Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Waxing non-nostalgically about the future of nostalgia

A recent Chuck Klosterman essay on Grantland touches on nostalgia, with a start that questions why we feel nostalgia (specifically for music) and whether it's really nostalgia for the song or merely for the time in our lives with which we associate a song. Further he suggests that the nostalgic appreciation of a song may be more a matter of repetitive exposure—of having that expertise with the material—than of anything else.

He then talks about how that experience that facilitates this nostalgia is, itself, something for which in the future we'll only be able to feel nostalgia.

He explains with the example of how as a kid in the '80s he had only six cassettes to listen to, and thus he listened to them over and over—even to the lesser tracks. It was lack of other options that led him to hear that song on side 2 a lot, not that it was that great. But now when he hears it he has a particular reaction to it that's more than intellectually the song should have, and he must attribute that to the fact he heard it so much when he was younger.

The nostalgia has at its core the fact he was willing to have such repeated exposure to the source material.

And as he notes after that, he cannot imagine anyone listening to the same song over and over out of a lack of having something else to listen to. He points out that radio and MTV are less relevant and thus there's no oversaturating the airwaves with songs like there used to be, and with services like Spotify one can have access to more than one could possibly listen to, without having to pay. That limited a music library is anachronistic, and conceivably is gone forever. That may be good or bad, from one's perspective, but it is the nature of our musical reality these days.

He suggests that the desire to remember things will be replaced by the repetition of hearing something to the experiencing something with a group (hearing something once with a significant group of peers will be the nostalgic event, not hearing it alone a significant number of times). Or something like that.

I do concur that the nature of nostalgia associated with songs will likely be different for the kids coming of age nowadays than it was for the generation in which Chuck and I find ourselves. I don't think we can even speculate as to how it will manifest itself, because we're not in the demographic who ultimately will be experiencing that nostalgia. We'll never feel it the way the kids will, so there'll be no way of verifying that our guesses came to pass or didn't.

What all of this made me think was how hearing songs from 20 years ago—when I was in my early 20's and experiencing music much more passionately than I do now—is not so much a lamentation of how those days had passed or a pleasant trip down memory lane but the incredulity that two decades have passed. Sure, consciously I grasp the time has elapsed and can glance at the calendar to be reminded of the math involved to work out that the decades have slipped into the past, but it doesn't feel like it's really been that long; it feels like merely an earlier portion of this same stretch of road I've travelled, not a different road altogether.

The thing is: 20 years ago I never thought about how things will be in 20 years, but now I do. I do ponder what I'll think of my 40's when I get to my 60's, but in my 20's my 40's were off the radar; you need the vantage point of that far back while still being of an age where their experiences to remember in order to think forward about how that same sensation will be when looking back at the present from the distant future.

I imagine that by then when I hear these songs, at that point 40 years gone, will elicit the sort of nostalgia that is what is generally associated with the term—that remembering the "good ol' days" of youth.

In a manner of speaking, it can be summed up thusly: I will then be old enough to be that old.

I'm sure that when the kids of today hit their 60's, way down the road, they'll feel nostalgic over something from these days. To Chuck's point, I'm fairly certain it merely won't be over today's songs, but it will be over something.

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