Nostalgia Vu

I woke up this morning with a song from the 2001 film Josie and the Pussycats in my head, and because of that felt mildly wistful for the era in which it came out, the sort of Millennial Moment just before 9/11, with its boy bands and first Internet Bubble and all the sorts of capitalism (CDs! Malls! Print magazine and newspapers!) that were about to be buried under the next couple of decades of wrenching change. I don’t want to say it as a more innocent time, because of course it wasn’t, but two decades have passed, which means that enough time has gone out that the mental sifting has occurred and and the bright and fluffy bits seem brighter and fluffier in retrospect. It’s nostalgia I’m feeling, basically, for the turn of the century.

But it’s a little weird to be thinking of it as nostalgia, because as a card-carrying member of Generation X, my Nostalgia Era is already pretty well defined, basically early 80s to early 90s, starting with New Wave and ending with Grunge. And indeed that’s the era that gives me the full-on nostalgia feels; the nostalgia I have for the turn of the century, although real enough, is significantly less intense, more of an “oh, yeah, I enjoyed the nice parts of that” feeling than the whole “Proust eats a madeleine” wave of remembrance that I sometimes get for the 80s and early 90s.

I think the reason why is pretty obvious; I was younger in the 80s, experiencing everything for the first time, so on and so forth, while at the turn of the century I was already an adult, with some amount of life experience under my proverbial belt. This is not a complicated puzzle. Still, I find myself interested in the idea that enough time has passed in my life that I can feel nostalgia for two entirely separate eras in history, and qualitatively less nostalgia for one than the other.

I don’t imagine I am the first to feel this, nor the first to note it. So for those of you with enough water under your bridge, two questions: One, do you feel similar real-but-less nostalgia for previous eras that are not “your” eras; and Two, if so, does this phenomenon have an actual name? Second Nostalgia? Nostalgia Lite? Nostalgia Vu? I’m curious and want to know.

Also, if you’ve never seen Josie and the Pussycats, this is my recommendation of it, again, as I’ve recommended it here before, calling it “a trashy pop awesome instamatic picture of the Y2K-era music business,” which is a description I stand by. It’s also funnier and smarter than you might expect. Plus it began my now two-decade-long crush on Rosario Dawson! And the songs are great pop, too. Plus, you know. Nostalgia. Check it out.

45 Comments on “Nostalgia Vu”

  1. As an aside (which is why it’s in the comments), I’ll note I think there’s a difference between nostalgia for general eras, which I think is a communal nostalgia, and a nostalgia for things in one’s personal life, which are specific to that person.

    For example, the nostalgia I have for when Athena was a toddler is as significant and intense as what I feel for the era in which I grew up, but it’s specific to me alone (Krissy has her own, slightly different nostalgia for it, I’m sure). That nostalgia is not necessarily tied into a cultural era — it’s about me and a certain time in my life alone.

    Perhaps a subtle distinction, but one I think is worth making.

  2. I think it’s more like “the golden age of science-fiction is 14 years old”.

    Whatever was happening in your world when you were a teenager will be forever imprinted in your memory.

    Alas, that, for me, was disco.

  3. Wow. I’ve never heard that song but within seconds I knew it had to be by Adam Schlesinger. What a heartbreaking loss.

  4. I was born in 1963. The 80’s really should have been my era but I’ve never cared much for 80’s music. While I was in college (1981 – 1986) I gritted my teeth through most of the 80’s music. There were some exceptions (like Talking Heads). I was always more of a 60’s and 70’s music fan, possibly because I was a precocious little bastard. To me the music was more creative then or maybe it is because I have always enjoyed hanging out with people older than me. I’m not really sure.

    I do enjoy 30’s, 40’s and 50’s music as well. I’ve found that over the years, 80’s music has grown on me somewhat (like mold grows on cheese possibly) so I enjoy it a bit more now than I did then.

  5. Gen-x and that exact nostalgia window, yes. I have no nostalgia lite. But my father has always had intense nostalgia for the world his parents grew up in, to the point of trying to recreate a lot of it in his surroundings. We’re talking 1900-1940 (the year he was born).

  6. Sara Catterall:

    I get that, since I currently have a thing for the “mid-century” aesthetic, and listen to 50s and 60s jazz/swing when I’m answering email and other non-brain-intensive tasks. I don’t know if that’s nostalgia, though, because I think you have to live through something to have nostalgia for it. I think that’s just (with no judgment for him or me) choosing an aesthetic.

  7. The other day on twitter someone asked what year you’d want to do Ground Hog day on and I thought of 1996. 30 years old, Clinton was president, working at a tech start up in the internet boom with stock options, soon to be married. The future was bright. Glory Days.

