Tag Archives: nostalgia

The Slow Death of Restaurant Kitsch

Tiffany-style lamps. Candy-striped uniforms and/or candy-striped tablecloths. And tchotchkes: tchotchkes as far as the eye can see. The 20th-century chain-restaurant aesthetic is immediately recognizable — but where did it come from? At Collectors Weekly, Lisa Hix digs into the history of restaurant kitsch right at the moment where its earliest proponent, T.G.I. Friday’s, is beginning to impose a minimalist, clutter-free look on its locations. Along the way, she unearths the surprising origins of Friday’s as a hip singles’ bar chain, closely aligned with ’70s sexual liberation movements and a new taste for cocktails:

The Commercial Appeal newspaper called it “a place with so much atmosphere you have to push it aside to get in.” Again, 20-somethings lined up for a table, and patrons mobbed the bar. This Friday’s became a hotspot for the Memphis counterculture, known for its boozy adventures, drug experimentation, and sexual subversion—including an underground queer scene. Bands played on a stage in back, while local rock stars like Big Star lingered at candy-striped tables under leaded-glass lamps.

“Friday’s was the first place in Memphis where you could actually go in and buy a mixed drink,” Rush Bowman, who took a job there as a bar-back before becoming a bartender, tells me over the phone from his home in the Dallas metro. “Before that, you’d had to take your own bottle to a bar, and the bar would hold on to it for you. They’d make your drinks with your own bottle and charge you a setup fee. Friday’s was first real bar in town, and the employees were young people with long hair, so they looked like the customers they were trying to attract.”

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One Man’s Quest For His Vinyl and His Past

Eric Spitznagel | Old Records Never Die: One Man’s Quest for His Vinyl and His Past | Plume | April 2016 | 8 minutes (2,029 words)

Motivated by a potent mix of seller’s regret and old-dude nostalgia, a journalist sets off in search of the vinyl of his youth. And not just copies of albums he loved—Eric Spitznagel wants the exact records he owned and sold. It’s a premise that musician Jeff Tweedy describes as “not… entirely insane” in his preface to the book.  Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of Old Records Never Die. You decide.  Read more…

How Winona Ryder Became the Face of ‘90s Nostalgia

It’s not uncommon for artists to be associated with a particular cultural moment: think Hemingway and interwar Europe or vintage Lady Gaga and the onset of the age of virality. What is rare is for a cultural moment to be so strongly linked to a specific artist like the `90s — specifically the first, pre-internet half — are with Winona Ryder.

At Hazlitt, Soraya Roberts digs deep into Ryder’s career to find out why we (or at least a certain subset of “we,” mostly born between the mid-seventies and mid-eighties) struggle to decouple the artist from the period in which she got lodged in our collective psyche.

We cannot see Ryder without seeing the grunge era. In the New York Times Magazine in 2011, Carl Wilson riffed on the “20-year cycle of resuscitation” that had finally turned to Gen-X nostalgia. “In intimate terms, nostalgia is a glue that reinforces bonds of solidarity and shared experience,” he wrote. “And it’s a reminder that it matters not only that an idea or an image was created, but when — that things speak most fully in chorus and counterpoint to other events and concepts of the same era.” As Tavi Gevinson told Entertainment Weekly in 2014, “how I feel when I see pictures of teen Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp holding hands in leather jackets, like, nobody can match that.”

The only person that can come close is Winona Ryder now, because embedded in Winona Ryder now is Winona Ryder then. She carries her past with her. The teen actress who sought to make her own life nostalgic before it had even passed her by peeks out from within the woman Marc Jacobs now imbues with nostalgia — she is a Russian nesting doll of reminiscence. That Winona Ryder’s image makes more of an impression than her current performances — in The Ten, The Last Word, Stay Cool — confirms our culture’s chronic desire to preserve the past rather than accept the present.

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Back in the USSR: A Reading List

Svetlana Boym, an eminent Leningrad-born literary scholar, died earlier this month in Boston. She was a versatile and eloquent critic, novelist, and photographer, but is perhaps best known for her work on nostalgia, a cultural and psychological phenomenon that she described as “a strategy of survival, a way of making sense of the impossibility of homecoming.”

Boym left the USSR in the early 1980s. Since then, her country of birth has formally disintegrated, but has also become one of the most fetishized nostalgic objects of our post-Cold War imagination, a political entity that continues to cast spectral shadows in unexpected places — in Russia, in the former Communist Bloc, and in the West.

Writing about post-Soviet Kaliningrad/Königsberg, Boym described the city, and by extension contemporary Russia as a whole, as a “theme park of lost illusions.” The stories in this reading list — from a haunting travelogue through an abandoned Soviet mining town in the Arctic to Boym’s account of Moscow’s 850th anniversary celebrations in 1997 — take us on a ride through the park’s gaudily uncanny landscapes. Read more…

The Proustian Powers of Ice Cream

Ice cream is Proustian. One bite can send you time-traveling decades back, to a hot summer day, when you walked barefoot on shell-dappled Gulf sands, vanilla ice cream dripping over the sides of a cone and onto your fingers. Maybe it was a reward for the first time you lost a tooth, a sweet, cold dish of mint chocolate chip as balm for the pain. A bite of blackberry gelato might conjure up a stroll down a sunny Roman street with a long-lost love. More recently, ice cream has become associated with being a good person and doing good works, even though the product really isn’t all that good for you. Honesty matters. Trust matters. We feed it to our children, after all. This is why Ben & Jerry’s, on its website, stresses its commitment to “progressive values across our business,” “climate justice,” and mandatory GMO labeling. This is why Häagen-Dazs wants you to know that the company has devoted more than $1 million to honeybee survival (“We want to keep those little heroes buzzing”). This is why Breyers pledges to use “sustainably farmed vanilla and fruit” and milk and cream from cows “not treated with artificial growth hormones.” Keeping up with modern times, Breyers also features lactose-free, no-sugar-added, fat-free, half-the-fat, carb-smart, and gluten-free ice cream.

