I did not realize it until I was teaching myself how to cook on the other side of the planet, but the scent of celery instantly calls to my mind sensations of home, hearth, and soup.
Recently I found myself going down a rabbit-hole of 1960s girl-groups and Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” productions. Like most of music history (or any history, period), it’s biased by the authors’ agendas. Given the “rocker-as-hero” narrative* in lots of accounts of the era, teen idols and girl groups are treated at arm’s length, as products of a top-down vertically-integrated culture industry, stuck awkwardly into an interregnum between the first wave of rock (roughly 1955-59) and its return via the British Invasion in ’64. That not only gives a little too much agency to the musicians who came later, it gives too little recognition to the people who wrote or performed the songs, or to their enduring influence: “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” is the most-played song in radio history. It was the song I would sing when invited to post-meal karaoke at weddings in Cambodia, because *everyone* knew it. There are also a lot of deeply weird songs in the catalog, like ‘He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) by the Crystals. The Phil Spector Christmas Album is a bouncy revelation if you’ve never heard it before.
I like the materiality of recording in that era, after multi-tracking but before stereo or artificial effects like reverb. When crazy ol’ Phil Spector wanted a certain sound, he had to bring in a real orchestra, record it, play it back into a sealed basement with fortunate acoustics, and re-record the now-echoey result. It’s the kind of pre-digital obsessive workarounds that belongs in a Friedrich Kittler book. Particularly when mixed down to a single monophonic output, the result is something that could withstand continuous repeated audition without giving up all its secrets; Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was said to listen to “Be My Baby” up to one hundred times a day during the months leading up to the creation of “Pet Sounds.”
Without girl-groups and the Wall of Sound, I don’t think you’d have Bruce Springsteen or Morrissey, at least not as we know them.
**(The standard rock history narrative is also biased towards English-speaking artists, which precludes really interesting developments like Tropicalia and Afrobeat, but that’s another rant for another day)*
It’s an interesting question, and one that leads me to reach for other proposed taxonomies, like Thomas P.M. Barnett’s concept of “The Functioning Core” and “The Non-integrating Gap.” Setting aside Barnett’s recommendations for action, and just looking at his analysis, one could think of Dubai as part of the Core, with all the potential and problems that entails. Whether or not every Core city has its own Gap is a question for another day, but Dubai has always seemed to me like something out of a Fritz Lang film.
In the short term, I feel it faces a slow decline but I don’t think it’ll ever face total irrelevance. Maybe a position similar to that of vinyl records today? It seems like a fairly resilient medium. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what new affordances are discovered for it, especially if ubiquitous projection becomes a thing. Long term, print seems to be pretty good at getting lost in someone’s attic and surviving. There are too many accounts of historical and literary sources coming down to us from exactly one manuscript that was rescued from a burning building or something like that. Aside from this newfangled quartz-glass storage medium or quixotic engraved monuments, I think it’s got the best chance at surviving major disturbances.
In the words of Bruce Sterling, one part unimaginable, and one part unthinkable. Crystal-ball disclaimer issued, I think water supplies are going to be much more thought-about and probably fought-over than they are now. We’re draining centuries-old aquifers at staggering rates, and who knows what temperature shifts are going to do to global weather patterns. I don’t think we’re doomed, but I think there will be great sadness about what opportunities were squandered in the century prior.
Adam Flynn is a media theorist and researcher-at-large. He lives in San Francisco, and can usually be found mining the intersections of the antiquarian and futuristic. @Threadbare