Thursday, January 03, 2013

"Right Here, Right Now"

Nostalgia is - mostly - an exclusive and compartmentalised pleasure. What is a treasured relic of your own past will often mean little or nothing to anyone else who doesn't share a particular memory or history.

This isn't to say that there can't be a broad common memory of certain times, or in the case of this blog, certain songs or artists. Why else would there be a fairly lucrative sector of the entertainment industry devoted to musicals based on the careers of specific artists or about specific times?

But more generally, it's rare that commonality of experience stretches across generations: what my parents recall from their youth bears little to no resemblance to anything I've ever experienced. That sounds obvious, but we tend to downplay the personal relevance and importance of events we didn't witness. We're all products of entire history, not just our own.

"A woman on the radio talked about revolution/ When it's already passed her by./ Bob Dylan didn't have this to sing about/ You know it feels good to be alive."

When I first heard Jesus Jones sing those lines I assumed, and the video made pretty clear, that they were writing about the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it made me angry that they felt it necessary to host a pissing contest between the massive social changes of the 1960s and the fall of the Soviet bloc. Why should we have to choose which of these periods of history is more important to the world as a whole? They both informed and impacted the course of events in their own discrete way.

But then I've thought back to my own youth, remembering how contemporary events always seemed to hold greater weight than "ancient" history, and I've sort of forgiven Jesus Jones their arrogance and solipsism: it's what we all do. And as the writer Frederic Raphael said, you should only write about what you know.

And completing this internal debate freed me to enjoy the song, which when you think about it is a pretty silly way of appreciating good music.