"I miss the 80s like those El Salvadoran nuns miss the bullets in their heads"
That's a random line from one of my songs.
I'm not by nature a nostalgic robot. It's not that it has no appeal for me, I'm not some obsessive "Carpe Diem" type, it's just that the past is as much of a fantasyland as the future is: Tomorrow are things we hope for or fear, the past is stuff that we misremember.
In fact, I love the 80s. It'd be impossible for me not to. It's my formative decade, it when I came of age. School, first love, first job, first bad breakup, first real discovery of my own tastes, first exposure to my favorite authors, heady, exciting time. If the decade between 13 and 23 isn't wildly exciting for you, and you grew up in the first world, then there's something seriously wrong in your life.
That said: Lots of stuff that really annoyed me at the time, and that I definitely don't glamorize looking back on it. Much as I love New Wave, the majority of the stuff on the radio sucked. I got beat up a lot. A lot of people - particularly the more 70s types - were not what you'd call "Understanding." My best friend got beaten up pretty badly in '83 because his haircut made him look like "A New Wave Faggot." (It was a mullet.) Punk was effectively dead, but the punk posers didn't realize this and woudn't shut up about it. We were really poor until the economy improved about three years in. There was a lot more racism than it's popular to admit there was these days. (Kid in my school: "So you're black?" My friend Jean who transfered in from out of state: "Yes." Kid: "So you must like watermellon, right?") I was forever getting burned by computer games that looked super-cool on the packaging, but were really lame once you got 'em home. (Computer games came in ziplock bags with cardboard inserts in those days). Democrats were really reactionary, and they're really annoying when they're reactionary. New Kids On The Block. The pointless antagonism between religion and science really started to take off. Lots of stuff I didn't like, and don't like still.
Things I miss, though: I miss the new wave.
-I miss that period where all music sounded like something from a 1950s science fiction film.
-I miss the barnstorming days of cable.
-I miss the last-of-the-mohicans days of UHF, when you had a lot of competing stations, desparately trying to survive.
-I miss clunky computers that smelled of machine oil and weren't good for much of anything.
-I miss playing war in the abandoned farms by the woods with my friends, before they all got plowed under and turned into subdivisions.
-I miss the crazy don't-stop-for-two-days drives with my dad to Florida to watch the early shuttle launches, and the fun of camping out on the beach with all those hundreds of thousands of total strangers cooking in bonfires, passing around telescopes, and singing filk.
-I miss there being a genuine excitement about science and engineering and the future.
-I'll admit it: I miss the cold war. There hasn't been a decent spy movie in 20 years, and I occasionally long for people to actually admit we're the good guys, even these days. Or at least goodish ones.
-I miss that brief summer of '82 when science fiction went from being trendy kid stuff to really smart, socially respectable stuff (ET, Blade Runner, Star Trek II, The Liquid Sky), before it became formula crap again the next year. (Liquid Sky was, in fact, crap, but it was much-buzzed-about crap)
-I miss the way the sunlight used to silhouette the ruins of the concrete factory across the street from my bus stop.
-I miss riding to school on a bus.
-I miss the spare, quiet moments.
-I miss wandering around my college campus on weekends when it was mostly abandoned, among the mod 60s buildings, all by my lonesome, daydreaming for hours at a time, feeling like the last man on earth, and feeling like being the last man on earth was pretty cool, actually.
-I miss dating lit majors, who I always did inexplicably well with. -I miss hanging out in the snack bar on campus, fast-talking people into buying me bagels while I yammered on about my latest effortlessly-interesting observation.
-I miss parties where I didn't know the music, but still liked it, and where everyone was kinda' interesting and smart, even when drunk. Not that they *were* interesting, mind you, they just seem that way when you're 19 and the world is new.
-I miss road trips and cheap gas.
-I miss the dorms at 3am, when you can't sleep, but there's always someone somewhere in the building who's also awake, and you end up hanging out.
-I miss sitting in Ginrummy's tiny, crowded room, having read-fests, where we'd all sit around and pour through crappy old paperbacks.