Mimi Swartz writing in Texas Monthly about Blue Bell, a much-loved Texas company that has recently been plagued by a series of recalls and deaths linked to listeria-tainted ice cream.

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Why We Dream About Our Childhood Homes

Sigmund Freud called dreams ”the royal road to the unconscious” and theorized that they reflected highly individual unconscious wishes. His student Carl Jung, who later broke with him, thought the recurring use of enduring symbols in dreams, like mazes, mirrors and snakes, reflected something more collective and universal.


Many people interviewed said they dreamed about their childhood homes, especially if they were from neighborhoods that had changed radically over the years. ”It’s like a lost civilization,” said Professor Marcus of Columbia, who grew up in the Bronx and often dreams about it. And since living space might be described as the sex of the 90’s — everyone wants it and nobody can seem to get enough — it is fitting that such space was the subject of several city dwellers’ dreams.

Janet Allon, writing for the New York Times about how New Yorkers see the city in their dreams. Allon’s piece, “Streets of Dreams,” ran in July 1998.

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Identify an Aesthetic, and Then Recreate That Aesthetic

To understand why Urban Outfitters and American Apparel have declined so spectacularly, it’s helpful to remember what it was that made them so successful in the first place. In their heyday, each made a science of identifying exactly what it was that made hipsters so attractive, then recreated that aesthetic in their stores.

They mass-marketed the counterculture by honoring art, music, and fashion of the past; rejecting traditional lifestyles and careers; and appreciating irony. “You would flip through one of their lookbooks or walk into their stores and think, I am in this world,” Brandes recalls. They made a hard-to-define bohemian lifestyle accessible to an entire generation of young people growing up in the cookie-cutter suburbs.

Urban Outfitters and American Apparel identified their target audiences, moving into neighborhoods with a high density of 18 to 25 year olds who were beginning to experiment with their personal style and values. In college towns, students looking to express their newfound interest in indie rock or ’80s nostalgia could put together an entire look in a matter of minutes at one of these stores; they didn’t need to dig through bins of old T-shirts at Goodwill anymore. Even though you weren’t technically thrift shopping, the ambiance and layout inside these stores mimicked the experience, making you feel like you were stumbling across rare, special objects.

Elizabeth Segran writing for Racked about the decline of the “hipster brand,” and why American Apparel and Urban Outfitters are struggling.

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Home for the Holidays

As soon as we’re finished, Thad shuffles to the garage to grab two 150-or-so-gallon black garbage bags. We stuff all of the presents inside, double-knot the bags at the top, and drag them to the front door, confident that the next morning, not one of our kids — not even the nine-year-old — will wonder what’s inside them, much less think to ask whose dead bodies we’re transporting to Nana’s house this year.

“This is insane,” Thad says, every single year. He acts as if he’s referring to the sham of it all — to the ends that we go to to perpetuate an illusion (i.e., lying to the three people who trust us more than anyone else in the world). But I know what he’s really talking about. The absurd effort, the familial displacement, the marital stress that inevitably leads to absolutely no mistletoeing — all so I can go home for the holidays.

Vicki Glembocki, writing in Philadelphia Magazine, casts a critical eye on her yearly Christmas pilgrimage to her parents’ house in a funny, blunt reflection on how we understand “home.”

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Homecoming and Pain: On the Etymology of Nostalgia

Why do some people look back and others refuse to? What are the pleasures of  “nostalgia”? The word itself has its etymology in the Greek nostos(homecoming) + algia (pain), but the condition is more multifaceted, combined of equal parts of homesickness, self-indulgence, sentimentality, and an alertness to the genuine, confected, or nonexistent pleasures of other times, other ages, and other places. In Updike, and many others of us, the pleasure of remembering predominates, not the pain.

The word, if not the condition, is modern, coined in 1688 by Johannes Hofer as a translation of the German Heimweh (homesickness) to describe the depression he witnessed among Swiss mercenaries longing to get home following service abroad. That its coinage coincides with the beginnings of the ages of Enlightenment and then Romanticism suggests that words both come out of their historical circumstances and affect subsequent conditions. They respond to cultural stimuli and then create new feelings, or new articulations of older ones. In The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boym distinguishes between two nostalgias, a “restorative” version, a longing for return to the favored place, and a “reflective” one, which is all about irreparable loss. But in America today, the original pain of nostalgia is often replaced by the diluted pipe-dream pleasures of self-indulgent trips down Memory Lane.

Willard Spiegelman writing for The American Scholar about memory, nostalgia, and his 50th high school reunion.

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Joyce Wadler’s Throwback Thursday

If you missed knowing me when I was 26, Throwback Thursday gives you the chance to see me in my physical prime, which I know is very important to you, particularly those 3,426 Facebook Friends who did not know me then. Or now, actually.

What, another Throwback Thursday already?

O.K., here is a picture of my first husband right after we were married. Look at that crazy wide tie and that insane sports jacket! Is that ’70s or what? I thought this picture would give you a smile as well as let you know the sort of hunks I used to attract. I don’t mind telling you that when men saw me naked they used to fall to the floor; not because they’d lost a contact lens, but to give thanks to a higher power. Men who often went on to become very important in their fields. No, no, I couldn’t possibly name names. Oh, O.K., Arnold Schwarzenegger.

-Joyce Wadler, in The New York Times.

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Photo: dan.marv, Flickr