Daily Buzzkills: All aboard the Malt Shop Memories Cruise, the Flying Dutchman of '50s nostalgia 

Daily Buzzkills: All aboard the Malt Shop Memories Cruise, the Flying Dutchman of '50s nostalgia 

It’s obvious why “nostalgia” is so often preceded by the word “crippling”: There’s nothing sadder or more futile than trying to grab hold of fleeting time—like a grandmother with a broken hip, helpless as an upended tortoise, struggling toward a telephone and the fast-moving world beyond. Or actually, maybe even that’s not as sad as the career trajectory of your average pop star: Today you’re among the most recognizable faces on the planet; tomorrow you’re dutifully plopping out your handful of memorable hits on a strength-in-numbers package tour, your life reduced to these few three-minute ditties that were just dumb, harmless trifles when you were younger, but whose naïve frivolity now seems cold and mocking as your life’s hour grows increasingly somber. But when these two meet, locking in a Venn diagram of wasted talents dutifully applied for yearning, backward-looking souls… oh man, forget about it. There are few things sadder than the “oldies” concert. Here the mutually damned circle each other in a whirling dervish dance around inevitable death, humming familiar tunes and hoping they’re loud enough to distract themselves from the increasingly fervent banging from the other side of death’s door. Here they cling desperately to the buoy of nostalgia, lest the oceans of time take them under, softly singing “Sea Of Love” while they lose all feeling in their extremities.

And to extend that nautically themed metaphor to its logical conclusion, there may be nothing sadder than the Malt Shop Memories Cruise, a just-announced venture from Time Life, Carnival Cruise Lines, and marketing company Sixthman (engineer of other musically themed, artistic-nadirs-on-a-boat featuring bands like Barenaked Ladies and Sister Hazel) that sets sail in 2010. According to the press release that landed in our inbox today:

On board, guests will enjoy live performances from the era's top artists in an intimate and personal setting. Those appearing include Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Lesley Gore, The Original Drifters, The Platters, and Lou Christie.

Hey look, it’s all of the vaguely defined “era’s” top artists! Such as: Frankie Avalon, a guy who had several radio hits written by his record company president from 1958 to 1962 (spanning two decades!), and who has by now spent more time gently mocking that early success than he did actually enjoying it. Bobby Rydell, whose return to the touring circuit obviously signifies a burning desire to reconnect with fans—and if it offsets fines incurred from drunkenly plowing his car into a yoga studio last month, hey, all the better. And because early rock ’n’ roll wasn’t just about Brylcreemed white boys making the black man’s rhythm and blues palatable, they’ve also invited Little Anthony And The Imperials, plus whatever ragtag versions of The Platters and The Drifters are currently legally allowed to use those names without infringing on any trademarks. All this plus Lesley Gore, who’s been singing about her make-believe Sweet 16 party for nearly 47 years now, and that’s not tragic in the slightest. Oh, and Lou Christie, because Frankie Valli wanted too much money. What could have inspired such a thrilling, once-in-a-Branson-revue lineup, Time Life?

The Malt Shop Memories Cruise was inspired by Time Life's Malt Shop Memories collection- a box set containing 150 songs epitomizing the birth of rock n' roll. "We have sold millions of the Malt Shop Memories CDs, so this cruise is a natural extension of this beloved brand," says Patricia K. Boos, Senior Vice President for Time Life. 

"The Carnival vacation experience evokes the very same fun and carefree spirit instilled in the tunes of the '50s and '60s," says Cherie Weinstein, vice-president of group business development for Carnival Cruise Lines.

Naturally. Because much as a greatest-hits box set winnows an entire epochal musical era to only the safe and familiar, a cruise ship provides the illusion of an exotic sea voyage without ever having to worry where your next Denver omelet is coming from. Also, they’re both loved by old people. And of course, nothing says “rock ’n’ roll” or embodies the wild, status-quo challenging upheavals of the ’50s and ’60s like several thousand fannypack-sporting senior citizens puttering around a lido deck, sipping virgin daiquiris, playing shuffleboard, and buying souvenir sweatshirts to wear to that night’s concert, where they’ll do creaky versions of the Twist, the Monkey, and other painful, whimsically named reminders of a time when their inflamed joints weren’t waging revolutions of their own. No wonder there’s so much “enthusiasm” about it, which totally exists because it says so in the very same press release.

Boos attributes the enthusiasm surrounding the cruise to the dedication of those involved in bringing this era back to life. "People love this era, love this music and love these artists. Seeing them perform live on this cruise is a unique and exciting vacation experience."

Yes, the tireless “dedication” that must have gone into contacting these artists and convincing them to step away from the supper club/regional holiday parade/state fair circuit, and revive the same songs they’ve already been milking for nearly half a century now for a guaranteed/trapped audience, all in exchange for five days of cruise ship comps and enjoying the dramatic increase in celebrity that always comes with ridiculously close quarters. By the way, does anyone else find it ironic that a person named “Boos” is in charge of an entertainment company? No? Moving on, then.

In addition to non-stop music and artist interactions, guests will enjoy other activities reminiscent of the era, including sock-hops, beach parties, dance contests, bingo and more. "We are so excited for Malt Shop Memories to come to life," says Andy Levine, owner of Sixthman. "This music is the soundtrack for generations of peoples' lives, and we're excited for the opportunity to bring them together."

Ah yes, people bonding over a shared experience, and reliving those increasingly opaque recollections of fading youth (hey, “Malt Shop Memories”—I get it!) via nightly, rote run-throughs of love songs that are sung by musicians who haven’t felt anything romantic for another living person since long before their second divorce, and written by cynical, long-dead music executives who rightfully believed that those stupid kids would buy anything if it came drifting out of a set of pearly whites and a nice head of hair. Hooray, let’s all go through the motions of a simpler time that will never come around again—and probably didn’t even exist in the first place, outside of movies created by the music executives’ even more opportunistic Hollywood counterparts—by playing a little “Beach Blanket Bingo”! Oh, if only this moment could last forever, a never-ending dream of a beautiful lie agreed upon, like a Johnny Rockets in the lounge of Purgatory. Or, you know, maybe we could just follow Frankie Avalon’s concert by setting this whole fucking ship on fire and ending the suffering right here and now—a Viking funeral for rock ’n’ roll, the 1950s, and an entire, regressed generation whose sad thirst for nostalgic comforts is so immoderate and indiscriminate, it’s practically nursing itself off of history’s tit. Hey, just like sucking down a milkshake! Very clever, Time Life. Very clever indeed.