In comments recently, dhex mentioned the idea of “nostalgia for a future that never happened”. In the real world this nostalgia can arguably be detrimental to the clear-eyed assessment of where we were, are, and are going; but in art, it’s as valid as any other theme. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and one that is often invoked by music. (See Simon Reynolds’ Retromania for a contention that most nostalgia, of any kind, is inherently inimical to artistic progress).

In the 1980’s, the moon landing was well behind us, and the space shuttle promised relatively cheap and frequent space exploration. Home computers were becoming, if not yet the norm, far more common and affordable. Technology, and life, seemed to be racing along; even now there is a perception of the 80’s as a time of irrational, possibly coke-fueled exuberance and enthusiasm for the rapidly onrushing future.

In the last decade or so, there have been multiple artists and albums that explicitly call back to the musical and memetic trends of the 80’s, to evoke this specific sort of lost-future-nostalgia.

Neon Neon is a collaboration between abstract hip-hop/electronic artist and producer Boom Bip (I highly recommend his debut, Seed to Sun) and mellifluous singer Gruff Rhys of somewhat-hard-to-categorize Welsh rock band Super Furry Animals.

2008’s Stainless Style, on the Warp subsidiary label Lex Records, is a retro-futuristic concept album loosely based on the snowy life and steely times of John DeLorean.

The song at the top of this post, “Dream Cars”, generates the 1.21 gigawatts of epic melancholy we require. That’s Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes on drums; I don’t know who is playing that dirty, dirty bass.

Neon Neon somehow sidestep irony or novelty – actually, they achieve sufficient speed (88 MPH, natch) to soar right over irony and novelty – wholly committing to making a full-hearted dance/pop record with stellar production.

And that car – beautiful, isn’t it? Like the CRT polygon wireframe fantasy that birthed it.

WARNING: the next two YouTube videos feature just a bit of decadence and cheesecake (but no nudity), if your boss or significant other frowns on that sort of thing.

Neon Neon – I Told Her On Alderaan:

Neon Neon – Raquel:

Feel free to hold forth in the comments about the pluses and minuses of: nostalgia in art; the 1980s; Raquel Welch, good god, Raquel Welch; or anything else that strikes your fancy.


Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.


  1. Two of Roger Zelazny’s best stories are nostalgia for classic SF settings that science had removed from the realm of the possible: the watery Venus of The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth, and the ancient civilization of a dying Mars on A Rose for Ecclesiastes.

    • Even as a kid, Mars stories were nearly always really really melancholy to me, even when that wasn’t the specific emotion the author was going for, for that reason – because we now knew for sure that there was no life there. Bradbury, obviously, was a biggie, but even Ballard’s “Vermilion Sands” stories, though they were never stated to be off-world, as a kid I assumed they were Martian resorts (=red sand – and didn’t he have some stories that were maybe on Venus?)

      Saw these on BoingBoing this AM, they seemed relevant:

      • Asteroid mining is another classic SF setting (think Asimov’s The Martian Way, or all the Niven stories about the Belters.) It’s very cool that that one might become real.

        • I am skeptical…in the source article I see this 🙁

          However, some scientists struggle to see how cost-effective asteroid mining could be, even with the high value of gold and platinum.

          They point out that an upcoming Nasa mission to return just 60g (two ounces) of material from an asteroid will cost about $1bn.

          • Nasa isn’t trying to mine an asteroid for profit. It’s doing science — at best for industry, it’s doing a proof-of-concept demonstration, and I’m pretty sure that’s an overstatement too.

          • I have no doubt that it can be done more profitably than NASA could…but let’s not get into politics here. 🙂

            Suffice to say, this post is largely about, “don’t get your hopes up too high, too soon.”

  2. I’m still waiting for my Jetson’s car and paper wardrobe. The house-cleaning robot that can not only fold the paper clothes, but put them away. But I’m relieved that a pill hasn’t replaced the pleasures of the table.

    Or has it?

    • This sandwich costs a dollar, can be held in one hand, can be eaten in three bites, and gives you one third of your necessary calories for the day.

      We’re getting there.

      • Hey JB or anybody…when you click on the links that are .jpgs and they open in the WordPress “portrait” function, do they blow up in ABSOLUTELY GINORMOUS MONITOR-OBLITERATING SIZE?

        Is that a setting I can fix in WordPress, or my browser? If I open them in a separate window, they are large and lovely (that’s why I chose them) but the portrait thingy just explodes them.

        • I tend to host the media on us. That allows me to fiddle with it and make it just as big (or small) as appeals to me. If it’s on someone else’s site? You never know when they’re going to change it to a picture of a… well. All of the examples I can think of are inappropriate. Which is why you wouldn’t want to have someone see you checking out a picture of that. Whatever it is.

          • Ah. Excellent point. That had not occurred to me. Sorry, I am new to all this. I will keep that in mind going forward. In fact, if you think I should strip these out to be on the safe side, they are not integral to the post – I was just having some fun.

    • A lawyer I work with sometimes wishes for this pill and sleep-substitute pills and the like, because of all the time he “wastes” eating or otherwise engaging in biological functions like sleep and… you know, other biological functions. He’s half joking. The part that isn’t joking is the part of the profession that makes my mind crack.

