Alexander Hellene

The Eternal Cover Band

Hey! Do you remember “Africa” by Toto? Do you remember “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds? How about when Ronnie Spector sang on “Take Me Home Tonight” by Eddie Money? Did you like that?

Then you’re going to love “Last Train Home” by John Mayer. It’s got the keyboard sound and the shuffle beat and everything. Its—

Hey! Do you remember that jacket Bryan Adams wore on the cover of Reckless? Remember when Michael Jackson first did the moonwalk at the Motown 25th Anniversary concert in 1983? Remember cell phones the size of bricks? Remember shoulder pads?

Hey! Do you remember call waiting?

Then you’re going to love—

*     *     *

Hey! Do you like hardcore punk from the 70s and 80s? Then you’ll love Amyl and the Sniffers’s new album Comfort to Me. According to (“The Most Trusted Voice in Music”!):

Anyone who has worn a Wipers pin will recognize a good many of these riffs, or at least detect their essences: “Laughing” reeks of the jagged staccato leads of D.C. punks the Monorchid and its sassier offspring Skull Kontrol. The band squats in X and Gun Club territory on the punk-blues breakup song “No More Tears.” Guitarist Dec Martens’ deft post-chorus line on “Security” is played by a man who I’d wager has heard Magazine’s “Shot by Both Sides.” Their music presents a canon of rock riffs like a succession of waves crashing on the same beach. Amyl and the Sniffers are, as ever, shamelessly chugging coldies by the surf.

They’re the Most Trusted Voice in Music (they said so themselves), so you can trust them.

Hey! Remember mullets?


*     *     *

When I was a kid in the late 80s, we had a Subaru hatchback with a seat you could put in the trunk so more people could fit in the car. My family called it the “Wayback Seat,” and my brother, sister, and I loved to sit back there. Not only did it obviate the need to sit squeezed in the back with my poor sister stuck in the middle, but it was also a fun place to sit with friends on the way to the movies. We had that car and cars like it for a while, so I remember going to see Jurassic Park and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other movies that are still being released to day sitting in the Wayback Seat.

Of course, the Wayback Seat was only available on short excursions around town. For longer trips, well, that’s where the luggage went, so we were out of luck.

The Wayback Seat was also cool because the sensation of traveling forward at a high rate of speed while looking backward never got old. Like most things, it seemed more exciting than it really was because I was a young boy, and the novelty of the experience was fun and I hadn’t been jaded by the later detached ennui that would come to define my generation.

That, and the pathetic nostalgia.

But anyway, the point is: who knew I would grow up to live in a time when everyone got a Wayback Seat of their own?

*     *     *

I have a theory.

*     *     *

Things weren’t necessarily better when I was a kid. But from a cultural standpoint, at least things changed. Every five years of fashion might have been from a different country. The aesthetics did not break cleanly upon the turn of the decade—everybody did not wake up on January 1, 1981 suddenly sporting a hot pink Body Glove unitard with Patrick Nagel prints covering the walls of their house. Yet they did change.

In music, too. A band that existed in 1978 was sounding and looking quite different by 1985. Rush went from kimono-sporting, long-haired prog-rock musicians playing twenty-minute suites about battles between Ancient Greek gods in the former year (Hemispheres) to recording music videos dressed in Don Johnson-approved blazers over t-shirts with trendy haircuts, playing synth-soaked arena rock in the latter (Power Windows).

Both periods are awesome. Both unique. And by 1993, the band would have undergone yet another musical and visual transformation. All of which would make you scratch your head and say, “Is this the same band?”

Yes. The answer is yes. The fact that you had to ask was the point.

Things change. Until they don’t.

One of my favorite modern bands is Coheed and Cambria. Probably because they remind me of Rush. High-pitched vocals, frenetic, up-tempo riff-driven rock played with an unusually high level of complexity and competence for popular music. Dorky, conceptual, lyrics and song-stories inspired by science-fiction.

They’ve been remarkably consistent since their 2002 debut, The Second Stage Turbine Blade. So consistent, in fact, that there’s no mistaking the Coheed and Cambria of The Second Stage Turbine Blade for anyone else, up past the Coheed and Cambria of 2018’s Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures and the Coheed and Cambria of their most recent single, 2021’s “Shoulders.”

It’s the same band. The same good band. Catchy. Fun. Visceral. But for close to twenty years, the Coheed and Cambria sound has been the Coheed and Cambria sound.

English pop-prog trio Muse caught a lot of criticism for incorporating elements of dubstep or brostep into the songs on their 2011 album The 2nd Law, but at least they were trying something different.

