A sense of nostalgia

We’re in the process of a massive, house size, sort out at the minute. We have now lived at our current address for six years and suddenly the house seems as cluttered as the one we left behind despite being twice the size. There are two reasons for this – my inability to stop buying books and my husband’s inability to throw anything away. We cannot afford to move again and there is nowhere to put new shelves so something had to give.

So I’ve given myself of sorting out all the cassette tapes that we still have with aim of putting any that might still be listenable to onto CD via a USB cassette player and throwing away all the others. A stupidly large task but at least with the advantage of listening to some things that I hadn’t heard for ages or even before. (I’m already more than halfway through putting all the vinyl onto the I-Pod and am currently listening to Babble by That Petrol Emotion, well worth a listen if you like noisy indie tunes from the late eighties and last listened in about 1992.)

It was when I discovered a tape from my university days with The Would Be’s on it that I started to feel nostalgic. I used to love this tape. Of course, in time honoured fashion, this was completely warped and unlistenable. And the tape didn’t say whether it was an LP, a series of singles or anything useful. I felt a little depressed given how much listening time I had given this tape albeit twenty odd years ago and my first thought was I’ll never be able to replace this. I doubt you would happen to find it just looking through the shelves at HMV. It’s not as if they were even very famous at the time.

Of course, this just shows how old fashioned I am. Of course, I could just go to I-Tunes and search for them and there it would be. It’s probably on Amazon as well. So that’s good, isn’t it? Progress you know. I could be listening to it again, right this second if I so desired.

But I’m not. And I can’t really explain why but I find the whole ease of finding it a little bit depressing. I want it to be difficult. Everything is so easy, a mere click of the mouse away. Why wait for anything? It was only a few weeks ago that A Field in England was released on all formats simultaneously. A far cry from the months you used to have to wait for a film to come out on video if you missed it at the cinema.

I can’t help feeling that it takes away some of the meaning. Part of liking indie bands and alternative music was that sometimes it was difficult to find but part of your dedication as a fan was looking really hard. Instant gratification seems to build a really short attention span. After all, if you spend weeks looking for something chances are you are going to give it some attention once you have it. But if it appears in a second, how long before your off for your next fix of new and exciting.

Of course, I know that I could just download all the vinyl and cassettes I have from I-Tunes or some such and save myself the mammoth task of converting it all to the I-Pod. It would be quick and it would be easy. But this way I have to listen to it all and while it may take me longer, I am sure it will be infinitely more fun.

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DAY 23. – Best book you’ve read in the last 12 months – The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex

It wasn’t an easy decision. Last year, I read the Song of Fire and Ice series and loved each of the books and it was tempting to pick the entire series as my favourite reads. I also had a bit of a Pratchett re-read in October when I wasn’t very well but picking a re-read felt like a bit of a cheat. After all, I already knew what I was going to get.

In the end, I picked The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex by Mark Kermode because it is not often that I feel somebody has read my mind quite so clearly or quite so often as when I was reading this book.

I was already a big fan of Kermode and he is one of the few film critics that I would take any notice of. Compared to Claudia Winkleman and her ilk, Kermode is a serious reviewer, giving film as a medium, the consideration it deserves. His knowledge of film history is second to none. In short, he knows his stuff.

It isn’t just knowledge that comes across in The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex although there is certainly plenty of it. There is also a clear love of the movies and also a disappointment with the whole modern movie-going experience. This is where the mind reading feeling came in. My husband and I stopped going to multiplexes years ago, preferring the intimate surroundings of the Showroom in Sheffield to the huge and unfriendly Odeon. I don’t know if it is to do with being of a certain generation when going to the cinema meant going to a two screen (or if you were really lucky four screen) building that had probably once been a theatre.

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The Odeon in Newcastle had this amazing sweeping staircase that gave you a real sense of occasion when you visited. That is all gone now. There is a similar nostalgia to some of the writing here.

Kermode is at his best when he gets irate  And luckily for the reader (although not for what it suggests about the state of the film industry today) that is quite often. Near the beginning of the book, he recounts a visit to the local mulitplex where every step of his journey from trying to book tickets online to seeing the movie shown in the wrong ratio, is a complete nightmare. It is both hilarious and depressing in just about equal measure.

This is an intelligent book about the decline of certain aspects of the film industry. He is not trying to suggest that there are no good modern films. That would be stupid. It is more that this book mourns the passing of certain elements of the film industry and the viewing experience that we are undoubtedly worse off without.

Music to get excited about…

It seems that nostalgia is everywhere today. Maybe I’m just noticing it because it fits in with my mood at the moment. Just the other night on the Review Show one of the panelists was musing about how music didn’t seem as important these days. People didn’t seem to take it seriously. I can certainly see how this might appear to be the case with the rise of such nonsense as The X Factor, The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent which makes it seem like no one is serious about proper music anymore. Never mind the bad influence of YouTube. Or the number of ‘alternative’ songs that appear on adverts these days. Having just listened to the top 40 – there is no depth to the lows I’m prepared to plummet in the name of this blog, readers – it is hard to escape the idea that there is very little variety at the moment. Some of the voices are quite interesting but the ubiquitous banging electronic backing track makes for little diversity. Even the two bands that favour guitars – Fun and Mumford and Sons – are a little dull and pedestrian. Everything just seems a little safe. It is certainly hard to imagine anyone getting excited by these tunes the way I was excited by Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana or You Love Us by the Manic Street Preachers. Maybe the presenter was right.

However, it’s not as if rubbish music is a new phenomenon. Even though I love eighties music, I know there was also a lot of rubbish. This can be seen quite clearly when you look at the chart from this week in 1982 when Shakin Stevens and Bucks Fizz were no.1 and no.2 respectively. Not good. However, what is apparent is the variety. It might not all be amazing but it certainly didn’t all sound the same. For example, there was electronic in the shape of OMD, Soft Cell Human League and Japan; Metal in the form of AC/DC, Meatloaf and Foreigner; Pop music such as Altered Images, Adam and the Ants and Madness. Not to mention alternative classic, Drowning in Berlin by The Mobiles which was loitering just outside the top 10. To me, it seems unlikely that modern teenagers will be looking back on the current charts in 30 years time with such fondness as I look back on this one. Although maybe they will, as nostalgia is as much to do with memories and timing as it has to do with the actual quality of the music. Remembering being young will probably cloud their judgement just as it clouds mine. But still, what would be the stand out classics from those tunes that all seem largely the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to suggest that good music does not exist. It certainly does. You only have to listen to the new albums by The Decemberists or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – to name but two – to know that this is the case. Certainly in Sheffield – and most cities, I would imagine – there is a thriving music scene. Bands working hard, creating a fan base, honing their skills; a sharp contrast to the quick fix and the quicker disappearance of the X Factor generation. I certainly know which I’d rather listen to.

So is the gap between mainstream and alternative bigger than it used to be. It seems that in order to be in the charts, you have to be safe and similar. You need to guarantee sales. Hence the lack of excitement. I’m sure that people are still serious about music and there is still music to be serious about. Just not the nonsense that is in the charts.

20 years ago today…

I know its my age – the looming horror of forty which is only just over the horizon – that is making me think back over my life. Maybe I have just got to the age where you can’t help but think that you have had your halcyon days. The music, the films, the TV were all better then. (I don’t really believe that, by the way, there is still excellent music, films and TV. My tolerance for the rubbish has just got lower.)

20 years ago, I was in my second year at university, in a student house with five other people. The house was damp. We were burgled and the landlord genuinely suggested that we spent a night without a door rather than have and come and fix the one that the burglars broke in their haste to get our stuff. My library books got so damp that I had to pay for some of them as they were unusable.

None of us had a car. Or a computer. In my third year, I eventually purchased a word processor. It was huge and useless. Like a really slow electric typewriter. It felt like the height of modernity. The university wasn’t much better. They had BBC computers where you had to manually add the formatting. It really did seem like it would never catch on. Compared to my current electronic dependency (it does genuinely seem as if there is always some piece of equipment charging), it seemed like a more innocent time.

I never imagined my mobile phone would become such an integral part of my life. As ever, I was probably one of the last people to get one and then one of the last to get a smart phone. It is just so very tempting. To phone. To upload a photo. To be in constant touch if you so desire. No one ever needs to worry. There is no need to lose touch. Communication is so easy. Easier equals better, right? That seems to be where the march of progress is taking us.

Could communication be diluted by the ease with which you can do it now? No one ever thinks that just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. 20 years ago, if I wanted to phone home, for example, I had to go across the road to the phone box (as we decided this was better than fighting over the phone bill) and hope that the person on the other end would agree to reverse the charges. This would usually end with someone – one of my housemates usually – banging on the door so they could use the phone. I’m not saying this was fun – and in the North West rain, it almost certainly wasn’t – but you did have to make it count. You didn’t feel compelled to inform people that you’ve just eaten a ham sandwich. Or that you were bored. (If you’re posting that you’re bored on Facebook, you need to seriously think about what you are doing with your life.) When did it become obligatory for people to communicate about every aspect of their lives? 

I seem to be suffering from the opposite problem at the moment. I can’t seem to find worthy detail to post. I’ve got Facebook block. Nothing seems important enough. I can’t help sitting in front of my screen and think who cares. Don’t get me wrong, I like Facebook. It is useful for keeping in touch with people who live a long way away and who I definitely feel closer to than I would have done but for the most part it just seems like the root of all inanity.

It surprises me, this nostalgia. I always thought that I was quite cynical. It turns out I am a romantic at heart. Who’d have thought it? Perhaps communication, like knowledge, should be hard won. It should have meaning and it should be thoughtful. Perhaps I should update my status to ‘my longing for the past is only matched by my happiness that I no longer live there.’ I don’t miss standing in a cold phone box but I do promise to think before I post.

A nostalgic longing for the past.

Earlier in the week, I watched a preview screening of Josh Radnor’s new film Liberal Arts. It a film about growing up and is filled with a nostalgic longing for the past, for all those things that everybody claims are lost or dying – reading, letter writing, burning a CD and it left me with a longing for my university days when there was such pleasure in receiving a long letter, hand written and heartfelt, from a friend in a different part of the country. None of us – that is me and my school friends  – communicates like that any more even though we are still scattered all over the place. We don’t even e-mail any more, just message on Facebook or texts. Of course, it is a sign of how busy we all are. There are easier options now then having to find the time to write a letter but part of me still wishes that we had to do it, that there was no other option but to sit down and ponder what news we had to tell. Of course, I could still do it but it would be a bit pointless. Everyone knows my news anyway – facebook has seen to that – and I know their response to it as well. All in far less time then it would take for a letter to arrive and be read. This is progress, apparently.

Early in the film, Radnor’s character, Jesse, is walking along the street reading a book and I was struck   immediately by how this scene would never work with someone walking along with a Kindle.For a start, you would not be able to see what was being read. At least part of the point of reading in public has to do with showing off what you are reading. Not only could you not bear to put this book down but you are showcasing your taste and, possibly, your intellectualism. I know that it irks me that when I read my kindle on the train, no one can tell what I am reading. I always try to see what other people are reading as well. But also, it wouldn’t suggest the same sort of romantic idealism if Jesse was carrying a grey plastic oblong rather than a book with a beautiful cover.

There is a sense of nostalgia at the moment for the loss of something that hasn’t disappeared yet but it seems inevitable that it will. I have seen several articles in the last few weeks about the death of books once everyone has a kindle or the equivalent. And it does seem inevitable. I was never going to have an I-Pod, a kindle or join Facebook and Twitter. Now I have both those things, have joined both those things. I always succumb. Eventually, I guess, books will be like the rows and rows of LP records in my spare bedroom – only present in the houses of people over a certain age.

In some ways, it is strange that so much fuss is being made about the way in which something is read or listened to. Does it matter whether you’re reading from a electronic screen or from a paper page as long as you are reading? Obviously not. I know that some of the sixth formers I taught found it much easier to read from a kindle than from a book. And obviously that pleased me. But this is not a cold logical argument. It is emotional, nostalgic and romantic. It is obviously romantic to take the time to talk about books, to search in second hand book stores for hard to come by editions. It is more romantic to write long handwritten letters rather than a one sentence update on Facebook which someone will then like. And it is far more romantic to hand over a CD you have burned with a handwritten card than to send someone a playlist on Spotify. (Although arguably not as romantic as making a mix tape.) Similarly, when it is my birthday I will still be asking for physical books and CDs. The thought of some sort of electrical exchange seems cold and somehow not real.

Liberal Arts is like a love letter to all these things. All the things that are more time consuming, more difficult but ultimately more meaningful. Reading brings people together in this film and it teaches them how to live their lives. You have to hope that this will still be the case when everyone is reading books from a oblong of grey plastic