Cover image of Retromania - my favourite book of 2011.
This was the year when Tory minister Michael Gove pronounced that, from the age of 11 up, we should read at least 50 books a year. I only managed to read about 40 this year – does that make me a dumbass?
These are the best books I read this year, needless to say, not all were published in 2011 and I wrote blog posts about them all:
Best fiction :
A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Point Omega by Don DeLillo
One Day by David Nicholls
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
The Hunger Games (parts one + two) by Suzanne Collins Continue reading
33 Revolutions Per Minute – A History of Protest Songs by Dorian Lynskey (Faber and Faber, 2010)
This is an ambitious, well researched and highly informative historical study of a strand of popular music that seems to be largely on the wane.
Nowadays, there are fewer and fewer artists willing to align themselves to political causes or identify themselves as protest singers.
There are notable exceptions like Billy Bragg or Steve Earle but there aren’t too many under 30 who take rebellion beyond the predictable statements of teenage angst or broad criticisms towards some vaguely defined authority.
Even on her magnificent anti-war album Let England Shake, PJ Harvey is careful to present her sentiments in emotional rather than political terms. Intelligent artists like Polly J are all too aware of the risk of being seen to be lecturing listeners; as Lynskey correctly observes “the biggest problem with protest songs is that they engender smugness”. Continue reading
I missed this song when it came out and am grateful to Simon Reynolds for bigging it up in Retromania. He describes it as “everywhere/everywhen pop [in which] utterly disparate sources cohere to gorgeously rhapsodic effect”.
Definitely a tune to cheer you up after a shitty day.
A shame there’s no official video, so you have to make do with a static image of the Contra album cover.
Related pingback link:
Retromania : the Future Is Not What It Was (mraybould.wordpress.com)
Retromania (Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past) by Simon Reynolds is a brilliant and perceptive study which the author describes as “an investigation – not just of the hows and whys of retro as a culture and an industry but also of the larger issues to do with living in, living off and living with the past”.
While he writes about wider cultural trends he is at his most passionate (and knowledgeable) when writing about music. This book confirms him as the most perceptive and articulate rock critic since Greil Marcus.
At one point he muses: “Maybe we need to forget. Maybe forgetting is as essential for a culture as it is existentially and emotionally necessary for individuals” but in his heart of hearts he knows full well that this never likely to happen.
The impulse to revisit high points in your life is hard to resist and the means to do so have never been easier. If you come over all nostalgic for a kids TV show theme, for instance, you can find it after a few minutes surfing. Not only that but you can often find complete episodes of shows you had all but forgotten about.
The fact that we have such resources at our disposal online largely accounts for why our obsession with the immediate past has never been greater.
Added to this is a general insecurity about the present and uncertainty/fear about what the future might hold. As Reynolds writes: “in a destabilised world ideas of durable tradition and folk memory start to appeal as a counterweight and a drag in the face of capitalism’s reckless and wrecking radicalism”.
Reynolds is self-confessed record-geek and book-nerd (particularly Sci-Fi). He was born in 1963 and his adolescence coincided with the advent of Post-Punk. Later he became a huge fan of the Rave Scene. These topics he has covered in his previous books. Continue reading