So they leaned in to their hard rock and metal instincts on 2015’s Drones, and in 2018’s Simulation Theory—their most critically well-received album since, arguably, 2004’s Absolution—the band was praised for mimicking the best parts of 1980s rock and pop songwriting, instrumentation, and production techniques.

The cover of Simulation Theory was painted by Stranger Things artist Kyle Lambert.

*     *     *

Back to my theory:

Things stopped changing because we have the means to see exactly what everything was like in the past down to every last angstrom.

Forget just from popular media: someone born post-2000 has a disgustingly large treasure-trove of imagery, audio, and video, all of good to great quality, chronicling in minute detail what life was like when his parents were young kids, or teenagers, or in their twenties.

I had to rely on stories my grandparents told, old movies, and books, to understand what life was like in their day. My pappou’s stories of Depression-era New York were enough to give me a mental image of what it was like, but I had to use my imagination to put myself back there, filling in the gaps as best I could. It still evoked a sympathetic feeling, but it was a far cry from him whipping out a smartphone and showing me video of what it was like walking to the Jewish-owned deli six blocks from his apartment in the Bronx.

Extrapolate this to people younger than me. If you were born, say, in the 1950s, you turned 18 anytime between 1968 and 1978 (remember—the decade ended in 1960, not 1959). And so, if you wanted to create your culture, your own aesthetic, your own vibe, slang, patois, way of doing things that was focused on youth and vigor and beauty, you were on your own.

There were things created for you by older people; one cannot forget that most of what we call “Boomer music” was made by Silents for Boomers’ enjoyment. However, like all generations, Boomers still took what was around them and ran with it into the future.

They could at least imagine a future. And even though there was an upsurge in 1950s nostalgia when the Boomers realized the horrors they had wrought to the society they had grown up in—you know, the one that worked—on the whole it was different than the future imagined by their parents and grandparents. It was even different than the future imagined by their older siblings.

For the post-millennium young, there are too many cultural artifacts of the past for them to even have to create anything different. When the stuff created for them by the older generations is so awful, why wouldn’t they retreat into 80s and 90s nostalgia?

Aren’t, for example, some of the best video games being released done in the pixelated styles of gaming’s console golden age, with similar gameplay?

The closest thing I can see to a new culture is the Zoomer’s meme-heavy blend of black comedy and nihilism mixed with a streak of wholesomeness, or at least a longing for it. They know that everything sucks and that it’s unlikely to get better in their lifetimes, but at least they can enjoy themselves making fun of it. Comedic despair.

What’s our excuse, though? The ones creating music and art and books and movies for the post-millennium cohort? Certain people–I hesitate to call them auteurs–have carved out long-lasting, lucrative careers based on little more than referencing stuff that was around when they were kids.

Why is this type of thing so popular?

Why do we cling to nostalgia so hard that the thought of abandoning Big Name Franchise X fills us with a nameless dread, even though everything its corporate handlers have produced for the past twenty years seems custom-tailored to insult us and desecrate everything we once loved as a child?

Why can we not put away these things?

*     *     *

Hey! Remember The Empire Strikes Back, when the AT-AT Walkers were marching across the plains of Hoth?  

– Alexander

6 thoughts on “The Eternal Cover Band”

  1. Alexander,

    My theory which echoes what I stated at Alexandru’s with more elaboration here.

    We cover ad infinitum cultural productions because (a) the transmission belt has been broken thanks to Gramsci (b) Because we’re culturally shallow, unable to produce quality works. It’s a correct admission of imposter syndrome.

    I became fascinated by Gramsci and his notion of hegemony when I did my BA in political science. I regarded him as far more dangerous than that vulgar pistolero Lenin (and his henchmen Trotsky and Stalin and successors like Mao and Pol Pot;I still do)
    Gramsci’s analysis of hegemony is both a seminal contribution to political philosophy science and the corrective to Marx’s asinine economism and ludicrous anthropology.

    Gramsci was dead on, bitchslapping Marx. The epiphenomenon of the superstructure is KEY to changing the base.


    Typical Marxist Gramsci was, he emptied out the Christanization of Europe of the ‘God stuff’ to concentrate how the early Christians transformed the classical world’s hegemony to its own.

    However, very implicitly Gramsci hints that once the communist/marxist hegemony is achieved, it’s the terminus point and all other counter hegemonies will wither away. Stalin said nope nana this is bourgeois thought. The party must eternally surveil and if necessary preempt the wreckers, etc by changing the old hegemony for a new one under party’s guidance with the führer’s/vozhd’s mystical abilities. Those who are too slow or oppose: off to the killing fields!