  8. do you feel similar real-but-less nostalgia for previous eras that are not “your” eras

    Nope, but that may be personal to me. My era of youthful kcultural nostalgia (“Best music ever! Hippest culture! Brightest colors!” etc) would be the late 60s/early 70s. My counterpart to your early 2000s would be the Reagan Years, which while I have some personal nostalgia over–marriage and kids born, buying first house, profesional job growth–I have absolutely no cultural nostalgia for.

  9. I guess I’m an oddball in that I don’t really feel nostalgia for any specific era. Solidly Gen X here, too, but the 80s and 90s… meh. I absolutely feel personal nostalgia, mostly for groups of friends that splintered over the years, but that’s it. Maybe it’s because I never really fit the mainstream (or really even the more widely known alternate) cultures of those eras, but I just don’t feel much for them from a nostalgia standpoint.

  10. I think the most intense years of my life were between 1976 – 1986: A decade of late teenagerdom and early adulthood. (I’m pretty much an exact decade older, which means the years everyone argues about as Late Boomer, Generation Jones or early Gen X — I take early Gen X because I was born the same year as Douglas Copeland, who came up with the term, and my siblings were all younger). But I do have some “fuzzy nostalgia” for the time I hung out with my grandparents in downtown Chicago in the early to mid Sixties. One funny thing, when I went to college in 1979, older people, like the younger profs, would ask an ice breaker question apropos to older Boomers. “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” I had a set reply: “In diapers.” Let’s just say that my cohorts and I were the first to make the older boomers realize another generation was up and coming. It’s funny about music: it can take us to places in our minds in no time at all. I think when we hear some music and it takes us back, no matter what year or era, as long as it’s more than ten years ago, what we’re feeling is nostalgia, because that time is unrecoverable except in memory. And there’s nothing wrong with a good madelaine.

  11. The absolute peak memories of my life will probably always be summers on a Wisconsin lake in the 1960s and 1970s. Think Kodachrome slides of pine forests, blue water, puffy white clouds, rustic architecture, “road boat” station wagons with fake wood side panels, kitschy gift shops, canoes, and of course fudge shops.

    To this day, when I edit my photos I basically get as close as I can to the classic Kodachrome look.

  12. More things “happen” when we’re younger than older and get imprinted in our brains, probably because events take up more space when there’s more room as a proportion of our life spans. That is, a year when we’re twenty is three or more times the share of our lives than when we are sixty. The imprinting of music when we’re younger is more significant than when we are older.

    Nonetheless, my favorite music of all time is Progressive House, not a long-ago phenomenon, and I don’t have any longing for music from my youth. (No “Shrimp Boats Are A’Comin'” or “(All I want is) Music, Music, Music (and You)”.) By the way, I’m 77 and I don’t really feel nostalgic for any period, much less two periods.

  13. For this Boomer, my primary nostalgic period starts with the late 60s and on into the 70s, but that’s tempered by how fucked up some of those years were. (Remember 70s American cars? Gawd.) Loved the music.

    I feel a secondary nostalgia for the 90s, when Bill Clinton was president, the Internet was getting into everything, and peace seemed to be breaking out. As an added plus, I was starting to come into my own in my profession (IT), and making some decent money.

    And there’s a tertiary nostalgia for post-WW 2 times – I imagine this comes from books I had read and movie I had seen on TV. Back when you could light up a smoke without thinking about lung cancer – you know, the good old days.

  14. I’m a year or so younger than you, and I have the same Gex-X nostalgia for the 80s, even to the point of sometimes being annoyed when people trash-talk the era (even though I admit there’s a lot to trash-talk it for). And I do have the Nostalgia-lite for the early 90s, too, when I was just starting out in life as an adult, making stupid mistakes, etc.

    I also have a personal nostalgia for my life in the 70s. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but we had a nice place in the Napa Valley, and I find myself looking out my suburban Sacramento window sometimes and feeling nostalgia for the view from my window back then, as well as the climate/attitudes of the time I was aware of (which, admittedly, wasn’t much). Like a lot of us, I miss the days when summer lasted forever and I didn’t have to pay the bills.

  15. When I think of Jose and the Pussycats it’s the 1970s cartoon. I was never a fan of most of the music from the 1970s and 1980s but now listen to female jazz artists who sing original songs and from the Great American Songbook.

  16. I relate to Repairman Jack, (in the series by F. Paul Wilson) a romantic who has no pop culture decorations from after the year he was born.

    Partly from poverty, everything I grew up with was from the past; and second hand stores, and the old library. Like the world of Indiana Jones decades before the movie.