      • Well, they DO make pills that will make it so that he spends less time eating/sleeping; but if he gets hooked on “lawyer’s little helpers”, HIS mind might crack.

      • … there is a drug that causes …. interesting behavior while sleeping.

  3. Slightly in another direction, but the other day while driving around, and listening to the generic alternative station, a Lana Del Rey song came on. Not sure which one. I was immeadiatly hit with the sensation of driving my mothers ’66 mustang with the top down (how I spent as much of the ’80’s as I could.) And driving around Florida on a hot, sweltering, overcast afternoon (I have never been to Florida…

    I turned 42 this morning.

    • Happy birthday aaron! You’ve finally achieved The Answer!

      Now, you just need to figure out The Question….

    • A gal I was friends with in HS with had a convertible ’66 Mustang. Beautiful. Not sure if that is appealing to me more right now than the video up top (love the quick shot where they dissolve from the seagull in flight, to the car), but it’s certainly a close second.

  4. very nice. one quibble:

    “(See Simon Reynolds’ Retromania for a contention that most nostalgia, of any kind, is inherently inimical to artistic progress).”

    no so much that nostalgia itself is inimical to progress, but that the ability to lazily mine almost the entire past for sources of inspiration results in a shallow understanding of the past. rather than marinating in a regional or stylistic scene, people can marinate in just about anything. i’m less negative on it than reynolds*, but i see his point. that said, the world is a blender and it ain’t getting any slower.

    i tend to dislike the neon neon style of 80s yacht and cheeze rock because i never really liked it the first time around, but am less negative towards john carpenter style iterations of late 70s horror soundtracks, perhaps because i had no direct contact with it and find it more engaging. or i’m just more ok with minimal synth stuff.

    and of course everyone gives chromeo a pass because they bring the business.

    re: nostalgia, i’m a big fan of this early daniel lopatin echo jam:

    it’s the proper use of the ghostliness, the creepy loneliness of the half-remembered, that drives the distorting effect of nostalgia. i’ve flippantly described nostalgia as “a dead woman who hates you” but i think a lot of that was a reaction to my peers’ post 9/11 retreat into freakout holes.

    * he’s apparently writing a new work that’s moving away somewhat from his themes in retromania.

    • Yeah, I was hoping you’d clarify on that bit. I was just trying to thumbnail it based on the convos we had.

      Lopatin is everywhere rt now, isn’t he? I like the OPN stuff (I got that 3-disc “Rifts” reissue, and I already had “Returnal”). I also like that “Games” EP he did a cpl yrs ago.

      Carpenter is awesome. I recently saw “Prince of Darkness” and his soundtrack was about the only redeeming feature. Well, that’s not totally true, there were some good images/concepts, and it had “AJ” from “Simon & Simon”. I think some of his soundtrack work has been reissued recently which is good b/c for a while it was out of print and super-expensive.

      See, I can’t take Chromeo seriously. And I have actually seen them. Maybe on the Neon Neon thing it helps that I had some prior exposure & respect for the 2 main musicians (Boom Bip has done some really cool stuff, and SFA are a proposition that just shouldn’t work, that somehow does, and Rhys is a heck of a singer IMO).

      But also, I like a dose of melancholy and Neon Neon has that in spades, whereas Chromeo just wants to get the party started (quickly, right).

      Totally different direction, but for those who aren’t down with synths at all, and want a dose of nostalgia in a more hardcore way:

      • have you heard the lopatin / tim hecker album “instrumental tourist” yet?

        sad and weird and a little bit of that nighttime driving effect. i haven’t heard the rifts reissue, just the original 2 disc set. i presume it is good?

        melancholia is as individual as nostalgia, no doubt – but i don’t really hear that in neon neon. i mostly hear corey hart.

        • That Hecker deal may not be for me. I like texture (and it seems to have some, fer real), and beatless/ambient drifts/drone; or alternately, something more structured, with beats.

          Stuff that sounds both largely-improvised and also “randomly”/suddenly introduces changes like that does – well, I find it disconcerting. It’s in a middle ground that I have trouble with.

          (In a contrary way, I often NEED a middle ground in hip-hop – stick with the same beat/sample too long, I get bored; switch it up so often that I can’t get into a groove, and I also get bored).

          melancholia is as individual as nostalgia

          Sure, some of what I am hearing is no doubt associations to somewhat similar-sounding music of my youth; and also, we all know now the history of what happened to DeLorean’s dream. So no doubt, they get some benefit from that.

          But for example on “Dream Cars” – when they “downshift” into the melody on the chorus – it moves the song from upbeat to melancholy – and also, the song’s lyrics warn us clearly that this is a fantasy being sold, an impossibly-lovely mirage.

          Dream girls, in cold cars
          Cold girls, in dream cars

          Frigid, and forever unattainable.

          “Zero gravity sheen”.

          • zero gravity sheen is a really good line. talk about nostalgia for a future that never was.

          • If you watch the “Alderaan” video to the end, the temptress that leads “DeLorean” handcuffed into the mirrored bathroom is clad in white – SYMBOLISM!

  5. Is this a guest post, or is glyph now one of our regular mindless diversions?

  6. One of my Christmas presents was a copy of The Wonderful Future that Never Was. A brilliant bit of nostalgia for the predictions that didn’t come true.

    While we’re at it Marty McFly visited 2015 that only gives them two years to perfect the flying car.

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