Striving to remain relevant is the aim of many artists, but it isn’t a burden only to them. Beyond the difficulties faced by writers, musicians, filmmakers and their ilk, missteps along the Pathway to Cool harm friends, family and most of all, fans like you and me.
How many times have you read a book or listened to a new release from an artist you’d grown to trust only to shake your head in disappointment? “It just didn’t ring true.” “I knew where it was going from the first page.” “I just don’t feel like I needed to read/hear/see that like I used to.” We’ve all had such reactions, such disappointments.
Now, listen, I accept that a lot of this is down to my expectations, but I’ll leave that another blog(ger). What I’m mostly interested in when I give my time or money to something is what I get out of it. Furthermore, I’m interested in how I can use this experience to bolster myself in the future.
This is kinda the secret about consumption. We consume so we can make someone else feel inferior at a later date for our having gotten there first. Hours spent watching a movie or days spent reading a book that no one else wants to hear about are essentially wasted hours – if one adheres to the aforementioned philosophy.
To all of this, I’ve found a solution. Being at one with who I am? No. Enjoying things for what they are in that moment? Better. The way not to get disappointed by all which was meant to be fresh is to intentionally shop in a more, well, aged aisle.*
In the past week, I’ve started to read a 30 year old novel, listen to a 65+ year old jazz record and re-watch a 25 year old TV sitcom. The results have been marvelous.
The Novel: I’ll admit I was fortunate to have a favorite novelist’s early work only become available very recently. I’ve read, and become disillusioned with, many of this author’s recent works. However, the innocence in his early work is intoxicating. Areas of inspiration seem richer for his having been so young, and his missteps seem to imply a path with which he would become more confident as his career developed. The best thing about this book is that I opened it with no expectation of being able to share it with others. It has little to do with the today’s headlines, but then at the same time it did. What this book has offered me is a release from the NEED for it to be relevant, but what has actually happened is something quite the opposite. On each page, I find something which I can apply to my current life. Far more significant, I find something which seems little like everything else I’m seeing on Facebook, etc. at that moment.
The Jazz Record: In many ways, this blog applies the most to musical consumption. For me, listening to new music is often an exercise in cynicism. It’s all well and good until I get even a sniff of where that artist gained their influence. From that moment forth, I’m far more an investigator taking notes on plagiarism than I am a casual fan. It becomes tedious. Working the process backwards is awesome. First off, old music – that made without a music video, ad campaign, myspace/YouTube launch, etc – tends to be fairly reliable as to its production quality. This is not to say you will like every record you buy, but there is, within a world that knew little of the dreaded Single, a complete story that will make you long for the days before the Random button. Additionally, when listening to old music, one will encounter the sounds that would eventually lead to many of today’s standards. For some reason, discovering the inspiration can be done in a far more curious way than the example described earlier, which often feels more like catching a thief. It’s hard to explain, but while hearing Oasis take from the Beatles is painful, hearing that one line in Springsteen’s The River that would lead to two Bon Jovi albums (or the awesome influence that the E-Street Band had on Snow Patrol) makes one smile.
The TV Sitcom: Last, and perhaps least, is the TV Sitcom. The charm of TV is that it really rarely ages well. The jokes are funny, but they are often dated. In some cases, the fashion is almost funnier than the punch lines, and often, perhaps more so than in other mediums, there is the sadness of a young upstart that never quite made it. Still – Zen moment approaching – if something (a topic, a characterization, a stereotype) that an entire country took so seriously can become so dated in only 25 years, doesn’t that give us hope that the crap we’re suffering through on Facebook today will, someday, I promise, disappear as well?
So, if you’re feeling lost among the stunning aisles of New, join me in the nostalgia of Old, won’t you? I swear you’ll be happy you did.
*Note: The strategy described in this blog has NOT proven as effective in the discipline of cooking. Sadly, I would not recommend looking for expired ingredients in search of nostalgia – unless those ingredients were grapes, I hear that can work sometimes.