photo by Sonja Langford on unsplash.com
I’m a Beatles fan. I know, that’s a ballsy admission to make, since absolutely no one likes Beatles’ music.
Regardless, this post isn’t about the Beatles really, although it was inspired by the band somewhat. Just the other day I was listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for approximately the one-hundred-thousandth time and was suddenly struck by the opening lyric of the title track.
It was 20 years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play . . .
Sgt. Pepper was released in the summer of 1967, which was more than 50 years ago as of the date I’m writing this. This fact is apropos of nothing, except that the song—and its displacement in time as I listened to it in my car—turned my thoughts to the subject of nostalgia.
A huge component of my stolen personal philosophy is that happiness is a product of anticipating future events and things, a hole largely filled with entertainment choices in my world, things to help pass the time between now and the grave (cheerful thought, that). Nowhere in this equation does dwelling on the past factor in.
Except it does.
Most of my posts are about the past in one way or another. Some of the television series and movies I watch and review are decades old. In fact, Star Trek: The Original Series dates back to the time of Sgt. Pepper’s. The music I enjoy the most was also recorded in previous decades. The things I associate with the other things I write about all come from dwelling in the past. Looking back, it seems, plays some important part in my personal pursuit of happiness as well.
And I think this is normal. A lot of what makes us nostalgic is a yearning for a simpler time, a better time perhaps, especially before the obligations of adulthood fell on us like a bag of wet cement. As for myself, I tend not to dwell on the bad times from my youth—even though they manage to creep in at times—and I probably view the rest through rose-colored glasses. Perhaps my own nostalgia is for a time and place that never truly existed for me, not so much a memory as an idealized concept. Childhood was often turbulent and stressful, frequently scary, and that lack of responsibility that we, as adults, are often wistful over didn’t feel as great when we were living in that time and space.
Looking at it from this perspective, being nostalgic about the past is similar to fantasizing about winning the lottery. Idealized dreams.
There does seem to be something about the “20 years ago” thing, however. Maybe it would be more accurate to say “20-to-30 years ago.” In the 1950s, Americans were ga-ga over the 1920s. In the 1970s, it was all about the 1950s. Look at American Graffiti, Happy Days, and Grease. In the 1990s, we got a rash of movies set in the ’70s, such as Dazed and Confused, Boogie Nights, and 54. Certainly, there are outliers. There are movies being made today set in those previous decades as well, but there seems to be something to the sliding focus that always trails two or three decades behind our current time. 20-years-ago somehow always seems less complicated than the present.
Sometimes it’s easier to see the trends in hindsight. It’s difficult to see patterns when you’re living inside of one.
It’s the year 2019 as I write this, for a little while longer, at any rate. If there’s any truth to my stated premise, then there should be current examples that suggest we’re nostalgic for the late 1980s through the ’90s. The Netflix hit show Stranger Things is set in the mid-’80s. An MCU movie I watched only recently, Captain Marvel, was set in this time period as well. Other current television series, such as The Goldbergs, This is Us, and Fresh Off the Boat follow a similar, and now-familiar pattern. The 1990s, overall, still seem underrepresented as period settings. Perhaps it’s because the ’80s are far enough in the past for us to generalize and stereotype the time, making it all about neon colors, Rubik’s Cubes, and shopping malls. The ’90s are getting closer to that level of nostalgia, defined by the Gulf War, rap wars, Seinfeld, O.J. Simpson, the Internet, and the assassination of Gianni Versace, perhaps. It takes a bit of distance to reduce any decade to clichés and iconic moments.
It has occurred to me more than once that the images usually used to depict the 1960s are equally representative of the early ’70s. Much of the 1960s were a lot like the 1950s. For instance, the movie Animal House (1978) was set in 1962, which still looked as much like the 1950s as 1972 looked like the 1960s. The difference between decades is never as neat and seamless as the stereotypes would have us believe.
Something else that has occurred to me . . . When you say “Twenty years ago—” that seems like a long time. I suppose, objectively, it is a long time. But, twenty years ago as of when I’m writing this, was 1999. I know that what I’m about to say officially marks my entry into the Old-Farts-Club, but I’m going to say it anyway. It doesn’t seem that long ago to me.
That was the year Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace came out. I remember going to a Target Sales Rally that year in Memphis, Tennessee, where two guys reenacted the entire Qui-Gon Jinn/Darth Maul lightsaber battle, in full costume and makeup, while the soundtrack played loudly. As big a Star Wars nerd as I am still, I found it tedious. You can imagine the reception of non-fans, all of whom clapped and pretended to enjoy it.
Other films from that year:
Varsity Blues (for me, a guilty pleasure not unlike Dirty Dancing or Mallrats)
Office Space (which still makes me laugh two decades later)
Go, Election, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, American Pie, Runaway Bride, Dogma . . . I could go on. I realize if you’re in your 20’s (or, Egads, even younger), you read this list of movies and think “those old things.” In 1985, that was the same way I looked at movies from 1965, such as Cat Ballou, Thunderball and Dr. Zhivago (still do, actually). I could still enjoy them, but it was like appreciating a historical artifact, something somehow untethered to my timeline.
Now, movies that still seem fresh to me are being viewed through the same appreciation-of-historical-artifacts lenses by people younger than I am. That is a sobering thought.
Television shows that were popular that year include Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, The Drew Carey Show, and The West Wing. I just recently got around to starting The West Wing, and it still doesn’t seem like it was that long ago when it was on the air.
Books published in 1999 that I can recall reading include Hannibal, by Thomas Harris (disappointing), Angels Flight, by Michael Connelly (good Harry Bosch), and Timeline, by Michael Crichton (‘s okay). For reasons I can’t begin to explain (although I probably should delve into it more thoroughly), the books I’ve read feel like they were twenty years ago, when in fact I probably didn’t read them in 1999. Hmm.
Music albums released in 1999 (that I bought): Californication, by Red Hot Chili Peppers; Human Clay, by Creed; No. 4, by Stone Temple Pilots; Supernatural, by Santana; Buckcherry, by Buckcherry; The Distance to Here, by Live; Shapeshifter, by Marcy Playground; Affirmation, by Savage Garden (not my finest hour); and, The White Stripes, by The White Stripes. Again, it’s difficult for me to accept that this music is now considered “classic.”
The point to this post, inasmuch as one exists, is twofold.
The first point is that nostalgia—that “looking back” with a certain fondness—is as much an ingredient in my recipe for happiness as looking forward. Regardless of anything I may have said before.
The second point? Well . . . time is precious, kids. It’s all we have ultimately, and none of us really knows how much of it we have until it’s gone. As Warren Zevon once said, “Enjoy every sandwich.” Your parents weren’t lying when they told you that time seems to speed up the older you get.
To quote that other poet-philosopher Jim Morrison: “I am going to get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames!!” Just remember that Jim was only 27 when he died, so don’t take his advice to extremes.