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No Big Hair!

December 3, 2009

Perhaps art was in this respect like science; each new original writer seemed to have advanced beyond the stage of his predecessor, and who was to say whether in twenty years time, when I should be able to accompany without strain the newcomer of today, another might not emerge in the face of whom the present one would go the way of Bergotte?

Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way

I don’t what I’m gonna be singin’ twenty thirty years from now… I don’t know what we’ll be dressing like. It won’t be like anything we’re familiar with, I know that.

David Lee Roth, 1986

I’ve always assumed that it’s foolish to speculate about the future of music and fashion, because the chances are that the music and fashion of the future will be weirder than I can possibly imagine. Now, after watching this interview, I can see that I was wrong – or that I was right, but for the wrong reasons. It’s foolish to speculate about the future of music, because the chances are that the music of the future will be a lot like the music of today, but with louder drums.

In 1986, David Lee Roth suggests that the music and fashion of the future “won’t be like anything we’re familiar with”. Now, we live in his future – and for many it’s disappointing precisely because it looks so much like 1986. But not exactly like 1986.

Doc: You go around the corner into the Cafe 80s.
Marty: Cafe 80s?
Doc: One of those nostalgia places, but not done very well.

In Back to The Future Part 2, the idea of an ’80s’ cafe is a wry joke. This morning, I ate breakfast there. The Pretty in Pink soundtrack was on the stereo, a girl sitting across from me had a quiff bigger than Duckie’s, and the waitress wore a white studded leather belt, a slimmed down glam-rock haircut and a Motley Crue T-Shirt. This last was the tell-tale sign that I was not in the real 1986, but in an 80s nostalgia cafe in the future. In the real 80s, Motley Crue shirts were only worn by Motley Crue fans – and Motley Crue fans did not work at hip inner-city cafes where they have posters advertising fringe electronica festivals on the walls.

Here in the Cafe 80s, The Motley Crue shirt no longer says what it used to say (‘I love Motley Crue’).  It’s become what Peter Conrad describes as ‘a sign with its symbols crossed, form devoid of content’. But it does tell a story, which goes something like this –

1. David Lee Roth – Just Like Paradise (1988)
The Pet Shop Boys’ Neil tennant once observed that all succesful pop artists go through an ‘imperial phase’. This was Diamond Dave’s.

2. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
I remember reading a story (in David Konow’s Bang Your Head) about a Hair-metal band signed to Geffen in the late 80s. They were well-liked enough at the label to have a block-mount of one of their posters proudly displayed over the reception desk at the company’s office. One day in 1991, the band’s singer walked into Geffen HQ and saw his poster being taken down, and a new one being put up in its place – a photo of a baby in a swimming pool chasing a dollar bill. “Uh-oh”, he said to himself…

3. Bon Jovi – Keep The Faith (1992)
Barbara Walters interviewed Jon Bon Jovi in 1998.
BW: Let’s talk about your hair.
JBJ: Okay…
BW: Do you feel that the hair gets more attention than the music and the acting?
JBJ: It did! But I don’t think it’s such a big deal anymore. I do remember, though, six years ago when I cut it short it was on CNN. I couldn’t believe it!!!

4. Pavement – Cut Your Hair (1994)
“No big hair!”

5. Wilco – Heavy Metal Drummer (2002)
“I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands…” Jeff Tweedy’s love-letter to the metal monsters of his adolescence. His yearning for ‘shiny shiny pants’ is all the more poignant because we know that he knows it is no longer possible to wear them without irony. But then, maybe, just maybe

6. The Darkness – I Believe in a Thing Called Love (2003).
Triple J played this a bit when it came out, and when the band came to Australia the following year, they appeared as guests on a show I was producing – Today Today with Chris Taylor and Craig Reucassel. I remember sitting around with Chris and Craig trying to come up with interview questions for the band – most of which were variations on, ‘are you serious?’. They insisted that they were, of course – that they sincerely loved those heavy metal bands, that there was no irony in their mission to bring hair-metal back to the masses. But then, they would.

In the 90s, Hair-Metal was seen as a failure, which is why its eventual rehabilitation had to be done under the auspices of camp.

23. In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.

24. When something is just bad (rather than Camp), it’s often because it is too mediocre in its ambition. The artist hasn’t attempted to do anything really outlandish.

Susan Sontag, Notes on Camp

[Camp] tries to outflank all the other stereotyped views of failure which are morbid or moralistic, and substitute a sort of cheerful openmindedness.

Charles Jencks, 1971

Camp begins in ‘small urban cliques’ (Sontag again). But if the timing is right, it can set off large-scale shifts in popular taste (think of the re-appraisal of The Carpenters that took place in the 90s, or recent rehabilitation of yacht-rock singers like Hall and Oates andMichael McDonald). 80s hair-metal became a short-lived high fashion trend in 2004-2005, and eventually made its way from the catwalk to the mall, and eventually, to the cafe 80s.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Fletcher permalink
    December 15, 2009 12:19 am

    wait a minute… you mean to tell me we’re already LIVING in Back To The Future II??!! That’s great!!

    You know who hasn’t come back at all… yet. Max Headroom.

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