    I still remember where I was when I first heard WWII veterans referred to as “our grandfathers” rather than “our fathers.”

    …As for the fellow upthread who gritted his teeth through 80’s music, I remember in the 80’s reading, “When this generation has their class reunions, what music will they play?” because the music sucked.
    Also, just as the 70’s public didn’t know that discos were for testing music, the 80’s public didn’t know that music videos were for the same reason, and that bands were forced to make them. (Even if the artists preferred you to use your own imagination)

  17. I’m a year older than you, and I haven’t gotten first nostalgia for the 80’s/90’s yet. Can’t help ya on that second nostalgia thing.

  18. You know, I still have my DVD of that movie. I thought about watching it with my stepdaughter and then realized it would take the same amount of time to watch as it would to explain all the pop culture references LOL. But I still occasionally shout “I WANT A BIG MAC!” for no reason and also have never stopped loving Rosario Dawson.

  19. My brain is probably broken, but I don’t feel as though any prior era is “mine” more that any other. When I hear songs from the 50’s I remember them, and associate events/friends/lovers with them, but they don’t seem more special than songs from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s…I’m old.

    I listen to K-Pop (K.A.R.D. are a delight, check the “Hidden” videos) and Rodrigo Y Gabriella with a different but similar delight to when I listened to Little Anthony, The Rolling Stones, or GaGa. I suppose one must be the shark, move forward or die.

  20. Honestly, this boomer’s nostalgia is for 2015 – when politics was normal.

    Hey, the music from the 60s – 00s was fine… the first time around. Some was okay the second time around. And I am sick of it all now. I suspect that my ability to access new stuff has been highly compromised by tinnitus – it all sounds the same.

  21. Having spent a good deal of my life in branches of cultural history, I miss eras from before my parents were born, and everything since. Conversely I’m less nostalgic about my high school, college, and early adult years — basically the 70s — because my memories of them are colored by the inarguable perception that culture and my peers got really, really stupid for a while there. I kind of think (and hope I’m right because of a current project) that it’s a bit like the perspective an immortal or at least multiple-century-living person would develop living among people with normal lifespans.

  22. Same, same…definitely a 1st-Gen MTV/120 Minutes kid here, with an added bonus of living in the collegiate northeast as a kid. I’ve been wanting to write a book about the “college rock” days of the mid-to-late 80s for YEARS now, considering that’s always been my own personal nostalgia sweet spot. I really should get going on that.

  23. I had some thought on this but when I tried to string together two coherent sentences my brain just snickered and pointed so not today I guess.

    As an aside, I’ve never seen Josie and the Pussycats. My main takeaway from the video was, “Alan Cumming is in this?!?”

  24. Um , to be honest (and succinct), No. As an Early Boomer, my “nostalgia zone” is mostly from the late ’50s through the ’60s and (for the most part) the ’70s.

    Beyond that lies madness.

  25. I was born on 1949, and spent a large part of my pre- and early adolescence in Europe, so the frothy early Beatles and the Sanremo music festivals was one era I yearn towards. Then returning to the States as a 16 year old and throwing myself into the hippy/socialist, seething political turmoil with the Rolling Stones, later Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and so forth is another era I am quite attached to. My final era was the disco period, because I was a radio and disco DJ at that time. I really stopped being hooked by music after that. Everything after that became, oh yeah, that’s nice.

    These “eras” are obviously idiosyncratic and the music time frames are my own, not necessarily correct.

  26. We are the same age (in fact, we went to college together and graduated the same year, but I don’t think we knew each other…probably have some mutual friends, though). I hear you on music, though for me it’s more 70s through grunge (70s lite rock to Rush/Yes prog to Madchester to Nirvana). That’s my culture, and why books like Ready Player One and shows like Stranger Things resonate so well with me. Second nostalgia? Yes, but different cultural artifacts trigger it. I find it’s less about music from the late 90s and 2000s (I’ve rediscovered Death Cab for Cutie, I think Transatlanticism is sublime, but I never even heard of it when it or them came out in 2003) and more about fashion (ah, that first Thomas Pink shirt I had, with the bright stripes and French cuffs, and that I wore to my ad agency job!) and TV shows (Sopranos and X-Files bring me back to watch-parties with post-college friends and ex-girlfriends). Different nostalgic bits transport me to different times. But I’m not sure whether it’s due to a stubbornness when it comes to music (good music died with Kurt — fight me!) or lifestage and the resulting shareable culture (I wasn’t sitting around in my apartment getting stoned and listening to music in the early aughts, but was instead leading a more ‘professional’ life of nicer restaurants and higher-shelf booze). Great question you’ve asked. I like the idea of Lifestage Nostalgia, and what triggers it. In 10 years, what will bring back memories of these pandemic times?