-I miss sneaking out of the house at night, just laying on the sidewalk at night, singing "Dreaming" by Blondie to myself, watching the cars zipping by and wondering who the people were in them, and why they were out this late?
-I miss my grandparents.
-I miss the glorious mania, back when it was glorious and not merely unrideable.
-I miss sitting on the floor of my room, curled up, back to the closed door, listening to "Destination" by the Church for the first time and feeling the creepy/sexy/cool of it wash over me, and not doing anything but drinking it in and feeling so completely, totally alive, like every subatomic particle in the universe was wired into my very soul. Lyrics:
Our instruments have no way of measuring this feeling
Can never cut below the floor, or penetrate the ceiling.
In the space between our houses, some bones have been discovered,
But our procession lurches on, as if we had recovered.
Our documents are useless, or forged beyond believing.
Page forty-seven is unsigned, I need it by this evening.
In the space between our cities, a storm is slowly forming.
Something eating up our days, I feel it every morning.
It's not a religion, it's just a technique.
It's just a way of making you speak.
Distance and speed have left us too weak,
And destination looks kind of bleak.
Our elements are burned out, our beasts have been mistreated.
I tell you it's the only way we'll get this road completed.
In the space between our bodies, the air has grown small fingers.
Just one caress, you're powerless, like all those clapped-out swingers.
I miss those moments, but I recognized at the time that most of these were things you've only got one 'first time' at, no matter how many times you relive it. I've listened to Destination a hundred thousand times in the last quarter century, but it never affects me the way it did that once. And how could it? It transformed me. I'm not the same man I was before. Which is why I'm not terribly nostalgic, just occasionally pleasantly full of my own past, and looking to find my next "First" thing.
To sum up: If I had it all to do over again, knowing what I know now, I *would* do it all over again, but not in the same place, not with the same people, not in the same order or way. Why would I go back to the same college? Have the same conversations? Date the same girls? I've done all that, I know how it ends up. It was pretty good, but, hey, why limit yourself if you're time traveling? There's lots of concerts I missed, lots of girls I never met, much less made out with, lots of local bands I never heard of in towns I never visited. And I don't want to lose what I have now, which is pretty miraculous: Wife, kids, friends, online cult of personality, easy access to Thai food. what else is there? So if I would re-do the 80s, but wouldn't re-do my own experiences from then, isn't that kind of like being here and now? If so, what's the point, apart from a nice vacation to a world where I'm skinnier and still wear ties a lot?
Exactly: No point at all. So I'm not really all that nostalgic.
As conservatives, there's a tendency to look back, and assume we've fallen from past glory. This is right and fitting: I miss Reagan, too. It was fun to have a president who felt like a president, and you really only get one or two of those a lifetime. At the same time, it's a trifle limiting in some circumstances because, as I said, the past is every bit as much a fantasy as the future is: all we have is now, a moving instant, and memories are no more substantial than daydreams. And much of the past is situational: Things worked then because it was then. They may not work now, in these circumstances. Reagan's tax cuts were absolutely positively the right thing to do then. Would the same thing work in 1960? Probably not - the production base was such that we didn't need 'em. Would they work now? I'm skeptical: our production base really isn't there anymore, so taxes work differently. Teddy Roosevelt's creation of the national park service in 1902 was the right thing to do. Now? Seems a low priority compared to the 35 million Americans out of work.
Happy New Year. I always like to start out by looking back for a moment before I movie on.
As for me, personally, I find it more helpful to look forward. Rather than brood about the good old days (August 5th and 6th, 1955, according to Dave Barry), I prefer to think that our best days are ahead of us. No matter how crappy things get, I remain optimistic: the future is a fantasy, but we can build it. The stuff to come is better than the stuff we leave behind.
And as Conservatives, we have the practical drive to build these things, and the discernment to use them that our more bluesky liberal friends lack. Anyone who wants it can have the past, but the future is ours, kids. All the ideology of the left in the world won't change the world, but the gal or guy who figures out how to make money on the coming thing wins, and that is always, always, always us conservatives. We make money, eventually, we win, and - if the people who make it are good, decent, moral, hard-working folk as most of us are - that money makes the world a better place, directly and indirectly.
The future is ours. Don't be frightened.