By Rudy Rigg
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At this point of 2020 it would be utterly redundant of me to say that this year has twisted our reality, turned it inside out and left us out to wring dry. I think we know that already. The fact of the matter is every single human on earth has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic – it is unquestionable. We’ve lost our routines, jobs, face-to-face connections, our financial security. In some ways, we’ve had to start from the ground up, take an introspective look at ourselves and figure out how the fuck we’re supposed to get through this.
For some that has meant projecting to the future, creating mood boards of what 2021 will looks like, or picking up the pieces of an obliterated 2020 and piecing them together like a delicate Kintsugi ceramic; hope glimmering in iridescent shades of gold. For people like myself, who have always sought refuge in the familiar, the thought of the future makes me woozy and knees weak. Strangely, one of my first instincts when the cases in Melbourne soared towards the 1000 mark in late July was to make Spotify playlists. The fantastical thought of having them eventually burnt onto CD’s in the forefront of my mind.
It was one particular night – or should I say early morning – when I found myself wallowing in the pits of (dare I say it?) covid blues, listening to the soundtrack of what I would consider my ‘peak’ teenage years. Lorde’s Pure Heroine seemed to puncture through time, and I felt myself hurdling back towards a place history where I sat, feet firmly on the ground, waiting for the train home after school in midst of a merciless summer. A perspiring Slurpee cup in hand. Understandably, that sent me down the rabbit hole and I found myself lying on my bed in mid-April of 2012. The shutters of my window directing the light into structured rays on the floor and the smug plumes of musky incense waft through the air. Grime’s third studio album Visions played through crackly, low quality speakers. I felt at complete ease listening to these tracks and if I let the world around me slip away for even just a whisper of a second, it was as if I could feel the summer sweat on my skin, or smell the thick incense in the air.
So, what is it about the retrospective deep dive into our past that brings us such an unquivering sense of stability? Initially my rational side tells me it is because the past, at least in our conscious experience of it, has already happened. Duh. It’s a story book that’s gone to print and it’s at our complete disposal, baby. Turning to nostalgia is acting in spite of the bad experiences we have had in our life. Leaning into art, entertainment, and culture (and hopefully some good self-care!) is often what helps us get by in times when we need to get our spice for life back, or to soothe us when our reality’s atmosphere feels all too claustrophobic. We have the complete leisure of being able to turn towards conceptual certainty in a time of need.
It’s because of this that nostalgia manifests as a form of self-soothing. It’s a solid sounding-board for us to shout at and it holds pearls of our past more holistically than things like journaling or looking back at pictures. Our ability to recall physical, tangible experiences from our past and loosen up the tight grip of perceivable time to be utterly taken by the memory of it is completely indescribable. It has the ability to transform and shape our current reality.
In an article on Elite Daily, professor of psychology Dr. Matt Johnson mentions that “music is encoded by several different regions of the brain” and it therefore makes it logical to assume that “musically-encoded memory maybe be more robust” which, you know, makes complete sense to me to be quite honest. And if we take what Dr. Johnson says about the inherent relationship between our memory and music it would seem just as daft mention how awful this year has been as it would be to muse over the fact that it’s plain as day why millions of people have been passionately diving back into the comforting depths of the past. The familial bitter-sweet heartache of nostalgia greets us at every turn but continue to rummage through the suitcases of better times because, well, the music is good.