nostalgia, via pop culture

Over at Strip Mining for Whimsy, Joshua just posted about Hill Street Blues, which you can now download from iTunes.

This ties into something that has been on my mind lately, and that is how one pop culture reference can trigger a whole avalanche of memories and associations. Hill Street Blues premiered on January 15, 1981 — the day after my twenty-fifth birthday. I was three years into a very turbulent relationship with Not-the-Mathematician, an East Coast Italian (ECI), a charming, very tall (taller than Joshua, even), good looking guy with a terminal case of the runarounds. I had just moved back to Chicago from Boston. Urban Cowboy was playing in the theater down the street from my apartment. Reagan was president elect. John Lennon had been dead exactly one month. My associations around Hill Street Blues are not upbeat.

There are movies that have this same effect on me. Annie Hall is the ultimate example. It opened in April of 1977; I was twenty-one. I went to see Annie Hall with the ECI. I also saw Star Wars, Animal House, Saturday Night Fever, and a dozen other iconic movies with him within a few days of release. That list includes (cue the irony) Looking for Mr. Goodbar. I met the ECI in a disco on Rush Street. Not that the ECI was ever physically violent, please don’t jump to that conclusion.

But of all those movies, Annie Hall is the one that resonants most clearly. Watching Annie Hall is like getting into a time machine. I remember Manhattan exactly as it was then, pretty true to the movie. I remember everything about that spring. The Ramones and Rod Stewart and Stevie Wonder on the radio. Some really cheesy music, even then it was clear it was cheesy. Torn Between Two Lovers, Feeling Like a Fool (kill me now); Don’t Give up on Us Baby (make it quick); Barry Manilow was at the top of his form. So to speak.

What I didn’t have: money. An answering machine (few people did). Any kind of computer (even fewer people), or the hope of ever having something like a computer. No VCRs, much less iTunes and downloads.

All this makes me feel not so much old as full. Chock full of memories. No more room, and I’ve got, what, thirty more years. Amazing, the elasticity of the human mind.

6 Replies to “nostalgia, via pop culture”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. Its so true too how a piece of music, a film, a TV show can trigger so many memories … and how they just get layered onto each other. What does the second season of Farscape trigger for me? Feeding my first son when he was a baby. Probably Lost will have the same effect for this one as it seems to be my show of choice at the moment while feeding.

  2. Today I leave for “vacation” -helping at a ranch to serve kids who are there for a choir camp. I’ve done this for 20 years, and as someone perpetually drawn toward trends, this is a wonderful week of observation. Every year there are different kids, but all the same age, highschool junior and seniors, and all good, musically inclined kids. We’ve seen the years of everyone bringing pop evolve into water and now into energy drinks, radios to tapes to CD’s, everyone lining up to use the phone and phone cards to cell phones (and the cell phone service improving every year) The baggy t-shirts and flannels have evolved into string tanks and muscle shirts, belly buttons have been pierced, aerosol hair spray went to mousse, gel and now to pump hairspray, the books they brought are now DVD players and media centers… but when certain songs come on or movies play, I can remember exactly which summer it was I heard/watched it, what the kids looked like and my heart wells up with nostalgia. It is the only time I feel old.

  3. Music videos have that place in my memories, probably due to their repetition, and the fact that we didn’t have cable TV when I was a kid (and everyone else seemed to), so I gorged on MuchMusic (Canadian MTV) when I lived on my own and had cable. But I never really had money for movies, or parents that encouraged movie-going, so my mind has found other markers for my memories. Interesting that, too. And definitely books have a place – books read on vacation, during an illness, while cramming for a test, while riding a bus. Pieces of craftwork done during the winter, also have a way of holding memory markers for me.

  4. memory markers…this is gonna sound wierd,but different brands of cigarettes were some of mine.Menthol in junior high/highschool,etc…Used to draw whenever I felt inspired,everything I drew brings back a memory.Whoops,not really the topic,oh,clothing styles definitely MM’s,ack I grew up in the 80’s with the tight jeans,zipper jackets.platinum blond hair lol,those jeans were UNCOMFORTABLE,used ta fade in all the wrong places. Oh no,its all coming back,make it stop!lol

  5. Smells, too, the only thing stronger than songs for me — Ivory soap. The original Herbal Essence shampoo. Dr. Brommer’s Peppermint Soap. And the ultimate time machine: CRAYOLA CRAYONS and WHITE PASTE!

    BTW, your link to LibraryThing (right above your Creative Commons bar) is going to your old saralaughs account, not to the new one.

  6. Robyn I am that way too, I cannot take our metro system here in Montreal without thinking of my partying days when I was a teenager, the smell and atmosphere brings me back every single time. Also certain songs for instance “Don’t you want me baby” by Human League, I remember who I was dating at the time and wanting to immitate the song by leaving him. Sheesh talk about dramatic!

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