What We Were

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(Pictured: the Ramones in 1978. Not the Reagans’ kind of people.)

I appreciate your comments at this website. All of us together have been making us each of us smarter individually for a long time. Readers catch me in mistakes or offer perspectives I either did not consider or do not share.

If there’s a type of comment that bothers me, it’s this kind: a drive-by (on a 10-year-old post) from somebody who has likely never visited this site before, who got here via a Google search, read one post, and decided that what the world most needs to know is that “I think this thing you like actually sucks.” Nothing constructive or insightful, just the Internet equivalent of egging somebody’s car.

For some people, the strongest urge in life is not for food or sex, it’s to correct strangers online. I try to imagine having the ego to do that, but I can’t.

Last week, I got a comment that I honestly don’t know how to take. Reader Bob wrote, “You’ve become like my father in his latter years … calling hard-disk drive space ‘memory.'” The most charitable way to take that is as a compliment on my voluminous capacity for recollection (albeit Google-aided). I might also take it as a suggestion that I spend too much time noodling with the past, and that my memories have blurred into an undifferentiated mush of information that no longer passes for knowledge.

Which one it is doesn’t matter, really, and I don’t choose to be offended if it’s the latter. Bob is not a drive-by reader; he’s part of this community. But he happened to comment on the same day I found something in the archives that is about being stuck in the past, and whether a person can change. I wrote it after spending some time reading a now-defunct nostalgia website whose tagline was “you are what you were.” I have edited it a bit.

I may claim that in my head it’s still 1976, but I know I am not the same person I was in 1976—and thank goodness for that. The kid who lived through the unforgettable seasons of that year had no idea how much he didn’t know about life, and [he] wouldn’t have listened if you had tried to tell him so. And when I get nostalgic about those wild nights in college, I forget that the kid participating in those wild nights was, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, quite an asshole.

I suspect that all of us have been people we are glad to no longer be, even as we cling to the memory of having been those people.

I have, from time to time, gotten reacquainted with people I’ve known since childhood but had been out of touch with for years. Generally, we discovered that the adult versions of ourselves were far more likable than the younger versions had been. Time had sanded away our most maddening qualities, but it had left much of the good in us intact.

So we are not necessarily what we were, no. If we’re lucky, we might still retain the best of what we were.

Links and Notes: I am still trying, and mostly succeeding, at spending less time on Twitter. It has made a modest difference in my mental health, and I intend to keep staying off. But I am still finding worthwhile stuff on it now and then, and here’s some of it:

—Motown historian Adam White researched the relative success of Motown’s remakes of its old songs compared to the originals. It’s excellent record chart nerdery.

—In the early 70s, the White House started assembling a record collection that was intended to preserve and honor significant musical works. The collection reached its peak under Jimmy Carter but was packed up and sent to storage when the Reagans came to town. One of the curators of the collection said, “It’s not like Ron and Nancy were ever going to be rocking out to ‘Teenage Lobotomy.'” Carter’s grandson tried making a documentary film about it years ago.

—I cannot say I had heard of Memphis DJ Bobby O’Jay before I read his obituary, but it’s clear that he did radio the way radio ought to be done.

—Swamp Dogg is one of the more interesting characters in American music. He’s seen it all and done a lot of it.

—This is the kind of thing I’d like to write but just can’t: about the iconic “Wichita Lineman” and “the greatest musical couplet ever written.”

3 thoughts on “What We Were

  1. mikehagerty

    I certainly would not want to be any version of myself from before, say, eight and a half years ago when I came home to California and found love, happiness and success. The further back I might go in time, the less likely I’d want to spend much time with me.

  2. This morning I tweeted about Pet Sounds, released fifty-six years ago today, and alluded to the dated attitudes expressed in “Caroline, No” (with a link to a lyrics page to substantiate my claim). I was almost immediately met with an attempt at snark (by an account I’d muted months ago for that very reason) that quoted my Twitter bio and threw in a shades emoji to…prove their point? I can only hope their response will someday embarrass them enough to improve their outlook his life, or at least their Twitter etiquette. I say this as someone whose Facebook memories of just five years ago can spark regret (and triple-checks his tone before scheduling blog posts).

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