Editor’s Note: You may have noticed an unusual amount of content from Smash Cut this week and that’s because we’re trying to revamp ourselves a little bit. Instead of posting content whenever works, we’re starting to stick (or at least try to stick) to a weekly schedule. Tuesday you’ll find our smash cuts playlist, Wednesday our new Kid’s Stuff series, and Thursday our Track of the Week. Track of the Week will mostly focus on new release, but every once in awhile, like today, we’ll throw in an older favorite. Next week, expect to see an old feature make its long-awaited return on Fridays. Thanks for sticking with us!
By Nathan Smith
In 2004, a song about the year 1985 became inexplicably popular among 4th graders. On its own, the song was much too topical to find a home among a demographic this young; my own private theory for its popularity owes credit to the line “She was gonna shake her ass / on top of Whitensake’s car,” although I’m almost certain this would have been edited out thanks to Radio Disney, the same folks who butchered The Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get Retarded” and inadvertently made it a basketball arena anthem. Something about a song which concerned a washed-up, middle-aged woman who still loved the Brat Pack, Bon Jovi, and MTV strangely resonated with elementary school kids, and I’ve never understood why.
But I’m not here to answer that question. In fact, if I’m here to do anything, it’s pose another question: Could “1985” by Bowling for Soup, a song firmly rooted in the past, define not just the year of its release, but the entire 2000s? I know it sounds ridiculous. I’d completely forgotten about the song until a few nights ago, when, after seeing a commercial that featured “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne, I descended into a wormhole of mid-2000s pop-punk. Cobra Starship, Simple Plan, Fall Out Boy, the All-American Rejects, all those best-forgotten memories came back to me, but no re-discovery hit me as hard as “1985.”
What led me back to the song was “Stacy’s Mom”- I remember in 7th grade arguing over whether Fountains of Wayne or Bowling for Soup recorded the song (lucky for me, Bowling for Soup ended up covering the song in 2011). I hadn’t thought about Bowling for Soup in years and decided to revisit their signature tune. It’s not much different from how I remember, and like a lot of its peers, hasn’t aged well. But about halfway through the track, I was struck by a realization. “1985” may not sound so great a decade on, but maybe there’s more to it than sound alone. Bowling for Soup firmly tapped into a cultural phenomenon that many didn’t identify until years later: what critic Simon Reynolds calls “retromania.”
If there’s one trend that defined the culture-at-large in the 2000s, it would have to be retromania. Humanity has always had a natural fondness for nostalgia, but no generation has been so clearly defined by their fetishization of the past as mine. Every new trend seems indebted in some way to an old one, every BuzzFeed article about something “only 90s kids” will understand.
And what further sets the current version of this trend apart from previous iterations is how it steers toward the recent past. The conversation has turned from talking about the “good old days” of 50 years ago to over-romanticizing the past 20 years. While 2004 might have seen folks obsessed with 1985, ten years later, 1994 seems to be our current focus As each generation gets older, their childhood becomes culture’s new focus. At the same time, our collective memory seems to get shorter and shorter and the targets of our obsessive nostalgia seem more recent by the day.
I’ll admit guilt. As anyone who read the first installment of our Kids’ Stuff series can attest, I have a very real problem with nostalgia. What I did yesterday or one year ago sometimes seems less real than what I did ten years ago. I’m constantly attempting to hold fast to my past. Maybe part of me feels like my much younger years were my “glory days,” but I think that’s simplifying the issue,. I think I constantly seek to immerse myself in the culture of my youth to stay connected with the younger versions of myself.
On a larger scale, I think this issue might stem from our fear of the new. We’d rather retreat to the comforts of childhood, to what we know works and have enjoyed in the past, than attempt to reach out and break new ground. I’m not sure if there have ever been true “cultural pioneers,” at least on a large, generational scale, because the new is a very scary thing. When a true innovator comes along, they are often marginalized because we’re so scared of their pursuit of the new.
As I get older, culture seems less cyclical and more constant. I feel like as technology develops, we can become more aware of this dilemma and hopefully, we’ll fix it. Self-awareness of a problem doesn’t ensure solution, but I’m praying we will.
So this brings me back to “1985.” Bowling for Soup’s pop-punk/emo sound is clearly a trademark of the mid-2000s. But in a greater cultural context, the song speaks truths that were relevant in 2004 and are even more relevant today. Regardless of whatever new thing exists, there’s something old we’d rather slip into. Even though the song itself might just be more about trying to relive your glory days as a defense against losing touch with the present, I think it’s on to something. And the fact that I’d call “1985” the song of the 2000s proves my point. It’s a relatively simple song from my childhood that I ‘d rather return to than something newer and more challenging. It’s 2014 and I’m still pre-occupied with 2004- and “1985.” We all are.