Monday, September 14, 2009
Are You Lonesome Tonight?
Would you look at the upturn in the corners of those lips? Following an episode of This American Life, themed on the kindness of strangers, I have begun a download of Frankie's entire discography, and in the interim I'm youtubing that man like there's no tomorrow. Ira Glass brought us the story: For weeks and weeks, a man stood at the foot of his building with a sound system and a mic, crooning Sinatra tunes to his neighbors in a New York neighborhood, while another neighbor tap danced on the sidewalk. The police--despite Mayor Guiliani's crackdown on noise pollution--did not shut the operation down; they requested songs.
I've been thinking a lot lately about nostalgia, about that overwhelming feeling of loss that stems only from actually having. It's a grasping, a desperate clutching at the far-reaching past (known or unknown--I maintain a nostalgia for 1920s Chicago, for Bob Dylan songs, and also for Fraggle Rock) that cannot be satisfied. The word itself makes me think of dissipating smoke, which is either a particularly apt image or a completely contrived one when it comes to nostalgia.
Nostalgia is an abstraction most usually associated with the old (although, in the words of my own personal advice columnist, "I am only 23 and already my nostalgia is overwhelming". An old soul in a young body, I tell you...). We picture our grandparents thinking back to their youth, sitting in the den with their children and listening to Louis Armstrong tunes. This in itself is a form of nostalgia, though--a longing for the past, a sentimentality for a time, or a setting. Perhaps also this feeling of nostalgia--the ache for something we once had, but no longer do--isn't related to age or to the passing of time. I have nostalgia for this past summer, a time less than two months ago, a nostalgia for grilled peaches in a pool, for glasses of lovers' mead shared at Honeymoon (with Chelsea, not Ian. Obviously.) , for days spent on the dock at Lake Whatcom, for sunny mornings spent answering the inane questions of Canadians at VGP. I am 23 years old, just like you, and my nostalgia is overwhelming as well. The Oxford English Dictionary (yes I did online research for this blog post. No I will not be ashamed about it) traces the etymology of the word nostalgia back to the Greek word for 'return home'. In a way, even that idealization of the scene with my grandparents is a return home, or at least a return to a more familiar setting, to a more comforting time (even if I wasn't present).
Frank Sinatra has always reminded me of Christmastime, even his songs not about Christmas. It's something in the melody, something in the tone of his voice. And, indicative of that intense sentimental longing I've got for, well, whatever it is I'm longing for, Frankie's discography tends to do this to my heart. I find it fitting that my actual return home will correspond with Christmastime this year--when I can reconcile my nostalgia, my Frank Sinatra playlist, and my need for coffee from La Vie en Rose on Holly Street. But I won't really be returning to those times that make me nostalgic. I'll just be making more of them--a thought that is comforting and heart-wrenching at the same time.