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July 27, 2010 / chrisisgross

On Nostalgia

Over the weekend of the 17-18th I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite bands, Pavement,  play a reunion show(though in fact I cheated and saw them a month before in Berkeley) in Chicago.

Before going to see them I was on the record as not being a big fan of the reunion show phenomenon. Especially the recreation of an album in its entirety reunion sub-genre and truth be told I still think it’s a pretty odd artificial musical experience. In reality the bands who had come back before this were all one’s that I liked, but had never seen live when they started out. I had no live visceral connection to them. For me they existed in a personal recorded way that I am loath to share with others. However, with Pavement I had seen them a few times before they stopped playing and the part of me that wanted to rekindle that excitement of the live show still existed.

In many ways a lot of the excitement I felt 10+ years ago was still there during their set, but for me there was a disconnect. Maybe some of it came from the rumored fact that the band is not planning on doing anything new and this is strictly a reunion tour. If it was a one-off show there might have been the thrill of that one last time. In this case it is just one of many shows and in this case the set list was very similar to the one I had already heard. Some level of the performance seemed dishonest to my nostalgic memory of previous shows.

As I have thought about that show and specifically the concept of nostalgia I have realized that nostalgia is in itself a dishonest act. The memory that you have created, shaped, idealized and reshaped again is not going to be re-created. It is inherently dishonest of the viewer to expect the artist to even attempt to recreate the past. Evolution is not an expectation, but a norm in both art and humanity. The work is a representation of that moment and the movement of time makes it an impossibility to recreate the past.

Music is the rare art form whereby the artist is asked to perform the specific piece of art anew. Painters, writers and other artists grab onto the zeitgeist and translate inspiration into a form. Once that form is created the piece stands. The artist is not asked to continue to make the same piece of art again unless of course they are a musician.

Now having performed as a musician at one time in my life I can say from experience that a song or musical piece is never the same twice. So in some sense what I am arguing is still true for music, but it is only in music that the audience want the artist to try to mimic their art exactly. Musicians are not allowed in many cases to evolve by the audience. The concept of the Sophomore Slump that a bands second record is somehow weaker then the first due to artistic evolution, would be laughable in any other medium. Artist’s are expected to try, fail and grow. With a paying audience standing in front of  them the musician is caught in between the desire to please an audience and to grow as an artist.

Nostalgia is a trap that we as an audience have fallen into. We are now nostalgic for things that happened a month, a week or even a day ago. We are dooming artists to complacency; we are dooming ourselves to boredom.

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