Thursday, January 24, 2008

Warning: Heavy philosophical thoughts to follow.

I'll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms
I'll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world
I'll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and my home
Yeah, I'll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone

Those lyrics are by an LA band called MGMT, and when I heard them this morning in the car, I started inexplicably bawling. Which made me think quite heavily about a particular phenomenon I experience frequently -- a kind of overwhelming nostalgia that hits me periodically, usually when I'm sort of not at my happiest. Just about anything can trigger it, from lyrics like the above to hearing stuff from childhood I haven't heard in a while ("Free To Be...You And Me," for example, or, a few weeks ago, various songs from "Schoolhouse Rock" -- Kelly, I know you know what I mean, we've talked about this before!) to visiting places I used to visit as a child (I frickin' BAWLED when I found out they finally tore down, after all these years, my elementary school playground). And its powerful. Moreso than just regular depression, or plain ol "hey, I haven't heard this song in a while" nostalgia. It can kick my ass for weeks or months at a time, and makes me reach for stupid childhood stuff like old Sesame Street episodes or old songs I used to love.

I mean, if you analyze it in a negative way -- and I'm sure some of you are currently going holy shit, what a fucking pussy -- you could see it as the sad aging throes of a man that never fully grew up, or who never came to terms with adulthood or whatever. I mean, get over it, right? You're 37, you have a kid and a life and a job and just quit thinking about this stupid shit. Believe me, I've heard it before.

However. If I was to analyze it, I'd say what the overwhelming nostalgia is for is not childhood per se but the feelings associated with childhood -- innocence, safety, lack of feeling like the entire world is bearing down upon you, etc. When's the last time you felt truly safe like you did when you were a kid? When you knew your mom and dad were taking care of you and nothing could ever happen to you (which, of course, when you grow up you realize was just an illusion and you coulda gotten killed crossing the street or from malaria or something)? When's the last time you just kind of innocently stopped to appreciate how beautiful a sky was, or how fun, to quote 60s innocence-rockers the Free Design, kites are to fly? I mean, WITHOUT WORRYING ABOUT YOUR BILLS OR OTHER SHIT YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF?

It has been a long goddamn time for me. And it strikes me more and more that I miss it. Just that feeling of non-worry. Like hey, life could be like this for a while. It isn't going to abruptly change. I'm safe. I'm okay.

I suppose part of this overwhelming feeling that overtakes me periodically is that my life has been fucking filled to bursting with DRASTIC LIFE CHANGES, right? Divorces, moves, job-changes, births, deaths, god knows what. That's what happens when you're a grownup -- you realize that nothing is permanent, no routine is forever, nothing is safe, nothing is secure. This is loss of innocence, and its part and parcel of being an adult. But man, I have been through it possibly more than some people, and not in the most positive way always, y'know? (I mean, I haven't had a *really close loved one die or kill themselves* or anything, so I'm lucky -- but still.)

And part of it is that you have a vision for how your life will go when you're a kid, and its pretty traditional, right? You're gonna get married. Settle down. Have a kid or two. Stay in one place your whole life like your parents (maybe) did, and everything's pretty constant. Except that's not how it goes anymore in this day and age, is it? That's certainly not how my life turned out -- that feeling of permanence, that feeling of security -- its really not there for me, and hasn't been since, well, I left home. Ever since then I've been in constant flux, and I'm not at all sure I like it. It's exciting but its also overwhelming.

I'm guessing all of the above creates that feeling of nostalgia. But for me its really pronounced -- and most often, its music that triggers it. Almost like people with synesthesia talk about music producing colors, but for me music produces THAT WEIRD FEELING, and I tend to gravitate towards music that produces it even though in many ways it overwhelms me and makes me sad. And it isn't music that's necessarily sad IN AND OF ITSELF. And it isn't just OLD music or RETRO music either. New stuff can do it too. Hard to explain.

Eh, so anyways, I can't imagine I'm alone. I've posted "Free To Be...You And Me" on YouTube before on my blog, and it got some pretty strong reactions.

But, ah, hell, here it is again.

If you're my age -- THIRTY-FREAKIN'-SEVEN -- I bet it does something to you besides make you retch these days.


Kelly said...

Awesome post, man. I met you & Diablo a while back after Darjeerling Limited - you're still the only guy I've ever met who's actually heard of the 70's BBC show, The Good Life, which I'm adapting for Searchlight. Belated props for that! And this post rocks - I feel ya, fo sho.

kelly said...

i SO EMPATHIZE with exactly what you mean, ESPECIALLY relating to what the sounds of FTBYAM, do to me, so much so that i can't even watch or hear that music if i'm at work, or not in a safe space to curl up in a fetal position and sob for hours about how sweet and safe life was back in second grade. back when i had no idea what painful and devastating adult moments down the road. i'm so sorry you had a moment like that in your car today. they hit me too, like a ton of bricks, when least expected. the last time for me was a few nights ago, i saw a clip of an old cartoon called Animalypics, which i hadnt seen since, what? second grade also? the voices, the images and the music transported me instantly to a time i cant usually recall so vividly. but hearing and seeing the cartoon instantly made me able to smell my childhood house, hear my mom cooking, the feel of our old lumpy sectional couch and my childhood dog at my side. it took me by surprise and i just LOST IT. i bawled like a baby and yet kept watching the cartoon sobbing as memory after memory flooded over me. i think its a deep mourning of things i feel i've lost, but then they creep up and remind me every now and then, that those things are all still there, somewhere in you, you just can't normally reach them. and its incredibly painful and yet weirdly comforting at the same time to know it all still exists. heavy stuff, my friend. indeed.

LAP said...

