Nostalgia as a Genre: New Wave Revivals and Midlife Crises
The frontman is sporting tight jeans and a New York Mets tank top. His clean cut appearance is accentuated by his musclebound arms and square jawline. He looks like he was the star player on his high school football team, but oozes a boyish charm: if he was the football team captain, he wasn’t the asshole jock type. He sings lyrics pining for a love lost and a simpler time as a soaring keyboard riff plays behind him. He guides the audience into clapping with their hands over their heads. He then screams the city’s name and his bandmate rushes out the stage to deliver an absolutely epic saxophone solo that would make the dude from Lost Boys a very happy man.
It’s a song and a scene straight out of an 80s movie, a moment that feels like it should’ve been lived by Molly Ringwald. But this happened last week, in 2015, at the Summer Sonic music festival in Tokyo. It blew me away, and I’m still trying to figure out why. I think it may be that my midlife crisis is affecting my musical tastes.
I don’t know how to feel about that.
I’ll be 36 years old in just a matter of days, and I think I’ve been in the middle of some sort of midlife crisis for the better part of a year now. It’s a complicated thing to talk about, and to be honest it’s not something I’m entirely comfortable with discussing. I feel as if my particular issues that are causes my crises are unique, but they’re probably the same as everyone else’s. I do think it’s funny though that a lot people say that 35 is too young to have a midlife crisis, I say that those people don’t understand what “midlife” means. If you think that 40-45 is a good time to have a midlife crisis then you’re unreasonably optimistic about your own lifespan.
A lot of people associate a midlife crisis with infidelity, buying a sports car, or other fun but wasteful/self-destructive activities. When I first fell into this crisis I was single. And I live in country where I don’t have a driver’s licence. So I guess neither of those options were on the table. I did buy a skateboard, but that habit lasted until I damn near tore my knee off trying to ride the thing.
No matter what the idiotic behavior is, all midlife crises have one thing in common: a futile attempt to recapture your youth, a more innocent time where you had less worries and more fun, when you were carefree and careless. In that regard, I can totally see how my existential malaise has led me to embrace 80s throwback acts like Bleachers – what time (in my own lifetime at least) can I best associate with a carefree fun than the 80s?
But that is the point of all nostalgia, is it not? To look back with those rose-tinted glasses, sigh deeply and lament how much better things were “back then?” Back before [bad thing] changed [good thing.] Back before everyone was [this way] and not [that way.] Back when [pop culture medium] was [this familiar way] and not [some new unfamiliar way]. Me pining for the sound of the 80s is no different than the middle-aged parents of the 80s seeking comfort in the sound of the Beach Boys in a lot of ways.
Well, I guess it is different in one big way; I still want to find new music. Even if that new music is derivative of a bygone era. And it’s not fair to myself to say that all I want is a nostalgia bomb to help me remember way back when. I do want a fresh take on it. Retro-funk band Tuxedo were also at Summer Sonic, but their pastiche of 70s and 80s funk bored the shit out of me. They weren’t offering anything new or anything fresh to the formula. It was nothing more than “here’s a song that sounds like a Chic song we like” and “this is our Zapp Band homage.” I need more than “hey, remember that thing you like? We’re like that thing.” I need a fresh spin on it.
I also need earnestness. I feel like there have been other bands (many in the pop-punk/emo scene) who have cribbed from the 80s only to do it tongue-in-cheek, in a half-joking way that suggests they’re not really taking it seriously. I hate that. I’m too old for that shit. I’m too old for ironic post-modern detachment bullshit. I don’t even know how it’s possible for someone to ironically enjoy music, or to have a song be a guilty pleasure. Loving music is such a base, primordial feeling. How can you even bother to attach some pretense to it? Love what you love.
Bleachers have earnestness in spades. They bleed their music, I could tell from the second they took the stage that they 100% believe in everything they are doing. Nothing is for laughs, even the sax solo. That was a legit sax solo. This is the same reason that I also love Walk The Moon (who also played Summer Sonic). They’re silly and wear their retro influences on their sleeves as well, but they also seem honest about it. They may be goofy, but their act is no goof. And both acts occasionally hint at a more experimental side that I hope they showcase more in later releases. I bet that both acts love to namedrop Duran Duran in interviews, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they both like Arcadia more.
I’ve written about how music relates to my mood a few times now, this being the third. The first was a fairly frivolous piece that was just me writing so I would keep writing. The second was a personal confessional that showed how one band helped get me out of a rather deep rut of serious depression. Since writing that, I still do have my good days and bad days, although now I struggle less with depression and more with anxiety, which I think is the key root of my midlife crisis. Nothing like a dilemma of faith (or lack their of), coupled with professional worries and growing concerns about the future of the world to make anyone escape into the sounds of the past for comfort. Perhaps my search for new music that reminds me of the past is a way for me to try and find hope in the future. Perhaps my subconscious is looking for music that can soothe my troubled mental state by telling me that everything is going to be alright because we’ll get back to how things were, one way or another.
Of course, none of this explains why I keep listening to My Chemical Romance, so maybe this is all just bullshit.