Nostalgia Is The Enemy Of Critique
Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship.
In order to review music, one must judge the song/album/artist subjectively, only associating it with relevant similar works for the sake of comparison. Nostalgia clouds this judgement by adding associations that are not part of the general dialogue related to the music. Critique stands in strong opposition to nostalgia intellectually, but critique is probably jealous because it can never be as powerful.
There has been much talk on this blog lately about ska. The practical reason for the posts revolves around the Reel Big Fish show a few days ago at The Pageant, as well as the weekend's benefit show for Mu330's Gerry Lundquist. The "real" reason is the excuse it gives those of us who grew up on ska to reminisce. Certainly, some folks don't understand why I care about ska, or why my ska-themed Nitpick Six post got a few other RFT Music writers (and one editor) excited. It is not relatable for those who do not share the nostalgia. It just happens to be a type of music that, when viewed through a critical lens, tends to fail. Sorry, Less Than Jake.
I have recently found myself on the other end of this phenomenon. When I'm not slaving away for RFT, being whipped by Daniel Hill in rhythm to "Seek and Destroy," I write freelance for Alternative Press. The magazine does an annual "100 Bands To Watch In (insert year here)" issue. Many of these bands are filled with kids eight to ten years younger than me, and their nostalgia-cred bands are ones that I despised when I was their age. Somehow New Found Glory became the most important band ever to a surprisingly large group of people. I can't relate, and I don't have to. It's not my memories fueling these kids to drop everything and tour.
What I find personally satisfying about this trend is the decreasing power of a standard repertoire of must-know artists. Around the time I started really caring about music, most people I met who were a few years older always mentioned the same three bands: Fugazi, Sonic Youth, and the Pixies. There was a frustrating mentality that other bands can matter, but only in these bands' shadows. I see this ideology falling by the wayside, and it is probably directly connected to the internet and the subsequent ease of acquiring musical tastes.
Still, I think nostalgia is at play here, at least in the awareness of and respect for the way a song/album/artist can affect somebody's life. When I meet somebody who says My Chemical Romance is their favorite band, I am not about to say, "That band sucks, you should listen to Q and Not U instead." I hope my elders will someday realize that bashing my favorite bands and then making me listen to Surfer Rosa with them was counterproductive.
To quote Reel Big Fish, "Everything sucks." At the same time, everything is great. Rather, there is no piece of music so strong in the critical sense that it transcends the preset attitudes and tastes we develop through our lives. Everything we listen to and love is connected to everything we have previously listened to and loved. And since we are each a unique snowflake, we can never fully judge another's taste. Maybe we cannot even fairly judge any piece of music, but I doubt it. I still don't like New Found Glory - or at least any song other than "Hit Or Miss," which I like for completely non-critical nostalgic reasons.
Perhaps Tom Petty most eloquently described the variable nature of taste in relation to nostalgia: "You don't know how it feels to be me."