Nostalgia and Pastiche in Music: Being Derivative Isn’t Always Bad


“Now everyone has to be derived from somebody or something. Nothing new is born without parents. Poets stand on the shoulders of earlier poets and musicians, from the long-hair classicists to the long-hair popists, are also links in a chain of influence”

This is one of the best responses I’ve read about the concept of “manufactured” music being inferior to “real music” (what is real music and who decides, I wonder).

A lot of bands are criticized for being manufactured now, but the Monkees got much of the same critique when they came out. I’ve never understood who it was that decided that in order for music to be good and valued it had to completely break from the norms of what went before, so it’s nice to see a music critic in that era say the same thing.

I believe that nostalgia is just as powerful as something totally new. The Monkees obviously borrowed a lot from the Beatles and other successful British Invasion bands, but they also had an undefinable something that made them seem new and fresh, and stand out. That X-Factor, if you will.

A lot of great bands used nostalgia and derivative imagery and sounds in the development of their music and did it with 100% full intent and purpose.

Roxy Music, is a good example, especially in their image which reflected on 1950s big-screen glamor and teddy boy/greaser gear, but using new technology like synths and having unique song structures and post-modern lyrical themes, and the New York Dolls, who mixed the early 1960s girl group lyrics with garage rock loudness and punk attitude and a gender-bending glam fashion sense. All of this had been “done” before but throwing all of these influences together was what made it new and special.

When we accuse current bands of “stealing” riffs and “copying” bands from other eras, even when these bands are doing it 100% with full knowledge and intent that they are trying to provide links to previous eras of music, we should ask ourselves why? Why are we getting so upset that a current band inspired by older music and trying to subtly bring that into appreciation in the current era?

Anyone that knows anything about post-modern art knows that this pastiche approach is very common and not looked down upon. It used to be the same way in music.

It’s taken decades for some people to understand why sampling in hip hop culture is a positive thing that should be celebrated. Hip hop producers using samples is akin to digging up forgotten treasures out of their parents’ record collections and making new generations appreciate them, but flipping the script by using production techniques that make it new and fresh, and rapping and lyrics that speaks to kids today.

Pastiche in art is something that tries to celebrate the things that have come before, not compete with, not replace. It often gives a new way of looking at something that has been forgotten or stuck in another era. So when you criticize, let’s say, One Direction for doing a pastiche of the handclap beat in “We Will Rock You” in their song “Rock Me,” for instance, think about the intent. Think about the intended audience. Think about the fact that music is constantly being built upon and inspired by what has come before and it’s not a bad thing to celebrate the past.

[Images originally from via Swinging Monkees | Datebook, 1967 January, posted by Goodtimemusic]

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