It is this identity in repetition that is at the core of aesthetic experience of pop music at least since the 1930s, and that, compounded by the power of wireless radio transmission, so strongly reinforces the impression of pop music’s transcendental power to preserve the harmonic order of the world, and that enables us to identify our place within that order.
And what is that place? Here we come to the third peculiarity of rock-and-roll aesthetics: the rigorous historical contingency of it all. It seems evident that nostalgia, again, is grounded in our evolution and our neurology. Yet it seems equally evident that nostalgia could not be experienced in the same way in a material culture in which technology, and styles dependent on technology, remain more or less the same over the course of a single life. An elderly medieval peasant might have a bittersweet memory of falling in love two years after the great locust swarm came and ruined the crops; he might also have held onto some farming tools from that period. But the tools, even if they look old, will not look outdated, and nothing about the memory of the world as it was in former times will have the quality of being “vintage” or “retro” or “cheesy”. It is impossible that he should conceive it as having happened in another “decade” (as late as the eighteenth century, the great majority of people did not know they were inhabitants of the eighteenth century). Even bracketing the fact that there was no technology for recording songs and transmitting them from the past to the present, there was in any case no possibility of wincing at the terrible music one used to like in one’s youth, since music remained more or less the same from one generation to the next.
What is nostalgia like, under such historical conditions? I fear any attempt at answering such a question, today, will necessarily come up short. Today this is how we experience nostalgia: we become anchored to an era, and when it dies, when it is subducted under the ground of time, and we are reminded of that every day in the way other people around us are now dressing and talking and being themselves, in some important sense we die too, and live out our days as ghosts.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor