Sunk in Reverie

Sometimes, I think about the idea of inherited nostalgia. Or perhaps borrowed nostalgia is a better term; no matter what I call it, the idea is the same — the idea of feeling some kind of longing for something from the past that didn’t really mean that much to you at the time.

Oddly, it’s a record that got me really thinking about this. There’s a new quasi Primal Scream album out this year, although it’s officially credited to Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth (that’s not a typo; it really is “Jehnny”) — the rest of the band act as backing band for the credited two vocalists — and it’s a good listen. It is, however, also an album that borrows liberally from the past, and that’s where things get complicated.

The issue isn’t that it’s a Primal Scream album that steals other people’s sounds and ideas; it is, after all, a Primal Scream album. Listening to it for the first time, though, I’d hear echoes of influences and songs and recognize them, thinking, Man, remember how great that was? even though I was thinking about things that I didn’t really have any direct contact with first time around. It was as if it had become institutionally “classic,” worthwhile purely because it was old, and because I was aware of the reference, I instinctively felt a fondness for it.

I’ve caught myself doing the same when it comes to movies and comics lately, too. Scrolling through HBO Max, I’ll come across movies I’ve never seen but half-recall being promoted — the poster will be familiar, or even just the title or the star — and I’ll have a flash of, Those were the good old days before remembering that I have no basis for actually thinking that beyond a onesheet I saw in Premiere magazine way back when.

Is this merely a sign of being old? Am I losing track of what actually matters, in the grand scheme of things? Or is there an argument to be made that there’s more of a coherent shared popular culture consciousness to be found than I’d previously believed…? You be the judge.

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