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this week’s nostalgia discussion

Posted on 15 January 2005 by Caryn Rose (1)

“Nostalgia is the critic’s heroin,” claims Sasha Frere-Jones. In his context, he’s talking about old school hip hop and his reactions, mental, emotional and physical, when he recently encounters a blast from the past.

What he describes in his blog (see above) is how I felt the night I walked into the awful Doc Maynard’s in Seattle’s Pioneer Square with my friend H., who was there to see her friends play in a conglomeration they refer to as “English Disco” (and I’m feeling generous this morning, so I’ll give you the reference). We had gone out drinking, she had to cut out to see her friends play, the name alone made me willing to tag along for the hell of it (despite the venue, which is AWFUL, think bridge and tunnel except this case, it’s redneck B&T). We walked in just as the band was taking the stage (Rick Friel and Chris Friel, who are practically a Seattle music dynasty at this point). The two of them set up, and launch into a dead-on (and I mean DEAD ON) rendition of Johnny Thunders’ “Pipeline” and I am flabbergasted, I am immediately transported somewhere other (well, other than Seattle, anyway), I am overwhelmed with delight and surprise and at the same time, fighting the wave of memories that come flooding into my brain as a result of this musical cue. I turned to H., and yelled, “This is the music of my people!” (She promptly spit out her drink, she was laughing so hard.)


Now Jessica Hopper offers that nostalgia is not heroin, it is cocaine, and I started this entry because I was going to offer my thesis that nostalgia is neither, that it is Valium or even worse, Prozac, because nostalgia can be (and I stress that greatly) that thing that lulls you into a comfort zone. In that zone everything is warm and wonderful and comfortable and you never want to leave it or have it change (and I’m sure someone will now write to argue with me that this is heroin, but my only real experience with that drug is Velvet Underground lyrics and “Chinese Rocks” and some people in my past that are, well, in my past).

Going back to that night in Seattle, the entire repetoire of the aforementioned English Disco is, well, what I would consider to be the music of my youth, the music that was a huge part of shaping my musical belief system and who I am today. They did it for fun and because they love the music and they grew up on it and it inspired them — both individuals having, like every Seattle musician at their level, at least half a dozen other musical projects going on at any one time. So it was Thunders and Iggy and Cheap Trick (which doesn’t really fit, but Cheap Trick always fits, and they are obsessed) and the Dolls and the Ramones and others, and for me, it was this blast of Absolute New York in sleepy foggy Seattle that made me happy.

Nostalgia scares me (well, there it would fit into the heroin analogy) because too many people I know (fans AND critics) just sit there in it and never leave, like this woman I was eavesdropping on at the Patti Smith show referenced below. They were discussing the opening act (Graybar, the band Jackson Smith is now in) and the comparisons they used were, well, wrong (Rancid? What crack were you smoking). Then the woman qualified her statement by saying, “I really don’t know anything about any bands from the 90’s, and I really don’t care to.” And I thought, How sad. And I thought, how can you be a fan of this woman’s music, because from what I remember, it’s not like being a Patti Smith fan in real time made you a lot of friends, the way she spit the statement out, it was an epithet, it was how people talked about Patti’s music back in the day.

Or it reminded me of waiting in line to see Springsteen in Vancouver two years ago, where I was behind a guy who owned a club in Toronto, and we were delighted to be in each other’s proximity because we could talk all day about current music, something that generally doesn’t happen in that setting, ever (unless of course you’re talking about a band that Bruce has blessed, like Marah or Jesse Malin, and then the fans in question like to think they are suddenly on the cutting edge of the new and happening music scene. Anything else sucks, though).

So I’ve decided that, for me, nostalgia is alcohol, because it can temporarily lift my mood and make me happy, it can also make me sad or morose, and its effect is highly temporary, and I’m going to refrain from indulging in it excessively because I don’t much like what it does in any kind of permanent basis or large scope.

Now I have probably really beaten this horse to death, but I think a lot about this nostalgia thing, since I love me some Classic Rock to a certain extent (i.e., dig the name of this blog) but am also still consumed with finding out what is going on right now that speaks to me, still buying new music, hunting down cd’s by bands that aren’t on iTunes and may not play outside of, say, the Sacramento area. And my frustration continually with people who are one dimensional and denigrate those that aren’t, or with people who once could intelligently describe to you ever band reviewed in Matter but now are so overwhelmed they don’t even try to keep up – you’ll never be as consumed as you were when you were 20 and had no other responsibilities, sure, and I am not either, but the hunger to discover and to listen and love or maybe not love, so what, at least now you can afford to spend $12 on a cd you are less than crazy about, it’s not the commitment it once was, when you were broke and a new record could be a choice between dinner or carfare.

And while I’m here, I’ll tie this into what I did Tuesday night, when I found myself in the odd position of actually wanting to defend Green Day (and then Amy Phillips did it for me, thank god), when a bunch of people decided they were appointed the Official Representatives of what Punk Rock Is Supposed To Be, and listened to someone, who was supposed to be an expert on the Clash, tell us that punk rock was about paying respect to your elders. How he reconciled “No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977” with that statement is beyond my comprehension, and clearly he remembers a different punk rock than I do, but there you go. And they are not any better than the Classic Rock nostalgists who insist that if you didn’t see Springsteen before 1975, you didn’t really see him when he was any good, or the Rolling Stones fans who brag about how they’ve never seen any of their opening bands (Foo Fighters, Ryan Adams, Pearl Jam, etc.), because there’s no point.

(But is that nostalgia or is that just stupidity? Interesting point.)

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One Response to “this week’s nostalgia discussion”

  1. Rob in Victoria says:

    The other thing about the nostalgia as alcohol construct? A little of it is a fine, fine thing — too much and you’re throwing up and hating yourself in the morning.