May 5, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Esabella George, Arts & Entertainment Editor
I begin writing this as I remove the green highlighter from the Spotify shuffle option, proceeding pressing play on “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” by Bright Eyes, circa 2005.
“It’s your birthday party / Happy Birthday Darling / We love you very very very very very much”.
I cannot quite get it right each time, how many “very”s there are in that line, but it trickles through my brain over and over again. As do so many “throwback” songs that were never quite essential to my childhood but have somehow nestled their way into a very specific part of my identity.
I believe the girl in me who gets asked the question, “If you could go back in time to any place, where would you go?” would answer confidently the early 90’s origin of the indie music scene as if she had already been there before and knew it well enough to miss it so dearly.
The line in Bright Eyes’ “At the Bottom of Everything:” “Death will give us back to God, just like the setting sun / is returned to the ocean” is how I feel about throwbacks.
We will always return to what echoed through the Walkmans of yesterday, the iPod touches of our adolescences, or the stereos of some form of “longing for years ago.”
There is anonymity to listening to old music, to succumbing to what was costumery to our parents, but what now is for us to seek out on our own time. Our relationships to these old tunes are ones in which we can fictionize some imaginary version of ourselves in the crowd of a Velvet Underground concert in the late 60s, a make-believe occupied space etched out for ourselves at Woodstock Festival…we fantasize on the idea of “if I were alive then, you best believe I would have FOLLOWED Lou Reed on tour, everywhere he went.”
I came upon this thought when playing “Halah” by Mazzy Star in the car with my mom on our way to move me from California to Colorado Springs, witnessing her face revel in some metaphorical time capsule that the car had transformed to in that moment; as tears filled her eyes, she recalled the sounds of the 1990 single, one she had referenced hearing all the time in medical school.
I became envious that she got to be around when Mazzy Star was getting big and making a name for themselves, and I questioned why she hadn’t become a “groupie” if she fell in love with the song like I had – and to think it has been 33 years and it still hits someone instantaneously!
The truth is, the bands of yesterday potentially could have held the same profound impact that the bands of today do, yet the way music is experienced has changed drastically. I do not think I have any argument at all in saying that music has worsened or improved – they’re just simply different times and people are different too. And maybe the ability to imagine what it would have been like to hear those songs on the radio as they came out or were released would not be the same as when we discover an artifact from the past, one that we can hyper-fixate on and wish we could have seen the posthumous persons perform.
Maybe it is a fixation with the ways in which the bands of the past have established some kind of deep impact on those who kept them alive, long enough for someone like me, born in 2002 to deem as music excellence and a timeless piece to relish myself in. The very first song I learned to play on guitar was 1993’s “Linger” by The Cranberries; four months later, the face and voice of The Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan, had passed away at 46 years old. Now, that song has become an anthem for me and when I hear it, I mourn her, yet am stupidly, desperately hopeful that countless people stumble upon her magic.
I used to sit beside my dad’s radio for hours – before I was old enough to establish my own taste in music, long before I started buying CDs and creating Spotify playlists, curating a sense of music that represented me – and I would rank every song I heard out of five stars. I would name the song and the artists, write it down on one of my dad’s bright yellow legal pads, and then give my very favorite lyric. Of course, within hours of switching between 102.7 KIIS-FM, 104.3 My-FM, and 97.1 Amp Radio, it was inevitable to every once and a while, hear a song that I had not heard in quite some time. That is when the nostalgia began to set in. Perhaps my very first encounter with it.
Now, I get nostalgic for a time when I was not even around. My heart flutters, my head spins with dizzying grief anytime I watch one of Elliott Smith’s live performances. I grieve a person I had not even shared more than two years on the same planet as. I developed preconceived nostalgia for things, sounds, words, and musical icons I never even spent time with. I think that girl who answered “the mid-90s” to the time machine question would find her way to Umbra Penumbra and watch 1994 Elliott Smith perform live for the (supposedly) very first time, committing to following his every step for the next far too short nine years of his musical career.
My sister said to me, in our Uber back from a Yo La Tengo concert this past March, “If Elliott Smith were still around, would you try to see him every chance you got?”
I answered immediately yes, but I cannot help pondering the essence of someone no longer being around, making their art even more relevant. It makes each of his words a relic of the past, and I hate to think that we do not start to miss things until they are no longer here. But for now, I have a friend in those I cannot see nor encounter, and their art lives on in me.