(What follows is something I wrote last fall and planned to post before thinking better of it. It still doesn’t seem like it’s finished, but I can’t make any more sense of the main idea and besides, I really like the picture I found for it, so here it is. Read it or don’t. As always, it’s up to you.)
A couple of weekends ago, I was looking forward to the American Top 40 show from October 9, 1976. Those songs, man. I can hear them in my head any day without a radio, but to hear them during October is an annual ritual that brings me more pleasure than almost anything else I could name.
So the show starts, and before long I’m back in the Old Country, that place I’ve mentioned here before, a land of nothing but possibility, where the losses and disappointments destined to occur haven’t happened yet, and whatever losses and disappointments that might already exist are invisible to travelers from the future.
A visit to the Old Country, especially during October, has to be undertaken carefully. One is, after all, ignoring some very good advice by trying to revisit the favorite days of one’s life: in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the Stage Manager warns Emily, who is free to relive any single day, to pick an ordinary day, and not a special one. But she chooses her 12th birthday, and she ends up fleeing the scene because it’s just too hard to watch.
On this particular night, I had been back in the Old Country for maybe an hour when I felt a sudden impulse to flee. The desire to flee has come upon me before, but it doesn’t usually hit so quickly. It’s usually more like the realization that begins to prevail upon you when you’re drinking: I’d better think about stopping if I want to be able to drive home. Not this time. One of those cherished old songs (and I am not going to say which one) instantly gutted me like some sorry fish, and I couldn’t get the radio off fast enough.
The next morning, in the cold light of day, I realized that this wasn’t the first time I’d been hurt like that in the Old Country.
And eventually I began to wonder: what good is nostalgia, anyhow? The literal meaning of nostalgia is “the pain of returning home.” We know that pain can sometimes be pleasurable—most pop music is premised upon precisely that—but after a while, pain is just painful. It’s not something normal people seek to prolong.
What kind of whackjob willingly inflicts this sort of pain upon himself, again and again? If you cut yourself repeatedly, you end up in the psych ward. But what about a person who stabs himself in the heart—metaphorically, but deliberately—year after goddamn year? Why doesn’t he stop? How come nobody tries to stop him?