Can you be nostalgic for a time that you never lived?
Now, I understand completely how gauche it is to use a link and reference of this level of recognition for a pigdin little piece, but bear with me. I’d been meaning to write for this song for a while now, and the prompt for today gave me the push I needed.
It’s a curious bit of happenstance, really. I was on my way to the library, in a vaguely unsettled frame of mind, and Wind of Change by the Scorpions was the first song on my playlist. I ended up listening to it on repeat, because it was making me feel mournful but hopeful, which is a good thing to take away from a bad morning. After having listened to it eight times times, plus one time right outside, I walked into the library to finish my book.
I was three chapters into Erben der Erinnerung by Philip Meinhold, which was the only perspective book on the Holocaust I’d found in our German library. It’s a singularly stark and stirring description from a man examining three generations’ worth of emotional inheritance. The lack of delicate handling of the theme and his prose create an almost tangible atmosphere around the reader, and I’m bad at separating myself from words to begin with. I kept reading and would have taken too much away from it, had the last chapter not included a sudden mention of Wind of Change by the Scorpions, and the importance of remembering your own place, too.
Naturally, I was floored. It’s a decently sized coincidence that I spend all morning binge-listening to a song, and it happens to show up again a few hours later, at the back of a book that would have left me disturbed. I was sitting there, staring at the book like a foreign entity, when a loud CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! alarm went off, and we were herded out for a fire drill. I walked out into the garden clutching the book, for all purposes yanked rudely out of a fugue state. Everyone was chattering excitedly as we waited in the wintry sunlight for the all clear, and I leaned against the embankment, watching the girl next to me gesticulate wildly, with a mini-extinguisher tucked under her elbow. It woke me up for five minutes, and ten minutes later the effect of the book receded somewhat more….. but why should it have had that effect at all?
Can we be nostalgic for a time we didn’t know? Millenials who are moved to tears by Toto’s Africa, or every Rock lover in his teens who swears by the unchallenged greatness of AC/DC- what are they nostalgic for? “They don’t make music like this anymore”. You’ll read the same refrain under every music video on YouTube from ten to fifty years old. But what do you want? How do you plead allegiance and understanding to a world even your parents didn’t exist in?
And yet, I’d be loathe to call it pretentiousness, because it isn’t. We want to feel understood. We want to feel belonging, in a place or time where it feels as though what we are feeling reverberates with everyone. That wanting fuels this nostalgia, this ache and unsettledness, sense of unhappiness, that had I been born in this time, or had these places/people/events existed as they do in this bit of recording, we would have been happy. And while that is testament to how much music can evoke, I’ll blame our own unreality a little, too.
Or at least, mine. Being enthralled is one thing. Being adrift, another. After a point, it’s not the burden of creativity but the sheer inability to cut the umbilical to a world that doesn’t exist anymore. We are in the here and now. And it’s often ugly and unbearable, but this is where we exist. There isn’t any refuge in an imaginary world. But there is respite, and I’m grateful for it.
It’s hard to walk away completely unfeeling, when you read descriptions of such horrors. Of pain that has saturated generations, of children born angry for an injustice their parents haven’t known. A world away from all this, even dipping your toes leaves you walking stained for a little while.
But walk away. We cannot look to a future when we inflict the past upon ourselves repeatedly. And there’s still hope. There’s a wind of change coming yet.
This road does not exist
The houses long burnt down
Someone wrote of the cracked bones
Embedded in the ground
Trees have grown over the paths
Rain took the remains
Yet I stand and stare at what was
And come away stained
What lives here has already endured
a hundred years, will live a thousand more
There are traces of words in every inch
Handprints on the walls and floors
My fingers know the stories here
Hieroglyphs, stick figures, seeds,
Unfathomable as an alien landscape
Unblinkingly there, like a wound that bleeds
Again, and again
I hum to the refrain
I don’t know this language
Of a world that is ashes
But I’ll cry for them, because
we all speak pain.
We all speak pain.