I had one of those moments this week when hearing (of all embarrassing things) "Happiness" from You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. I immediately was back in high school when I actually got to perform and stuff, and my biggest concern was if I could get a ride to Oar folk to get the record I wanted to buy. I'm 39 now, and I find myself revisiting everything, although most of it I never actually let go of in the first place. I don't know what to call it but nostalgia either, because my reaction to it is strongly sentimental, but not necessarily sad.

Superbadfriend said...

I'm having one of those moments now.


Great post Jonny. Y'know I relate wholeheartedly.


Jon Busey-Hunt said...

lap: Why on EARTH would "Happiness" from "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" be the least bit embarassing?? That's *such* a great song, and a great musical too. Hell, virtually anything Charlie Brown gets me all nostalgic. I just sent Kelly (second Kelly, there, with the longer post) a YouTube clip of the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special with the "sponsored by DOLLY MADISON CAKES!" tag still attached -- THAT's enough to do it to me!!

This one!

(PS: I was so in musicals also. You mighta figured that about me.)

vfleblanc said...

I remember summer days walking outside before the rest of the neighborhood was even awake and breathing in the most wonderful smelling fresh air. I would hop on my bike and feel the wind washing over my face and blowing in my hair as I heard the sounds of the town waking up. It was delicious!!
Even winter was magic in those days. One of my favorite memories is ice skating outside on the skating rink by our old school. We stayed out for hours in the North Dakota winter and we never felt cold. When I would get tired, I would lie back against the snow bank and stare at the stars overhead. That winter night sky was so clear and filled with diamonds and everything was silent.
I think back to childhood, young adulthood, and times in my 30's - each decade is filled with its own kind of nostalgia. You are right though, those feelings that everything is okay,that you are being taken care of, and that life will always be that way - ah, why are we always in such a hurry to grow up? It is a testimony to your folks though, that you had such feelings of security and contentment as a child. Some people don't have those kinds of memories of childhood, and looking back is more of a feeling of wishing for something that never was.

vfleblanc said...

PS I love that kind of simple, yet beautiful animation on that video clip from Free to Be You and Me. It just makes me happy seeing it. HUGS!!!

Febrifuge said...

We lived on a cul-de-sac, and rather than being a bulging bulb made all of road, there was a circular little lawn in the middle of the turnaround. We neighborhood kids called it "the circle." There were marigolds planted around its perimeter. It can't have been more than 12 or 15 feet across, but it was an island. It was a world to itself, where you could stand and take in the whole neighborhood.

There was a buzzing flying-saucer-shaped streetlight in the center of the circle. If you looked closely, you'd see it had a solar cell down on its base, to sense when it was getting dark. That was when the parents said it was time to come home, in the summer; when the light came on.

If you put your small hand over the block of sensor dots even in the bright afternoon, and you waited, it would make the light turn on. Then you'd move your hand, and it wasn't time to go in after all.

And so, I could kind of control the whole world, a little. I think that's what I miss.

Mimi said...

The Good Life! That's a terrible show...

I totally hear ya on all this. I just moved for the 6th time in three years (and three countries) and it's my own place and I'm waiting for the security but all there is, is hollowness and kind of dread, because there are no certainties anymore. i gravitate towards people who seem to epitomize those certainties: with great careers and houses and relationships, but it's like grasping smoke... it's bittersweet life. Wouldn't have it any other way, but damn would I like a certainty of some kind. A knowledge of safety or security in one area, be it writing or lovers or friends or countries. But you know, by now, there's just more of the same to come... great post.

Mimi said...

"I feel nostalgia for my previous nostalgia, which was, at least, less painful than this..."

Mimi said...

Oh sorry person I just inadvertently insulted re. The Good life. It's a fab show, but terrible in that 70's BBC way. Felicity Kendall I think. Used to watch it midweek with my mom and dad in the mountains in wales. people who give it all up to be self-sufficient. great concept. I just hated the neighbors

Febrifuge said...

Wait -- isn't this "Good Neighbors?" Is it one of those alternate-title things? Or OMG was there a sequel...?

Teslagrl said...

I think we all go through this in some form or another. Kind of a realization of the death of innocence. It happened for me when I realized that my family is no longer be the 'perfect' family that I had as a child and never will be again. I feel fortunate that I experienced this in the office of my therapist who is also Zen Buddhist.


Anonymous said...

Long time listener, first time caller

True dat.

We were just talking at the bar about this the other night. You have an idea about how your life will go. You might think it will not end up that way, but when your life is so different from what you thought, where do you, what do you do?

Jon Busey-Hunt said...

(quickly, re: "The Good Life" -- I gotta say, the neighbors were the best part. Whatsername from "Manor Born" and whatsisname from "Yes Minister" are the EPITOME of boozh-wa snobbery, from now till eternity, and without them, Briers' ampetamine-driven optimism and Felicity Kendall's -- well, hotness -- wouldn't work. Yes, I love Felicity Kendall and I don't care who knows.)

And wow, yeah, I'm so glad I'm not alone. And yeah, it does seem to, from talking to people, effect children of the 1970s in a different way. That must have been a particularly blissful era to grow up in. All that shag carpeting. All those "Family Hour" type television programs ("MAC DAVIS!!")

belsum said...

You've always been a worrier my dear.

kingseyeland said...

"I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now. I can't go to the bar because I've already looked back on it in my memory... and I didn't have a good time."

Great post.

Ashley! said...

Music does the same to me. I tear up when I hear Ironman. Mostly because I miss when my brothers, sisters, parents and I would drive while that song played and we'd headbang in unison. Now we don't even sit and have dinner together. sigh.

I was watching Follow That Bird a few nights ago. Yep, I bawled.