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“I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Memory is nothing if not a collision of creation and fact: the perpetual struggle between actuality and imagination. There is always something tangible and factual at the heart of each memory, but the contextual world is one of modality. Ever changing: the colour of that car, what that person was wearing, minute details that ebb and flow. These things are all subject to change over time because they are overcome by imagination. When my Grandmother was in the hospital, for example, she remembered meeting my brother’s fiancé on a bus a few years prior—but to her that bus ride was from Clyde Bank to Glasgow and not the city bus in London (where the meeting actually took place). These details are an extension of imagination and how it corrupts memory. In many ways this is how nostalgia works. Avoiding a purely clinical, Freudian framework, nostalgia is the erosion of actuality in favour of compartmentalized emotions. Over time we elude precision of memories in favour of a broader spectrum of general feelings that umbrella over periods of our lives.

Music plays an important role as an agent of nostalgia; platitudes such as “the soundtrack of our lives” are not entirely without merit. As we compartmentalize our more nostalgic memories, so does it seem that we compartmentalize the music connected with these periods in time. A personal anecdote may better illustrate my point. The song “Linoleum” by NOFX always reminds me of the last day of high school. That last lunch hour where we signed each other’s uniform shirts with black sharpies, how the sun spangled off the beige brick and blue fascia ribboning of the school building. There were laughs, and hugs, and possibly a few tears and there was certainly that feeling of the threshold: our lives were changing and our group of friends were to split asunder forever. The fact that “Linoleum” had nothing to do with any of these events or emotions was entirely irrelevant. It merely blankets an entire era of my life and therefore reminds me of a specific, life-altering moment.

But therein lays the central question of the role nostalgia plays in our attitude towards music. I never listened to “Linoleum” that day, nor did anyone else during that lunch hour. In fact, the only song I remember listening to was “The Beast and the Dragon Adored” by Spoon on my walk home after the final bell. Imagination overcomes actuality and places “Linoleum” flittering in the background of this particular memory. At the same time it erodes away the contextual; the fact that this “life-changing” moment that has been fetishized by countless run-of-the-mill films was followed by a boring afternoon of watching television and a weekend spent with those people “I would never see again,” merely cements the imaginative ability of nostalgia. This is to say that nostalgia doesn’t so much lie to your memory as it more or less veils the mundane. If this be the case, is “nostalgic” a positive descriptor of music or a negative one?

On the one hand, familiarity seems an important aspect in making certain music as great asit is to us. I was driving home the other night along a country road at sunset with the blue palate of the sky melting to copper and the breeze rustling just gently enough through my car window, and “Holocene” from Bon Iver’s newest came on. It wasn’t nostalgia in the classic sense, but the same feelings applied. There was the vague sense of remembrance and warmth—flashes of happy moments in my life, real or imagined. But this only heightens the effectiveness of the song, so what is the problem? Clearly nostalgia brings back happy moments to mind and so nostalgia should only ever heighten the lasting power of music, right? In many ways this is an acceptable end to the discussion of the place of nostalgia in music, but it is certainly not thorough. Because of the way nostalgia is able to corrupt, the idea can also perversely affect the value of music.

On the other hand, I remember a brief row I had with Adam Knott in his perfect score review of Jimmy Eat World’s Futures. His justification fell, quite understandably, with the previously discussed notion of familiarity. It reminded him, presumably, of good times gone by (or bad ones, perhaps, but the overall feeling is of youth, which seems to always be pedestalized); it acted in the same manner as “Linoleum” does for me. I call into question the depth of this nostalgia, however, and whether or not it merely masks itself as something more than it is. “Linoluem” came to mind in the midst of writing this because I actually listened to the song earlier in the week—it is what gave me the idea for this article. I was in a car, driving through a lightning streaked sky that was a brilliant orange, with those friends I would never see again (four years down the road), and we were singing along to the NOFX classic. This is when the moments came flooding back to me in full—abridged memories that only covered the highlights. But there is an intrinsic problem in this equation: “Linoleum” was not being sung by NOFX, but rather by Thomas Kalnocky and his 99 Songs of the Revolution project. Yet the same feelings, memories and emotions came back to me as if the original version were being played.

You could account that to Kalnocky and company doing a really good job with the cover; or you could account it to the fallibility of nostalgia as an idea and component of music. Either way it calls into question the very face of nostalgia: corruptor veiled as liberator? The answer is certainly not apodictic and the question itself may seem a tad pedantic, but try to think of the problem from a metanarrative standpoint. Upon individual cases, nostalgia may bring a certain warmth of age to a particular song, band, or album; but what of the issues we have already encountered? We have already seen the ability for nostalgia to counterfeit—to mirror itself as memory’s heterocosm, where the imaginary world edges out the periphery of the past. In this sense, if we look at music in a nostalgic tense, do we curb its greater effect in both a critical and purely enjoyment-based idiom? In so many words the question is really basic: does the treatment of nostalgia aid or suppress the enjoyment of music? Your own answer to this question ultimately relies on what point of the line you place your own memory. If you side closer to a faith in the actuality of your memory then nostalgia ultimately aids your enjoyment of music. But if you are more cynically minded and you believe, as Borges does, that memory is a malleable abstraction, then nostalgia mires the enjoyment of music. Things to think about the next time you pop on your favourite album from five, ten, fifteen years ago.





thebhoy
07.16.11
tl;dr

Yes, yes I know:
a) wall of text -- well what picture am I to add?
b) I did create a word in "pedestalized"
c) same dealio applies that did to my first two articles. This is merely a sounding board of discussion, not a definite treatise

FelixCulpa
07.16.11
Great read Mr. thebhoy. The article defiantly makes you think. // Here are just some of my thoughts on the matter at hand. Since music is quite often so imbued with memories and experiences I defiantly think a nostalgia makes you appreciate music more. And since sound is a factor that can trigger ones memory it's not strange that we all can think of an album that we feel nostalgic about.

