Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011: I Do Believe That I'm Nostalic for Someone Else's Nostalgia

It seems like nostalgia never fails to inspire passionate responses from most people. Some really love indulging in it (like TV and film producers remaking old TV shows all the time) and some truly hate it. (Did you see the reviews for that Charlie's Angels "reboot?" Yowsa, there was some vitriol. And bringing back Fear Factor? Was anyone nostalgic for Joe Rogan? Maybe his family?) As I’ve traveled further and further from the golden days of my youth, I’ve fallen into that trap. And you know what? Sometimes that’s a very nice place to reside.

I remember the very first time I felt nostalgic. I'm not talking about nostalgia for a time I wasn't even alive for—I did plenty of that when I listened religiously to the “Electric Lunch” on PYX 106 in Albany throughout high school summers. It was a mix of ’60s songs and clips from that era, with a heavy dose of stage banter from Woodstock. (I knew the “don't eat the brown acid” advice before I ever knew what acid was. Or the glorious results you could have on it. That's a whole OTHER nostalgic story.) I dug it so much that I copied that template when I got a noontime airshift in college. (It was not even close to the smoothness that I heard out of Albany. I have burned tapes of that show for the greater good.)

The specific sort of nostalgia I’m talking about is when you’re recalling a time you experienced first hand, and that warm flood of memories makes you feel good. The first time that happened to me was in May 1990 when my friend Bruce Hartley did a show on our college station WICB that focused on—as the Rhino collections that came out that year were called—the super hits of the ’70s. Looking Glass, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Starbuck, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds—these were acts that I had forgotten or totally rejected once I thought myself a “rock guy.” Heck, when I got to college I basically rejected everything from my past because I wanted a fresh start. (That apparently included forgetting that eight bowls of cereal a day at the dining hall is a bad idea.) So that night of reliving those songs set me on a path that continues until this day of recovering a lot of music (and memories too) that I worshipped as a 3 year-old until I was 11.

So, as you can see, the lure of nostalgia is something that I can understand pretty easily. Yet even I wasn’t prepared for the pull the ’90s has exerted on folks in their late 20s and early 30s. Last October my friends Allison and Melanie convinced me that a mainstream ’90s night would be a fun time. They knew a bunch of the music and believed that with my DJ experience we could get people out to drink and dance to a decent cross-section of tunes from that era.  And holy crap, they were right. Our second event, for which we dubbed our new collective Party Like It's 1999, was the night before New Years Eve. (The above picture comes from that night.) The bar at the venue, The Bell House, made more money that night from our mix of tunes than they did on the actual New Years Eve. Our unexpected success of that night continued throughout the past 12 months. The pure joy and excitement these people get from hearing Macy Gray, Len, Lit and Notorious B.I.G. is entertaining and, at times, a little bit scary. (Example: I play Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” Instantly the screaming is vaguely reminiscent of those old newsreel clips of teenage girls at Beatles concerts in 1964.) And while most of these songs don't bring me that kind of joy, I do get supreme satisfaction from bringing those people that moment.

All of this blabbing about music from the past brings me to this point—I found much of the music 2011 unimpressive. I can honestly say that I listened to podcasts (which I’ll cover in The AV Files on page 23) on my commute as much as I did current music. This isn’t meant to belittle the albums and songs you’ll be reading about in the following pages. It’s just that my connection to them is nowhere as strong as it has been in previous editions of the RT20. In fact, some of my favorites of 2011 have a whiff of nostalgia to them. There are two acts on the albums and singles list from one of my all-time favorite musical cities, Seattle. The Head and the Heart’s debut mixes harmonies and acoustic guitars and piano in such a way that I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been initially released in 1974. BOAT hearken back to another golden age of listening—the mid ’90s. D. Crane and company wear their love for such bands as Pavement and Built to Spill on their sleeves—and their album cover, as you’ll see on page 12. Adele’s music has a timeless quality that makes older people nostalgic for their youth, and makes youth nostalgic for a time when everything was “authentic.” I couldn’t help but think of the ’90s yet again when I first saw the video for Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks.” The way MTV hacked out the line “faster than my gun” made me chuckle and recall when I laughed at them doing the same thing to “joint” in Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”  Add in such RT20 staples as Wilco, Buffalo Tom and R.E.M. (more on their decision to call it a day on page 8), and I’m starting to think I wrote this list in 2001, not 2011.

Finally, I had one full bout of heavy hearted nostalgia this year as one pillar of my musical identity changed forever. The passing of Clarence Clemons in June struck me hard. I’d only met him once, but his persona was so big that I felt I was meeting him every time I saw the E Street Band. There was a reason that Bruce Springsteen would always announce the Big Man last— Clemons was the embodiment of everything fans (and The Boss himself, I imagine) felt about that band. Those distinctive sax solos were the heartbeat of the albums Springsteen did from the 1973 to 1980. And even though that sax was heard less and less from that point on, the fans love for Clemons never wavered. I distinctly remember a certain moment during one show on the E Street reunion tour when the crowd went rather insane when Clemons burst into the solo of “Badlands.” Springsteen had a shit-eating grin on his face when Clemons finished, and shook his head as if to say “how did you get them to do that?” There’s no way Springsteen can fill that void in the E Street Band sound, so I’m interested to see what happens when they return to the road in the spring.

Okay, that’s enough living in the past, as the old Jethro Tull song goes. Oh, crap. Referencing that 40 year-old song is another dose of nostalgia too. Dammit. It’s a vicious cycle that I can’t seem to stop! Anyways, I hope you enjoy the list more than I did writing it.

No comments: