Nostalgia


I listen to a lot of old music. And when I say old music I mean music from my youth. Studies have shown that we find our favorite song or songs between the ages of 11 and 16, with women being on the younger side of that and men slightly towards the older side. But there is something else about music that has me thinking lately.

Over the past couple of weeks, I heard two songs in a way I hadn’t heard them before. One was, Rhythm Of The Night by Debarge. The other was Under The Boardwalk by The Drifters .

Rhythm Of The Night wouldn’t be a song I remember liking or caring about before this past listen. Up to now, I wrote it off as a piece of ‘80’s fluff. But when I heard it last week, it filled me with a bit of longing or sadness and that sadness could be interpreted as nostalgia. Nostalgia being a desire to return to a time in the past, usually one you associate with a good feeling.

The song gives off a sense of life. The feeling I get is that the singer is planning to head out somewhere fun where good things are happening. Forget about the worries on your mind/you can leave them all behind. What a great message. There is nothing negative or cynical in the lyrics or the vocal performance, just an appreciation of how magical this particular night will be. It made me wish I was having that much fun.

However, the song is symbolic of something else. I think I am hearing it this way because it probably reminds me of the ‘80’s and maybe I was having fun then and I didn’t have any cares or at least fewer than I presently have. There is an idea of the ‘80’s that my mind conjures up. It’s a glamorous time when people dressed up and did their hair and everyone looked a bit stupid though not to each other at the time. People paid attention to how they looked and that kind of made things more fun for them. Dressing up before going out made the going out more of a celebration.

Under The Boardwalk is about summer. I love summer. I really hate cold weather. In the song, the singer is singing about a boardwalk near a beach, a summer scene. When summer arrives, he will head there with his girlfriend and sit on a blanket. But not in the direct sun, under the boardwalk where there is shade and possibly, some privacy. In the song, he is not there, he is dreaming of it. He can almost taste the hot dogs and French fries they sell, he sings.

If you live in Canada or north of the Mason Dixon line in the US, summer is an event. In most places up north, summer runs from about June to the end of August. So, unlike Florida or California or Texas or the Caribbean or any other hot climate on earth, summer is short lived and special, almost like Christmas or Thanksgiving. We experience it knowing that soon it will be gone and cooler weather will take over and then much colder weather will follow that. It makes the entire season feel a bit bittersweet as though you are visiting with a good friend knowing they will soon be gone and you won’t see them again for some time. In the summer there is the beach and people have stripped off the functional clothing of winter and we see who they are. For kids, it means no school and for many adults, it’s the time when they take their vacation from work. Beer tastes better and so do burgers.

For me, the end of summer is the end of the year, much more so than New Years Day. Summer ending almost has a sense of foreboding, colder temperatures, dressing to stay warm, rough lakes that will turn to ice. As a kid, it meant school starting-a new school year seemed much more significant to a kid than an arbitrary date on a calendar like January 1st.

Under The Boardwalk celebrates summer. It was probably written about a boardwalk in a place like New Jersey. So it struck me the same way Rhythm of The Night did, celebrating something finite and in doing so, almost implying that this good feeling is only temporary and that something less than good would follow. That is so depressing I can barely stand it.

This is the value of nostalgia. It can bring us to a place where life didn’t feel so shitty or complicated or worrisome. I think an idea exists that one should always be seeking out new music or new adventures. That’s certainly true to an extent but I am coming to terms with the fact that I may never hear a song that resonates with me the way the songs I remember from my 20’s or 30’s, when music was everything and it accompanied every thing that I did.

When bands like mine play shows now, what we offer people is that. We are giving them a night like they used to have, when they were in college and first heard our records and our music touched them on some level. It’s possible that the experience is even better now because the extra spice of nostalgia has been added. I remember seeing The Psychedelic Furs and Echo and The Bunnymen and being sure I was enjoying it more at that time than I would have when they were both current. Nostalgia has to be part of that. Other things like, they can play better now or they are not as drunk or stoned or jaded as they used to be might also come into play.

Many of you probably don’t know that I released a solo record some years ago. It was called Summer’s Over and it was a metaphor for the best part of your life being over and moving into the colder and darker end of life. The idea of using seasons to chronicle a life is not original. But it was one that made sense to me at the time. My friend Ronald Ramage once sang me a very short song he had written and the gist of it was that when you stop growing up, you start growing old. Pretty depressing stuff. The theme of coming to terms with getting older has been recurring in my music, starting, obviously, with our hit.

Summer imagery is something that resonates very strongly with me. Summer Wind, by Frank Sinatra, Summer Rain by Johnny Rivers, Boys of Summer by Don Henley and pretty much (and especially) anything by The Beach Boys.

There may be no recording group in history that so completely captured the idea of a season than the Beach Boys. Their music evokes the fun of summer and the desire for it to be endless. At this point, even the sound of their voices and harmonies paint of picture of summer in my mind. Which is why I can’t hear even the cheeriest of their songs and not feel melancholy.

I read a New York Times article that stated that nostalgia can, “counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety”. I certainly get the loneliness and anxiety part, remembering something positive seems like at least a partial solution to those things. The article also mentioned that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, nostalgia was considered “melancholia and a mentally depressive-compulsive disorder.” So the idea that nostalgia and melancholy can be related has some basis though I’m sure this has been, at least scientifically, discounted. Many people use the term ‘longing’ when describing nostalgia. Longing is a very appropriate word. The article also states that “couples feel closer and look happier when sharing nostalgic stories.” That’s certainly true. So many of the conversations I have with my wife are about wonderful trips we’ve taken or times when the kids were younger and these conversations always put a smile on our faces.

My mom just died. My childhood home was sold off years ago. I’ve lived the majority of my life already. I’m unclear as to how many summer’s I have left. We are in the throws of a global pandemic that feels like it has no end in sight. The past feels quite a bit more appealing to me than the future does. So I guess that’s why these two songs are pulling at me. The idea of life being carefree seems so foreign to me right now. The weird part is, why Rhythm of The Night? It has no place in my musical vocabulary. I suppose it has less to do with the actual song than the feeling it evokes.

Like everything I try to convey in this space, I would like to declare, this is the power of music. To bring us back, to unlock a memory, to comfort us in a time of loneliness or disconnectedness. To give us strength in a time of weakness or hopelessness. If you’re ever questioning the value of music, put on a record you listened to in high school or college and notice how it makes you feel.


4 Responses to “Nostalgia”

  • Chris Fitzgibbon Says:

    Very sorry for your loss.
    Our families mean everything- whether inherited or chosen.
    Thanks for taking the time to write your words down.
    I’m quite nostalgic about the times I saw TPOH in the late 80s, usually with my best friend, so thanks for helping make those memories so sweet.

  • Robert Lennon Says:

    Sorry about your Mom Moe, very tough. I too used to fear that I would nerved hear a song again that resonates like they used to but I find the odd one still shows itself. I’m hopeful There are many more to come, keep the faith. And speaking of summer, one of my favourite lyrics of yours is from “Love To Me”…
    “when she passed me tonight she smelled like summer”
    Sublime. Take care Moe.

  • steve portigal Says:

    Thanks for this reflection, Moe, and will add my condolences on your Mom.

    I wish that I could new music that connects with me the way it did at other points in my life when I was going through shit and someone channeling words and meaning into my brain was so important. For sure your band did that for me during some important periods of big change, big feelings.

    And yes, I love hearing a song in a new light; I am probably more likely to hear it musically anew than emotionally anew but I guess after reading this I want to pay attention in future.

    Hang in there.

  • Andre Says:

    My sincere condolences on the loss of your mother, Moe. I hope you can find comfort and solace in the memories that you have of your time with her.

    I love your reflection on the concept of “nostalgia”. I am a very nostalgic person and I listen to a lot of older music for that reason. Two Debarge songs conjure up these feelings in me. “Rhythm of the Night” is special to me, not because I like the song, but because it was one of my ex-girlfriend’s favourite songs and she used to enjoy dancing to it. The second Debarge is “Who’s Holding Donna Now” (written by the great Randy Goodrum) which often makes me think of old flames and what their lives must be like now. You wrote a song in this vein called “I Wonder What Melissa Is Doing” which is still one of my favourite TPOH songs.

    I love the Beach Boys too. The one that gets me every time is “Your Summer Dream”. It perfectly describes an ideal summer day at the beach with that special someone. I wish everyday could be like that 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for the heartfelt reflections…

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