 70s and 80s glam rock, punk, the new romantics, goth and indie rock and roll generated a succession of youth cultures that regarded their forerunners as little more than irrelevant dinosaurs.

One could dispute, then, that the prevailing love of nostalgia reflects the death of originality, and a bankruptcy of twenty-first century youth culture, but I would dissent from that view. Instead, I would contend that embracing a wider history of popular music supplements and enriches modern culture. I would trace the beginnings of the modern nostalgia-fest to the early to mid 90s, and the rise of Quentin Tarantino – from his debut Reservoir Dogs, (and who would forget the film’s opening ‘Little Green Bag’ (1970) and the signature track ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ (1972), through to Hateful Eight’s use of Ennio Morricone and Roy Orbison). One of the joys of seeing a new Tarantino film is seeing the dusting down of some forgotten and neglected diamonds of musical history. On a similar mid-90s timeline, Oasis were unusual in that rather than simply giving a nod to their influences, they unashamedly celebrated their love of the Beatles, and were happy to melodically and stylistically ‘steal with pride’.

This, for me, was the beginning of a snowballing love and reappraisal of retro-music. For me, this is a complementary facet of this decade’s popular culture rather than a displacement of modern youth culture, which remains vibrant as it ever was.