- Doin’ Time with Meg and Cris, Thirty Years LaterThe Queer Temporality of Pseudonostalgia
Meg Christian and Cris Williamson’s Live at Carnegie Hall album, released in 1983, opens with “Anniversary,” a song composed by Cris for the tenth anniversary of Olivia Records. After a few seconds of drumsticks marking time, the applause of nearly three thousand audience members intensifies. The lyrics invoke albums and songs by the two singers, including I Know You Know, The Changer and the Changed, Strange Paradise, Face the Music, and “Turning It Over.” The uproarious applause after the song suggests that the audience appreciated these references, which set a celebratory tone for the evening. Appropriately for my argument, “Anniversary”—sincere but not overly serious, with a syncopated refrain that plays with perceptions of musical time—is a piece of sonic ephemera intended only for the two Carnegie Hall shows in 1982. Yet through the artifact of the recording, the song and the concert both live on and accumulate temporalities.
In this article, I use Live at Carnegie Hall and women’s music to consider how we might redirect the cultural phenomenon of secondary nostalgia—often trivialized in critical discussions as “pseudonostalgia”—toward an expansion of the concept of “queer time.” Judith Halberstam theorizes that queer time constitutes “strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices” and is not inextricably tied to sexual practices or identities.1 The temporality of pseudonostalgia and its connections with both irony and sincerity, I argue, invite listeners born after 1970 to experience women’s music with ears to history, primary nostalgia, and sometimes camp—all modes of listening based in conceptions of time that inspire temporal slippages we might [End Page 86] understand as “queer.” By considering pseudonostalgia as an epistemology (and a term) that resists linearity, I mean to question the temporalities of irony and sincerity—and their relationships with the reception of music produced in the past. In addition to interrogating my own responses to Meg, Cris, and their cohort, I draw on an informal questionnaire and subsequent email conversations with fellow fans.2 In using this material, I gesture toward the ethnographic possibilities of such a study while producing an argument that relies primarily on my own interpretations of texts.
To explicate the affect of pseudonostalgia, I focus on the “women’s music movement,” a stylistically diverse genre characterized by its background in second wave feminist (and radical lesbian) activism, its emphasis on community, and its insistence on supporting women at every level of musical production, from performance to sound design and record distribution.3 Its stars include Holly Near, Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Linda Tillery, and Ferron, and it remains an active subculture, with newer generations emerging to form new contexts for what Margie Adam calls “music that affirms and empowers women.”4
Meg Christian and Cris Williamson’s November 26, 1982, concert and the 1983 album Meg and Cris Live at Carnegie Hall commemorate the decade since the founding of Olivia Records in 1973. This concert was no small affair: two sold-out shows of 2,800 audience members each, hundreds of volunteers and sponsors, and on stage, the stars of the women’s music movement. The two headliners had helped launch Olivia Records with a surprisingly successful 45 rpm record ten years before and became best-selling artists for Olivia: by 1983, Meg’s I Know You Know had sold 70,000 copies, and Cris’s The Changer and the Changed had sold over 150,000.5 These numbers are small in comparison with mainstream artists but are significant for an independent label in operation before the Internet enabled the widespread distribution of independent recordings.
The Carnegie Hall concert was a celebration—of the artists, of Olivia Records, and of a music movement that had connected a geographically diverse demographic through grassroots efforts. Susan Wilson, a reviewer for the Boston Globe, described the show in epic terms:
It might have been a fairly ordinary and relatively uneventful Friday night in uptown Manhattan. But something special was clearly in the air! . . . [D]ozens of curious Christmas shoppers began to stop and stare at the glittering...