Do You Remember The Worst Time?

By dean


Arum numm numm numm...


A couple of weekends ago, I was over at a friend's house and I had an irresponsible urge to hear Juliana Hatfield's "My Sister." Yes, "My Sister." And the reason for it was that it reminded me of the summer of 1993. Not necessarily because the song was any good. Not necessarily because I cared all that much either way. But -- as it turns out -- mostly due to the not-so-diminutive fact of it being broadcasted on the radio-waves somewhere between 43,041 and 43,042 times in the span of those eight weeks. And you know something else? It sounded great. And I felt really, really dirty.


So it hit me about the same way as a brick hits a bathtub full of something a bit squishy: is it possible for a song, regardless of quality, to improve in your mind just because of a little distance? Is it healthy to start fawning over a fragment of your music past that was never really all that worth your attention in the first place?


<Sex And The City mode>


What if nostalgia doesn't play fair?


Sex And The City mode>


We all have our musical skeletons, whether they be blaring Rush to an unsuspecting sixth-grade audience, smashing a girl's New Kids On The Block key-chain with the bottom of a student's desk, or getting your rear-end not just handed to you -- but passed around the class like an unusually enthralling show-and-tell exhibit, merely for pointing out to a colleague that one does not necessarily have to be frightfully awed with the doodly-do bass-playing of a one Les Claypool. Still, these skeletons brought us here. Nothing to be ashamed about, I guess. Right?


This is different. This is something you never liked -- or thought you liked. And just about the only reason you feel the need to go back to it is precisely because it refreshes those memories of that particular time in your life. So even though the particular song or musician might have caused physical pain back then, the nostalgia factor overcomes the usual quibbles. Yes, reminiscence is fine and all; I think everybody can agree on that -- but when it turns on you and makes you sincerely get all winsome for a piece of your life through the circuitous route of songs you hate, you feel abused.


The reasons are muddy. I mean, at least drenching yourself in memory melancholy (mommy made me mash my M&M's) over regrettable songs is one thing. What about doing it over things that you always believed to be life-long treasures only to discover later, through the eyes or ears of age, that they've actually been total crap? Case, allow me introduce you to In Point: He-Man. For those of you that are still here, let me confess that I was never a rabid He-Man fan. The Conan the Barbarian meets Jack Kirby's "New Gods" appropriation hooked me on those sugar-fueled Saturday mornings while the toys commanded a definable, self-contained logic to their own bloated merchandising stratagems (they somehow circumvented the 500-a-side confusion of G.I. Joe), but it had a particular, sententious ambiance of -- what's le mot juste -- a whole bunch of ass. The voice acting was terrible. The names were awful (Man-At-Arms?). It always seemed like the writers felt more comfortable showing off Orko and male nipples (thankfully, not both at once) than actual story-lines. Like it or not, He-Man was the WWF of fantasy cartoons. And we did like it most of the time. Try to watch it now, though. Dreadful. It really is just dreadful. At first the rush of reminiscence floods inside you -- the opening monologue, the theme song, etc. -- but then the actual narrative begins and its complete lack of subtlety or creativity begins to darken your very core. Recycled stories, recycled animation, just the mere idea of watching another old episode is enough to make one wonder why there weren't more school shootings when I was a little kid. Same goes for a lot of things: The Shamen, Summer School, Depeche Mode, high school crushes, Superfriends. This was nostalgia, of a seemingly good time with a seemingly good medium, but the dawning feeling that I remembered something much better than it actually was in reality -- well -- this certainly felt troubling.


Remember, though, at least nostalgia in this case was trying to be nice to us. It may teach us inaccurate things, but it's usually doing so with good intentions. Right? Then explain the "My Sister" situation we have here: not that nostalgia made us remember crap on better terms (up until a few weeks ago, I assumed I liked He-Man), but is now making us modify our memories of whether something was any good or not in the first place (I thought I always knew I didn't care for "My Sister"). It's just strange. Maybe it happens because even when the American sounds of a time might have been lacking (Juliana Hatfield, Dinosaur Jr., Blind Melon, Henry Rollins), that time in your life was still really nice. A good event can make even the worst song sound phenomenal. It makes sense, at least. It's obvious. Works. Right?


There's a catch, of course. How can you explain getting all misty-eyed over an awful song -- not because it's from a tender time in your life -- but because it's from a nasty one? This feeling I'm talking about is double-fold: not only is it odd to reminisce over a song you hate, but it's even more odd when it reminds you of a time when your life was in a bit of a prickly patch. Bad song + bad memories = oh man, help us now. And that's what's occurring these days, over so many of those turgid Lewis Largent-endorsed pieces of music forcing me to remember some very unpleasant memories. I'm almost getting excited over it all to boot.


I've been trying to come up with better explanations. Unfortunately, I'll always remain -- as The Kids In The Hall once proclaimed -- about as confused as a bisexual in an orgy. Maybe nostalgia doesn't care what it reminds you of, just as long as it reminds you? Maybe it's how the brain comes to terms with certain events, maybe it's the way we deal with temporal conditions of the Starbuck-a-licious world, but maybe nostalgia is just not very nice. Does this mean that about five years from now I'm going to get all winsome over the soggy no-hopers Coldplay or that one Sisqo song (yes, that one)?


Unpleasant thoughts indeed. As I'm sitting here, thinking of the next Porno For Pyros or Collective Soul abomination to play out of my speakers, I feel cheated, manipulated, used. I can't stop myself either. I can't help but think nostalgia is just snickering at me as it watches me put myself through such audio torment and seeing me -- well -- enjoy myself. Maybe there should be a club for people like us to go hear all those songs we hated that came out in bad times in our lives so we can stop messing around. And nostalgia will be up in the balcony the whole time, looking down at us, pointing, and laughing hysterically.


Nostalgia's an ass.