On nostalgia as romance.
Is nostalgia romantic?
I can understand that there is a romanticism about nostalgia, but I wonder why the act of fondly looking back gets into the fabric of emotional intimacy. I mean this in the very specific way, of say, the feeling of getting ready to see someone you like, the anticipation of them, the memory multiplied by the wishful thinking and forecast fantasy. My skin becomes alert, my senses aroused, when I fall into states of nostalgia and it is not the same as remembering, and it is far from the dictate of historiographies. It is nostalgia, and it is romance.
There’s a radio effect I hear in the vocals of a lot of 1990s emo, and I guess it might not be an effect but just the quality of sound production in the kind of bands I was into at the time—disaffected, over-caffeinated, made by people characterized as old for their age. Anyway, I’m hearing more of it again today. It’s in the culture, I’m sure of it. It isn’t like I’m still hunting down this style of music, because, and at the risk of mixing my metaphors, I listen to a lot of college radio stations and there’s a lot of new “indie” music that sounds (to me), like 90s emo. That’s all.
I’m not sure if people born after 2001 can consider their intertextual musicology to an era that predates their existence an act of nostalgia, but I also know today’s musicians were likely listening to all these standards as kids as they came into their musical identity formation, so it’s more than just a technical acknowledgement. That’s why I grant that they may feel something like nostalgia for this period. It explains why so many white kids in the 1990s held false nostalgia for the early 1960s by wearing their garb (mary janes, butcher knife bangs, cardigans, etc.).
Radio is possibly the best metaphor for cultural nostalgia. I became somewhat obsessed with radio a couple years ago because I loved the idea of a broadcast whose fidelity depended exclusively on the listener’s proximity to the source. That in between a feed and a receiver, all of the objects and the landscape that supports those objects would interfere with the signal, and that this interference would cause a response in our universal unconscious, and that some of us would love and maybe fetishize this interference, was pure uncanny to me. You know when you hear the static snow on your radio you feel something unique to being a part of an audience of seventeen or fifty-nine or a thousand cultural references to our collective past.
I am madly in love.
I am madly in love with the interference and it takes me somewhere that also predates my existence. That is the feeling today’s radio replicates for me. And the radio effect is a cheap heart-shaped box at the drug store, covered in red cellophane, full of chocolates so processed no one knows anymore how lucky we were to benefit from milking cocoa out of colonies wrought out of empire. But we are in love and so we forget we were the interference.