DARBY ROMEO on the plague of retro hell and what you should do about it


On Halloween, 1988, aspiring graphic artist Darby Romeo launched the ‘zine Ben Is Dead, named, ironically, for the husband she would subsequently divorce. Romeo, now 29, has produced 28 issues of Ben and started the improbably titled Killzine Zine, feeding an audience of self-styled alterna-vistes who consider Spin frightfully mainstream. “Retro Hell” (Little, Brown), a compilation of Ben Is Dead issues of the same name, will be published in early December.

Q: What is retro hell?

A: A piece of pop culture that captures and symbolizes an embarrassing moment in time.

Q: And L.A. retro hell?

A: Bands trying for the next Sex Pistols reunion hit. Poseurs, the punk rock clothing store. Clubs like Odyssey and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco.


Q: He restarted that recently.

A: That’s a scary comeback. Rodney Bingenheimer--retro hell to the nth degree.

Q: Isn’t all of this just nostalgia?

A: Retro hell is more obnoxious than nostalgia. People who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s are extremely cynical. We’re cynical from an earlier age than other generations. All of our history seems to be this cynical looking-back.

Q: Indeed, we seem to be in for a long spell of ‘70s retro-mania. How much of that is sincere and how much is irony?

A: It’s half frustration. How much affection am I supposed to have for the fact that I spent a third of my childhood watching really bad TV? Think about watching thousands of hours of “Three’s Company.”

Q: There is something weird about people in their 20s waxing nostalgic for the days when they were 8.

A: Enjoy it and get over it. If you say, “I remember when” over and over, get a life.


Q: How much longer can adulation of the past continue?

A: 2000. Then you should burn everything, start fresh and be nice.

Q: What will retro hell be 20 years from now?

A: “Friends” and Jennifer Aniston’s haircut. John Wayne Bobbitt. Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Pogs. People typing will be very retro.

Q: And Ben Is Dead?

A: Oh, yeah.