    Solution. Regress to the real history of the Christanization of Europe and its legacy (maybe recuperate Christopher Dawson who’s sorta anti-Gramsci and definitely recover the Greek, Latin, Syriac and desert Fathers)

    As to reversing cultural shallowness, we apply the Gramscian praxis of the counter hegemony: don’t give money to people how hate you. #Brandzero and absolute silence on mainstream cultural creation.

    We must be utterly ruthless and unsentimental against the current hegemony. Hence, supporting independent content creators. Han’s periodic 99 cent sales like the one for Basedcon is one of the brilliant strategies to advance the counterhegemony, next is to make regular people aware of independent visual creations (e,g. Cernovich’s documentaries), music, and ideology (e.g. Feser, Eve Keneinan)

    Word of mouth, email newsletter, YouTube, samizdat, etc. Bypass the mainstream creation/production/distribution structure in favour of a parallel system. Again, everything for the counterhegemony so it becomes the dominant hegemony (and to be forthright to restore its right place usurped by the current hegemony)


    1. Great points all Xavier, thanks.

      I confess to knowing little about Gramsci except his famous formulation of a “long march through the institutions.” Very interesting that he was a counterpoint to Marx. Also kind of scary how accurate Gramsci appears to have been.

      It does seem like the powers that be, for all of their talk about new scientific (always scientific!) breakthroughs, we’re at an end-point where nothing really ever gets better or improves beyond what it was at the end of the last century. The year 2000 hit, and we’ve been in a decline by nearly every metric ever since.

      Of course, some pedant will come in and tell me, “Actually, such-and-such has improved! Nobody is dying of rickets!” and so on. But these exceptions prove nothing.

      Your last point, though, is one of the few areas for hope. The Internet and a decentralization of culture–and everything else save for government power–has created tons of opportunity for a cultural counter-insurgency. Samizdat mindset!

      1. Alexander

        Gramsci is an important bneo Marxist thinker

        . Personally I find him trite sprouting platitudes as they were insight on par with St Thomas Aquinas or the Greek Fathers.

        Nevertheless, people need to be both familiar with him and his writings particularly his Prison notebooks.
        Hegemony and how to impose it is fundamental to understand outcomes.

        Just to give you an idea Butteig’s dad was a leading Gramscian scholar so theItalian’s thought is at the highest levels in government.


  2. I often hear a nostalgia-heavy culture spoken of as a recent phenomenon, but is this really so?

    In the 1920s-1930s, there was a trend of nostalgia for the 1890s (which they called the “Gay ’90s” back then), resulting in such cultural artifacts as the Mae West movie “She Done Him Wrong” and a popular campaign to save and restore buildings from the era. Around roughly the same time, there was also a revival of nostalgia for the antebellum South, marked by things like “The Birth of a Nation”, “Gone With the Wind”, The Littlest Rebel”, etc.

    In the late 1930s and the 1940s, there was nostalgia for the 1920s, resulting in things like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “The Jolson Story”.

    In the 1960s, there was an uptick of WWII nostalgia, resulting in a glut of movies, comics, etc, such as “The Guns of Navarone”, “The Dirty Dozen”, and “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos”. Then, of course, there was the 1950s nostalgia trend of the 1970s and 1980s, and so on.

    And of course, much of the popular culture of nearly the entire first half of the 20th century was marked by Wild West nostalgia. Hollywood was originally essentially built on a foundation of cowboy movies. And Walt Disney’s empire (in movies, television, and at Disneyland) was largely built on nostalgia for times past, including the Revolution and Frontier eras (Davy Crockett, the Swamp Fox, etc) and the early 1900s (“Pollyanna”, “Mary Poppins”, “Lady and the Tramp”, and of course Main Street, USA at Disneyland).

    I wonder if maybe it’s just an ongoing longing for the “good old days” that every generation feels at some point or another?

    “Even if the good old days never existed, the fact that we can conceive such a world is, in fact, an affirmation of the human spirit.” – Orson Welles

    1. There has always been an undercurrent of nostalgia that back way past the 20th century. Ancient Greeks thought their age was degenerate compared to their great-grandfathers’. But what people now have correctly intuited is that the nostalgia is all there is. Nostalgia, revival movements, period pieces, and things like that used to coexist with good, exciting, new stuff that pushed forward into new territory. For at least the past 15 years, maybe 20, nostalgia, remakes, and rehashes are sucking all of the oxygen from the cultural space. That’s what’s so unprecedented and so troubling.

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