  27. Nostalgia implies a longing to go back to the era in question. If that’s the metric, I’m not really nostalgic about anything beyond perhaps a sense of “Oh, that was nice.” I’m honestly too focused on what’s going on now in my life (even with all the room for improvement that contains) to want to soak in the past, even the good parts.

  28. Is there a word for “glad to be out of it”?

    I grew up in the 1950s, with my father who held a Q clearance and was researching the effects of low level radiation on cell division and had me occasionally helping out — running a drill press to grind water channels in microscope slides, darkroom work developing 4×5″ negatives from the optical microscope camera, or going around to the neighbor kids telling them “don’t eat the snow” when a fallout plume from the Nevada atmospheric tests had dusted over our area and produced a detectable radiation spike in the air filter my dad kept running and checked daily.

    That was the 1950s.

    Then in 1963, the Cuban Missile standoff, when neighbors from all over the block dropped by to consult the extensive collection of fallout shelter design literature I’d taken home from the informative display at the Post Office.

    Yeah, those were good times to be past and gone.

  29. When I think of Josie and the Pussycats, I think of the original comic book, in the Archie line. Was quite fond of it. Haven’t seen the movie.

  30. As a guy in his 70’s, of course I’m nostalgic. If I had to define ‘my’ period, it would be from Nov. 22, 1963 to Aug. 8, 1974. It was the era I refer to as ‘the sixties,’ precluding the years of 1960 through most of 1963, and stretching it into what most people think are ‘the seventies.’

    I Want To Hold Your Hand, and the rest of the British Invasion. Civil Rights protests and the horrible year of 1968. The Vietnam War (of which I was a small cog;) How many Americans died? How many Vietnamese died? How many students died? The Computer first became a Thing – although that could be placed in the next era as well. FM radio stations, which meant you could listen to something other than bubble-gum. And, of course, the first group awareness that the mores of the U.S. was changing, we had ‘free love.’

    As a historian, I have a great fondness for other eras, in particular for the years between the World Wars and the ensuing carnage. I’m not sure I would refer to my feeling as ‘nostalgia’ though – I include a personalization in the definition of that word.

    Oh, and those dates? The assassination of President Kennedy and the resignation of Richard Nixon – the world really did change on those dates.

  31. this song by the South Korean indie group Band 88 is the one of the most 80s-sounding songs I’ve heard outside of actual 80s music. I love everything about it, including the gender-swapped roles in the video.

    (I have lost track of who I’ve recommended this song to, so if I’ve sent you this link before I apologize for the duplication!)

  32. I also have a lot of nostalgia for this movie, although I was in college at the time so it’s more understandable. My daughter is 3, and I love to play 3 Small Words and Spin Around for her.

  33. Haha, yes, I have a bit of that second wave nostalgia, never thought of it that way, thanks for giving it a name. The ’70s were my time of youth and so much happened then, social awareness, rock music, movements of solidarity that I still believe were very good things, not only nostalgically speaking. Then the ’80s hit, which to me was such a dark era, aesthetically, music, fashion, what to speak of socially and politically, such the capitalist back-lash! The mid-‘90 for me was a bit of a return to fun and whimsy, grunge, weird was in. I have a nostalgic relationship to it as sort of a second youth :D

  34. Nostalgia is one of the things I work on not experiencing.

    While not inherently negative, as we can see from Brexit, nostalgia can leave one open to manipulation (either by cynical opportunists or one’s own self). So, I strive to not see bits of the past as something I’d like to return to, but instead take pleasure that I did enjoy some parts of that arbitrary segment of past time and seek to put my energies into making today better than it could have been.

  35. I feel nostalgia for the late 40s, just before my birth in 1950, the muscular swagger before Korea and the Cold War began to show us that the hero cannot rest on his/her/their laurels; instead, life goes on and brings up more problems. I have not exactly nostalgia for the times that were mine, not the aching for home, but a revisiting of the aching, torn feelings of the times, the late 60s turning into the tacky 70s, so disappointing. There’s also for me a nostalgia for the early 20th century, awful as that was in some ways, but also the flowering of the Progressive Era, on its good days, the Arts and Crafts movement, and in the 20s incredibly creative dress design. I have noticed that people tend to want to adopt the design elements which presumably represent the values of their grandparents’ time, hence the popularity now of mid-century modern. I wish it did have a name, this picking of one’s cultural ancestry.

