Nostalgia is an incredibly personal, piercing pain. I had on the radio earlier and heard ‘Dead From The Waist Down’ by Catatonia (between 15:30 and 15:35): it was introduced as one of their less-played tracks, perhaps it is now, but I remember hearing it quite frequently when it was out.
I was a child in the Nineties. I was born in 1989, so the following decade literally made up the majority of my childhood- I suppose there’s a whole debate to be had about when you stop being a child, but this particular reminiscence concerns primary school age, which I was until 2001; so, veritably, a child throughout the Nineties. I remember when that song came out; the first time I heard it was, again, on the radio, and I recall being in the car with my dad and my aunt, my dad was driving. We were on our way back from somewhere, the exact location and event I cannot remember, but it was somewhere not far outside of (Birmingham) town. We were driving back- it was a late-afternoon in Summer, possibly July, more towards the middle or the end of the month than the start- along a country road, as was often the case when we went somewhere out of town, to take the scenic route there and back- time-permitting for the former, of course. This moment was definitely the first time I’d heard it, it grabbed me- not in a dramatic, arresting way, but with an undoubted feeling of poignancy; I was awash with it. I remember hearing the lyrics “but we’re dead from the waist down” and “make hay not war”, those are the two that affected my heart and struck with, stuck in my head. I looked out of the window, the landscape around us was long grass, green trees and heat-thirsted grass and straw- hay- the light was yellow-golden, but not distorting or blinding, the road before us narrow, meandering, turbulent in its topography and terrain; Cerys Matthews’ delivery of those lyrics in her softer, sweet rasp and distinctive tone really tied together the scene.
As I said, I was a child in the Nineties. Even though I was far too young to experience first-hand the dance, rave, or other defining youth culture events of the decade, now iconic markers of a vibrant, varied and, in many ways, revolutionary place and time, the related music and songs are very much entwined with my experiences, memories and person, as they were, then, present and current and I heard them, through tv and radio, all the time: I absorbed everything. Is it possible that people’s memories of former years, so-called ‘past glorification’, are born out of child-like, more innocent associations and a view of life, as opposed to thoughts established and cultivated as an adult, as kids do not have a tendency, nor are they pre-disposed, at the point of childhood, to carry a tainted, jaded view of the world and, have not been conditioned to retentive disillusionment as so many of us have as adults? I mean, the reactions and behaviours that arise from trauma manifest and become more fervently set-in as you get older, but they don’t necessarily materialise until you reach a (developmental) stage where you can rationalise, piece together and process a timeline of events, of causes for your negative reactions to yourself and the world around you (such as self-esteem issues)… Do we, in a sense, idealise the past, not out of a desire to augment or enhance the reality of events, but to celebrate them in isolation for their goodness and positive nature, how they make us feel? I don’t think remembering good times in an otherwise accepted and more prevalent narrative of having had an unstable, traumatic (up to a certain point and, including the prolonged, embedded and lasting effects of trauma) upbringing is, in any way, aggrandising of past experiences, but, I think, rather a pleasant and welcome balance to the prevalent, almost habitual narrative. Of course, the key word here is ‘balance’- I don’t think it is at all healthy, or right, to fabricate a view of the past, your past, as a place where little went wrong, unless that does truly speak accurately of your experiences: I believe that things should be viewed in context of each other, as pieces of a bigger picture, but also understood in isolation so it allows you a more insightful comprehension of how they work, or don’t work, together. For me, though sorely bittersweet, I will always be thankful for the recollection and appearance of good memories. Even if the experiences were drops in a torrent of emotional sewage- the majority, most likely, were- I will always cherish and be grateful for them, for allowing me to have felt and seen them and, to continue allowing me to feel and see them, to make me able to see my life decorated with glinting gems, among even the darkest, dirtiest, deepest coal.