By Jordan Reisman
Photo by Katie Chirichillo.
At the end of August, I threw a party for my 23rd birthday. As I’ve written before, I am completely in favor of wearing your birthday on your sleeve however you see fit. As such, a lot of the people I’ve grown to call my friends today didn’t know each other prior to standing around in my sweaty apartment.
People use a variety of methods to break the ice with each other: talking about how long it took them to get there on the subway, talking about the friends they have in common, etc. Yet a common trend that I have noticed is the ever-increasing prevalence of “throwback songs.”
These songs enable people to bond over a band that they loved when they were in high school but pretend to have completely abandoned in the time since (even though we all know that’s complete B.S.). I have always viewed nostalgia of any kind with a heavy degree of skepticism, as noted here. It is an incredibly seductive emotion, and once confronted with nostalgia, it is hard to indulge in only the prescribed dosage.
The problem here with nostalgia and music is that there is always new music coming out and new ways to express oneself. If we rely on the safe songs of our youth for comfort, nostalgia has the power to make us drunk with the past and turn a blind eye to the incredible wealth of newly released music we have at our fingertips. It has the power to desensitize us into feeling the same emotions we have always felt about these bands and songs and prevent further emotional growth from occurring.
Using early-mid 2000s pop-punk as the prime example (Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, New Found Glory), I believe that millennial culture has reached a saturation point for these songs and their method of social cohesion.
So almost needless to say, by the time my friends and I exhausted “Seventy Times 7”, “Fat Lip”, and “Cute Without the E (Cut from the Team)”, I was exhausted myself. These songs were emotionally draining, requiring an energy level and passion that I was not ready to deliver (and I was hosting).
Look, I know that it’s all in good fun and that this is what people do to warm up to each other but I still root my beliefs Ben Franklin’s ideas of moderation, like a true patriot would.
To help me actualize these feelings I have at twentysomething gatherings, I enlisted the help of the founder of the outspoken and highly opinionated punk blog, JadedPunk, Dan Ozzi. The site is somewhat known within the punk blogosphere for deviating from the objective news reporting of sites like Punknews.org and, as Ozzi says, providing content that “people talk about and share.”
Putting our heads together, we tried to figure out why exactly these ad-hoc karaoke circles occur and why people are willing to get together so quickly when it comes to throwing back as opposed to enjoying the present. Gauging the passion people have for playing these bands, Ozzi says, “You kind of are molded by what you grow up on. I still dress the same way I did when I was 13, which is very sad. The sensibilities you build at that age kind of carry on to your adult life. In a way it matures but yes, people want to still hold on to that stuff.”
I personally have always said that I listen to more or less the same music I listened to in high school but that I have just added more to the list. Still, in order to maintain some relevance and connection to the present, I felt like I needed some kind of line between the “throwbacks” one enjoys in nostalgic circles and the music one actively listens to. Once that line disappears is the minute you end up being stuck in an era. After all, what’s so special about getting together with your friends every weekend and reliving 10th grade over and over again?
Ozzi and I saw eye to eye on this. “I think we need to set some statute of limitations for what constitutes a throwback and what constitutes like literally having just happened or still happening” he said in reference to the #throwbackthursday tag of very recent memories.
This led to an in-depth analysis of the BuzzFeed marketing of nostalgia, that round-the-clock content tugging at our heartstrings in longing for “the good ole days.” In fact, the initial reason why I contacted Ozzi was because he published an article condemning them for creating arbitrary “pop-punk” lists, in essence just showing how Pete Wentz or Davey Havok have aged over time, the way everyone else does.
“ They say everything works in circles and that there’s a twenty year circle for music and fashion where after twenty years, everything comes full circle. The downside of that is that it just doesn’t matter if it sucks or not, it’s gonna come full circle anyway. So I think that BuzzFeed is just perpetually working through that circle,” says Ozzi.
Whether or not Ozzi was making a Pennywise reference, he made a solid point that people love nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia even if they can agree the output isn’t the greatest.
“They do it in a way that’s not just like, ‘Hey, Jimmy Eat World is 45’, they put a mirror up to you and people like to read about themselves,” he continues on the subject of BuzzFeed. And the numbers don’t lie, the site gets thousands upon thousands of shares by the day. Practically everything they put out goes viral because they’ve mastered the fine art of turning wistful feelings into content. You’ve got to hand it to Ben Smith and company for that.
Lastly, both Ozzi and I asserted that nostalgia, while enjoying an extended stay in the cultural vogue at the moment, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and neither is the media that peddles it. The takeaway of these experiences is always the same, regardless of how I or anyone feels about it: When people get together and want to share an experience it is easiest if that experience is based on some shared past.
Ozzi recounted a secret show he recently hosted by his blog in which the current lineup of Saves the Day both headlined and performed their seminal album, Through Being Cool, front-to-back. There could always be a cynical opinion of these kinds of shows (in fact, you can find one here) but Ozzi described the show as “Such an amazing experience because you have 250 people who are very similar because they obviously were shaped by this album in their youth and that crafted their sensibility so here they all are in a room having a great time.”
I still firmly believe in setting a limit to “throwing back” but damn, if that’s not the reason why I found punk rock (and thus, music in general) to begin with then I don’t know what it is. Perhaps ‘90s fetishism isn’t so abhorrent, as long as we remember immediately after the sing-alongs that it was 20 years ago. If staying static was the enemy all along then I guess the culture can live with a little looking back too.