Take This Tune

Posted: Monday, January 03, 2011 by Travis Cody in

My pal Jamie from Duward Discussion has reintroduced her wonderful meme.  Take This Tune provides a musical prompt each week, usually a video with the song lyrics.  The task is to write something inspired by the song or something in the lyrics.

This week's prompt is the song Nightswimming from REM.  I was never really a big fan of REM, but this song...I find it haunting and uplifting at the same time.  I never fail to be moved by it in some way.

When I heard it again last week, the first thing I thought of was nostalgia.

I think nostalgia has its purpose.  But I also think that pining for what has passed into memory or history can make us doubt our present circumstances and the choices that led us to them.  Or it can make us fear progress such that we paralyze ourselves against it, or revert to what our nostalgia tells us was a simpler time.

Simpler doesn't always equal better.

I finished a book over the weekend by Charlaine Harris.  She writes the Sookie Stackhouse series, which Pam and I enjoyed.  The book I finished, called Grave Sight, is the first book in another series from Ms Harris, following the adventures of Harper Connelly, who was struck by lightening as a teenager.  That strike gave her the ability to locate dead bodies and understand how they died. 

Grave Sight takes place in a small Ozark Mountain town called Sarne.  It's a tourist trap in the summer, with a quaint American 19th century downtown square, complete with locals dressed in period costumes manning period storefronts.  But something more sinister lurks beneath the welcoming facade.  This is a passage from the book.
I reminded myself to stay away from Sarne in the summer.   It was somehow embarrassing to think of these people dressing up to imitate a past that was hotter, smellier, more ignorant, and chock-full of deaths that nowadays could be easily prevented.  Women in childbirth, kids with polio, babies with conflicting Rh factors, men whose fingers turned septic after little accidents with a saw...I'd seen all these during my little outing at the cemetery.  Most people didn't think about this aspect of living in the past when they tried to imagine how it must have been.  They saw the absence of what they perceived as modern ills:  abortion, homosexuality, television, divorce.  They saw the past in terms of Friday evening fiddling with the neighbors on the front porch, shoofly pie, gospel singing, long happy marriages.

I saw needless death. 

I think we can often safely embrace our own brands of nostalgia.  I think we're safe in doing so because we mostly have the maturity to visit our memories and understand that they are imperfect recollections of what soothes us as we age.

But I also think we must be wary of the kind of nostalgia that makes us wish for those "simpler" times that we can't really understand or appreciate because we've never actually been there.  What we perceive about a time or place cannot possibly encompass all that describes the true reality of it.  And so we can be left with our ideas of what the time or place should be.

Nightswimming deserves a quite night.
I'm not sure all these people understand
It's not like years ago,
the fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water
They cannot see me naked
These things, they go away,
Replaced by everyday
(song lyrics by Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe)

The past may be prologue, informing the present with experience and knowledge.  But it is still the past.  It is history.  I do miss things and people from my past.  I wish I could go back sometimes. 

But that wish comes from the knowledge of the 46 years I've been alive.  Eliminate 40 of those years and take me back to when I was 6...what do we have?  That same 6 year old in that same set of circumstances.  It would be what it was.

I've been there.  I remember some of it.  I have my nostalgia.  I have my quiet nights.

But I don't want to go back and live there again because that would rob me of the adventure of tomorrow, lived with the knowledge I gained yesterday.  So perhaps I should say that sometimes I wish those things and people from my past could come forward in time to me.

I guess I'll take progress over nostalgia.


  1. Jamie says:

    Beautifully written as always. If you spend too much time looking back to the past, you aren't living your present and that is where the minutes of your life are lived.

  1. Akelamalu says:

    Nostalgia has it's place. I enjoy reminiscing about the fabulous holidays we've had etc but there's so much to look forward to I don't dwell too long. :)

    Grave Sight sounds just the sort of book I would enjoy - I'll look out for it, thanks. :)


  1. Every decision brings us to a fork in the road...we can not live by going back to the forks and changing direction...it impacts where we are today,...you with Pam..me with Nancy..they might not have occurred if we took a different fork...remember yesterday, live today, hope for tomorrow.

  1. I'm a very nostalgic person with the heart of a realist. I suppose I'm more sentimental than nostalgic. I cherish my memories and go back to them often. Maintaining contact with as many people from my past as I can means they are actually my present peeps. I have many lifelong friendships and cherish them all.

    There is no time in my life for which I would want to turn the clock back in order to relive it. Like you, I enjoy the me of today, built by all those moments that led up to now.

    What a great post this prompt gave you, Travis. Funny timing for me, now that I'm back from my Christmas trip to Toronto...

  1. jennifer says:

    My mother gave me some things that belonged to my grandparents over the weekend. I seem to be having a difficult time talking about the experience (I tried to blog about it and just couldn't write the post) but nostalgia was a big part of it.

    Yours was very well written and expressed things that I just couldn't manage.