  36. As usual, and not unexpectedly from someone who writes for a living, you’ve summed up my thoughts/feelings perfectly, right down to the window. In addition to the general and specific nostalgia, I also find that I have the shiny sparkly nostalgia of “Josie and the Pussycats” and a more melancholic nostalgia, most often triggered by music and of the personal variety. Not exclusively, though – I feel it when I hear Nirvana’s version of “In the Pines” in a very generalized way.

  37. I see I’m not the only geezer with a jaundiced view of the good old days.

    I wonder if knowing a lot of history might make one resistant to nostalgia. I have specific memories going back to 1949 (when I started kindergarten) and plenty of detailed recollections of the decades that followed, and any nostalgic sentiments I have are very, very cherry-picked, since those memories include polio (and the roll-out of the Salk vaccine), the rise of Elvis (and Pat Boone singing “Tutti Frutti”), the election of JKF (and the lingering anti-Catholic bigotry it revealed, and then his murder), the Summer of Love (and the tear gas of ’68-70), and so on into the afternoon.

    It’s certainly a privilege of my education and vocations, but I can assemble my own not-today mental environment from an inventory that stretches back as far as libraries and museums can see without having to put up with the diseases, wars, and civil nastiness that were part of the original contexts.

    My personal twenties and early thirties were terrific, despite the often nasty events of those years–grad school, courtship and marriage, friends and family alive and well. I wish I had my 1970 body back–if I could keep my 2020 mind. I wish I could go back to the Italy, especially Rome, of 1964-65, before the tsunami of tourism drowned it. Some of the old days were good, but none of them were unmixed, and I’ll take what I have now, all 75 years of it. Though I wouldn’t mind a partial refund on 2020.

  38. Oy me–that last paragraph can be read to indicate that courtship, marriage, etc. were the “often nasty events.” Quite the grammatical opposite. The parenthetical (or dash-delimited) phrase really should follow “terrific,” with the nastiness trailing along behind, trying to spoil everything.

  39. Just occurred to me–if one were really, really good at it, would it be “nostalgia-fu”?

  40. Child of the 60s here, mid-range boomer. I can play the music anytime I want to and do and I guess that does trigger some nostalgia for that brief and shining moment when it looked like peace and love actually had a chance and everything good seemed possible. Then the drugs arrived and it got ugly fast. Altamont was the end. I miss the wonderful, colorful creative clothes styles, but I only rarely dress up these days. I have wondered between then and now if another politically “woke” generation would come along in my lifetime and I’m thrilled to have seen it happen with civil rights etc. front and center again. It was a loooong wait.

  41. I’m just a tad too old to be a boomer, but they were my students when I was teaching my way through grad school. (I was all of four years older than my first class of comp students.) A few weeks ago, I watched the PBS/American Experience documentary on Woodstock and marvelled at the scale of the event, the herculean efforts of the people who put it on and helped out (Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm folks and the National Guard chopper pilots and the local food-donaters), the miracle of making good music under chaotic conditions, and the idealism and general decent behavior of the attendees. I also marvelled at the mud, the mess, and the risky behavior of those same attendees. If I had a time machine, it’s one of the last hippy-years places I’d visit. Well, it would precede Altamont and Attica and various assassinations. Come to think of it, the past is a country I don’t think I want to visit, at least without extensive vaccinations and a transport-home-immediately button on my wrist unit.

  42. I’m not much on nostalgia, which in our society is kind of trashy and déclassé and commercial. I associate it with those books they sell at the Cracker Barrel gift shop, the ones full of advertisements from the year you were born, and with “remember when?” chain-emails.

    The Google machine offers the definition “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” and the emphasis seems to be on the sentiment and wistfulness and longing, which I view as not-very-helpful in general and downright toxic in high doses (I suspect, on the basis of no evidence whatever, that the median Trump voter is a lot more susceptible to nostalgic effect than the median American). etymonline says it was originally something much more serious: “morbid longing to return to one’s home or native country, severe homesickness considered as a disease,” (which particularly affected Swissmen and was said to be often fatal). Evidently the word is an 18th-century retcon from Greek roots of the German Heimweh, or homesickness. The “distance in time” association the word has today maybe derives partly from the fact that when the word was coined, you couldn’t cover a large spatial distance without traversing a lengthy temporal one as well.

    Which is not to say that I never regard the passage of time with a feeling of loss, but for me it has more to do with a gradual loss of innocence and a sense of lessened possibility. The 2001 and 2017 turning points are particularly cruel in this respect, coming as they did after times when the world seemed possibly headed in a direction of less harm and suffering. I like to think that my emotions like this are better described by the Japanese term mono no aware.