Miss Information

When I was a teenager I would do this thing with my dad, who is a musician, where I would play him whatever Helium or Superchunk or Tori Amos or Pavement song I was currently obsessed with, to see what he thought of it.  Typically this took place in the car.  I would push the tape or later CD into the car stereo and cue up my favorite song in the entire world at that moment and we’d listen, and then he would say something like “That sounds just like the Beatles, s/he really ripped that off from the Beatles [the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Van Morrison, etc].”   These conversations always ended with my making a silent promise to myself that I would never stop listening to new music in favor of just listening to the albums that I loved when I was young over and over again.

Last night I went to see Tuscadero with Marisa and with Bennett, who has been my friend since before either of us had armpit hair.  The last time we saw Tuscadero together Bennett and I were too young to drink legally.   This time, we were almost twice as old as we were then.  It was impossible to turn and look at B last night without thinking about our teen selves, how they would have felt about our adult selves.   It’s hard to tell whether we feel more or less old than people in their late 20s have felt in previous eras.  We keep hearing that we’ve lived through the profoundest cultural paradigm shift w/r/t how information and art are disseminated since the invention of the printing press, but also a lot of stuff is the same as it was when we were teenagers.  This is my very brief and Internet-friendly explanation for the ongoing explosion of 90s nostalgia, and why people have such complicated responses to blog posts that seem, at first glance, to say nothing more than “remember when?”

The Information by Martin Amis, which I’m reading for the first time right now, was published in 1995.  It’s about a writer in early middle age named Richard Tull who is kind of a failure and his friend Gwyn Barry who is a bestselling author of drivel, and all the inventive and sad things the former does in order to try and torment the latter (none of which, so far, work).  Obviously the question of “isn’t it so unfair that people would much rather read cutesy-pootsy bullshit books than good books” is enduringly fascinating to me, but more than that I am fascinated by how many of the pranks Richard tries to pull on Gwyn have, in the last 15 years, become impossible to pull off because of technology.  For example:  Richard sends Gywn a copy of the enormous, many-sectioned Sunday LA Times with a typewritten note reading

“Dear Gwyn,

Something in here to interest you.  The price of fame!

Yours ever,


Which is brilliant, right?  Because it means Gywn will have to spend hours combing through every single page of this HUGE newspaper in search of some negative item that isn’t even there.  (Of course what actually happens is that poor hapless Richard has overlooked the Classified ad someone has placed ISO a first edition of one of Gywn’s horrible, insanely popular books and Gywn’s eye happens to alight on it first thing, but still: genius.)

To recap: huge newspaper, classified ad, searching for hours, finding information quickly and having that seem like miraculous good fortune — none of these things are possible anymore.

At first I imagined that a great modern-day equivalent of this prank is to send someone an email that says “Hey man, I saw the post about you.  :(   Hope you’re ok!  Fuck those bastards.  Love, Me”  but then Keith pointed out that the recipient of that email would just Google herself and think you were talking about whichever critical thing came up first, because inevitably there would be something, because there always is, about anyone.

It’s hard not to be nostalgic for the world as it was 15 years ago, especially because at first glance today’s world seems so similar, and because it is so different.  Underneath, everything is different.  The biggest difference is that the sources of underlying difference — everything underlying everything, really, information itself — seems more available now.  All veneers seem easily peel-back-able in a way they didn’t, in 1995.  Are they, really, though?  Or are we just more willing to accept the first result, the easiest answer?

The members of Tuscadero must be in their early 40s now.  But in the red stage light last night, they looked just the same as they did in 1995, when I heard them sing this song live for the first time.   This song is their biggest hit, I guess?  It’s about being mad at parents who’ve cleaned out the attic (which is rhymed, hilariously, with “emphatic”).  It is maybe even a little bit about feeling nostalgic and knowing it’s irrational but feeling that way anyway.  “You threw out my Nancy Drew books, my model horses from Massachussetts, all my Barbies and all my Kens, my stuffed animals, my childhood friends … I feel so unsteady, oh Nancy, I miss you already.”

PS I crossposted this from my Tumblr because I like how Tumblr does audio posts better but realized too late that it’s way too long for Tumblr, and that it kind of belonged here, and I was tired of that post below being on top …

5 comments to Miss Information

  • Even though it appears you are just a few years older than me, we came of age in different pop culture eras.
    I remember: Britney Spears appearing to greet puberty, Eminem, Limp Bizkit.

    You must have worn plaid shirts, and left high school as we were entering it.

    We had pseudo hip-hop gear, baggy or low rise jeans, the girls had navel piercings.

    Also, musical nostalgia for me is difficult: my whole adolescence, I have listened exclusively to classical music. It’s only after leaving school that I got to know the rest.

  • emily

    Ha! It popped up in the list so I guess I have used it before

  • Colin

    Great post. I have been thinking musical nostalgia recently — although I confess it’s not a rare for me to think about it — because I just attended a 25th anniversary show (!) for Teen Beat records in DC. Versus played. So did Unrest and the Rondelles. They were all awesome, and it made so happy to hear them play. And it made me feel so old. The old songs, and the oldness of the crowd. Lot’s of not-so-youthful figures and wedding bands. Oh well, I guess I’ve just succumbed to laziness or crotchetyness or whatever. I lost the thread long ago. I will most certainly be the Dad who thinks new pop music is derivative crap.

  • I used to play my dad music in the car too. For some reason it was really, really important to me that he liked Hole.

    Needless to say, he didn’t.

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