Pete's Blog

Nostalgia

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I've been playing Irish music lately, rehearsing to join a fidldler who works hereabouts. I need the job. Anyway, I'm immersing myself in the music to a greater extent than before, and finding some thoughts to think. The experience has shown me again why I like blues and jazz so much. Irish music is a national music. You play the tunes, have a Guinness, share a tear for the Auld Sod. In the parlance of '80s marketing it makes a statement about who you are. Blues and jazz doesn't look back because there's nothing to look back at. It is the product of people whose culture was forcibly eradicated. So the music points forward. It begins from Zero and develops concentrically outward toward an unimaginable future. The only "right" or "wrong" way to play it has to do with your ability to communicate with the other players - what's the key? Where's the one? I think that's why it appealed so much to alienated suburban youth in the 1960s, this sense of possibility arising out of enforced nothingness. It's all future, riding on naked expressiveness. In recent decades we have seen the rise of nostalgia in music, often through the efforts of marketers. It may be nostalgia for a place that never existed but it's still a looking back to something that can define publicly the kind of persons we are. This trend occurs in many more musics than Celtic. Bluegrass yearns for an idealized Kentucky, jam-band rock for an idealized Haight-Ashbury. The result, unfortunately, is the same: a stressing of contextual (and, yes, racial) purity, whose legacy can be deadening orthodoxy. There is no one RIGHT way to play blues, and for all its roots in the African-American experience there is no one RIGHT race, either. Despite the varying shades of blackness in the music's progenitors the racial construct didn't exist for them, because all their tribal distinctions, which take the place of skin color in African culture, had been long since swept away. There is no racial purity in African America. There can't be. So it's all a feeling. If you deliver that feeling you've done it. You're not looking back. You're right here, right now. It's hard to be nostalgic for a shack in Mississippi.

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