Michael Azerrad on ‘Retromania’

When the Music Stops: Michael Azerrad reviews Simon Reynolds’s Retromania in the Wall Street Journal.

So, I’m reading this review, thinking it’s fine, balanced, all the rest, but then this paragraph jumped out at me:

“Another big thing that Mr. Reynolds is forgetting: 9/11. That happened at the dawn of the 2000s, precisely when he believes pop music really began to atrophy. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the only people sanguine about the future were manufacturers of airport-security equipment.”

What exactly is Azerrad saying here? That following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center musicians were no longer interested in innovation, or in “the future”? Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around — you know the old cliché, hard times beget inspired art? And how long does the “aftermath” of this event last? Is Azerrad suggesting that 9/11 has scarred pop music with a permanent sense of atrophy? I’m asking partly rhetorical and not very useful or intelligent questions here, probably, but there’s something about the 9/11 referencing in that paragraph that really throws me for a loop. It’s so fraught with assumptions — assumptions, above all, about the long term impact of that event — that I just kind of wish an editor had demanded elucidation. I’m not saying Azerrad is wrong in his assumptions, or that 9/11 as a subject should be off limits here — I’ve often been curious myself about the connections that exist, in some form or fashion, between the events of September 11, 2001, and the creation or reception of pop music following that particular day — but in this case it feels like a shortcut to make a point (which is…?), and it feels unsubstantiated, perhaps even specious.


2 thoughts on “Michael Azerrad on ‘Retromania’

  1. I have some sympathy for Azerrad’s view here, at least insofar as 9/11 was a watershed moment for me (arguably convenient, in my mid-40s) in terms of letting go of the endless chore of keeping up with pop culture. The bellicose jingoism penetrated very deeply into the zeitgeist, and I found it extremely repellent. I don’t think it’s so much a matter of what artists were going to do and not do (I always take their impulses as basically a force of nature) but what the industry, already reeling from the fatal body blow of the Napster/downloading revolution in business models, were going to let them do and not do. The most obvious example is the Dixie Chicks. Maybe the least obvious is Yo La Tengo’s release of their Sun Ra cover on the eve of the Iraq shock and awe. It sunk like a stone, as I recall. Not that they were ever chart-toppers in the first place. But with everybody at all levels of mass media going lockstep into that good conservative night well into 2004, I have to think there was a huge chilling effect. As I say, this was convenient for me, because I wanted to retire into the past anyway (now I’m a 20th-century guy) but the gist of what Azerrad is saying not only doesn’t surprise me much, it basically confirms my own take.

  2. I read the article and it just doesn’t say 9/11 “permanently scarred” pop music, or had a “long-term impact.” It just refers to the aftermath of it. You’re projecting something that simply isn’t there. You’re also leaving out the rest of the paragraph, where he says that now we’re in rough economic times, which are also not a time when people take many chances, and that makes sense — ever listened to music from the Depression? So yeah, you were right: you’re not asking intelligent questions. Maybe you think you’re smarter than you are, or smarter than Azerrad, and it doesn’t seem like either is the case.

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