FelixCulpa
07.16.11
And nope, you don't seem to be the inventor of the word "pedestalized". http://www.datingish.com/718261484/topedestalize-someone/

Maniac!
07.16.11
gettin philosophical in this biznitch

klap
07.16.11
beast and dragon adored is like my favorite song of all time

liledman
07.16.11
mmm linoleum gives me similar feelings. for me its memories of my old friends from high school i played in a punk band with.

its an interesting thought, the idea of nostalgia somehow aiding in enjoyment or clouding judgement or whatever, but i feel like its more about how you look back on things you used to listen to. i can look back on sum 41 or linkin park, and think yeah thats an awesome song/album, but i wouldnt choose to listen to it, and when i do, it only aids in the destruction of fond memories. there are some things without fail that always take me back, but i can make a clear distinction between nostalgic feelings of enjoyment and i guess critical enjoyment. call me a cynic, or heartless, but im not afraid of moving on from all of those sappy feelings of youth.

thebhoy
07.16.11
I think I'm in the same boat as you liledman... and yeah I know Klappy, I was waiting for that response as I was writing this hahaha


HBFS
07.16.11
really interesting read. i think nostalgia is one of the best feelings - with music especially because everything just keeps flooding back with some songs/albums/bands and it's a really strange feeling sometimes. but then it can be an awful feeling as well, depending on the connotations you have made from past experiences with something

just thinking out loud

duckpride82
07.16.11
Solid write-up, bhoy. I recently saw Midnight in Paris which is basically about a man's nostalgia for a bygone era and how nostalgia is ultimately ill founded. If it is a topic that you are interested in right now I would definitely recommend the movie.

qwe3
07.16.11
dude i love the way you write

thebhoy
07.16.11
thanks. Duckpride I've been wanting to see that movie all week! I think I'm seeing it sometime next week

MO
07.16.11
Yea this is a great piece. You not only write really well but write about some great topics.

Nostaliga to me reminds me of a time of discovery, which is why certain songs/albums stick out more than others. It normally occurs around the teen years when shit starts hitting the fan and you start developing as brighter person (in some cases anywyas). I remember walking home in the dead winter, -40 degree Celcius windchill for 20 minutes listening to Immortal. Lots of people hate the cold but I love it. Nowadays everytime I hear Immortal I think back to those "good ol days" in the cold. it enhances how I listen to it now because I know I really enjoyed it for several reasons before and even though my tastes change, there's still aspects of it I like.

At the same time there are songs you hear that totally suck and sucked at the time but still bring about a wave of nostalgia in that sense of discovery and learning. A sense of knowing what you think sounds good and original and smells.

Anyways, my 2 cents. I guess following what liledman said:

" but i can make a clear distinction between nostalgic feelings of enjoyment and i guess critical enjoyment."


MO
07.16.11
meant to say and what smells heh

Trebor.
07.16.11
Hello I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I review it so you don't have to

Trebor.
07.16.11
Correction:
Hello I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to

KingAlistair
07.17.11
Nostalgia's a funny thing- with about every album I've listened to, I can recall the time period that I was into it, and it makes me kind of miss what my life was like at that moment. Even if it wasn't that great, it's as if the music makes it more appealing. Music somewhat serves as my life scrapbook in that regard, which I enjoy.

natey
07.18.11
When I listen to music I like to listen as if it's the first time I'm hearing a song. I'm a very intentional listener of music though, nostalgia usually comes more easily with smells or sights or touches. Every time I hear music I hear a new performance and don't usually touch nostalgia.

Adash
07.18.11
Quite fantastic. Pretentious in the most positive way imaginable. Borges needs more fans on Sputnik, though I'd argue that it is precisely memory that abounds with 'idle details' of lost time and that living in the past through memory is wallowing in the nostalgia of things past

thebhoy
07.18.11
well living in the past through memory is more specifically melancholy, though nostalgia is tied to it, so basically the same thing. But I would disagree because "idle details" are always left by the way side. You remember events but not the infinite specifics, no matter how hard you try, so you're left with a half-picture

liledman
07.19.11
"Pretentious in the most positive way imaginable"

cant really imagine it being all that positive a comment in any sense.

thebhoy
07.19.11
I was gonna say the same thing... and I also don't think I was being pretentious at all because I never assume my way is the only way, I merely present an idea with different possible outcomes. But I think I know what you meant Adash, so thanks anyways haha

wittwright
07.21.11
yeah, not getting a "pretentious" vibe at all, it was a great read. I would enjoy seeing more posts of this nature on the Blog

Obfuscation24
07.21.11
TL;DR
will read later

Adash
07.21.11
Let me rephrase: I use 'pretentious' as a synonym for; informed, well thought out, articulate and literate. Misleading, but I can't find, or haven't looked for, another umbrella term that fits. (Generally, I get called a pretentious dick for quoting Borges et al).

As regards the actual point of this discussion, I do agree with you that even with memory aid (diaries, photographs etc) you can never recall the whole, though I must say I tend to remember absurd details rather than events themselves.

SputnikLit.com anyone?

thebhoy
07.22.11
Yeah but Adash pretentious means specifically someone who believes to be of greater value than someone else. And anyone who says you're pretentious for quoting Borges is being ridiculous, he's such an unpretentious writer.

Adash
07.22.11
Then maybe 'postentious' is the word I'm looking for : ]

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