CC Issue 28 / Reflections

The Loneliness of Nostalgia

Karen’s favourite childhood shop

My favourite album of all time is Mosely Shoals by Ocean Colour Scene. Yes, the second album by Birmingham’s main contribution to Brit Pop and the resurrection of the fisherman’s hat and Adidas Gazelles. Yes, the band who, with the likes of Supergrass, the Charlatans and The verve, were seemingly incapable of moving beyond 1999. And yes, I know that I could trawl through every Q magazine and channel 4 ‘Top 100 Albums of all time’ from the last 20 years and I would not even find a tangential reference to this album, unless the author had some additional motivation to document how much they hated TFI Friday.

So why Mosely Shoals? It is because the opening riff of The Riverboat Song takes me back to one of my first ever conversations about popular music, with my older cousin and childhood hero. It led to the decision to go and buy this album to try and be like him. It is because The Day We Caught the Train reminds me of the freedom of school summer holidays, and The Circle transports me into the depths of The Power of One as I lay reading on my bed in a fug of swirling joss stick smoke. The simple fact of the matter is that when I dust off that album I don’t so much hear the cords and ‘whaooo la las’ as the flood of memories from my teen years which are now gone forever.

Of course that is precisely what does not happen to you. Unless a period of your life in indelibly stamped with such lines as ‘Rapping on the window, whistling down the chimney pot,’ you hear a band trapped in a relatively small and insignificant era of British music which offers little resonance now.

I could sit you down, Mosely on in the background through my updated sound system (the original Alba HiFi long gone) and talk you through in ever greater detail the memories each verse or line or note evokes. But the project would be futile. As my memories soar to ever loftier heights, your detachment plumbs to greater depths. Rather than a connection fostered, the gulf simply increases.

That is the essential loneliness of nostalgia. The thought came to me recently as I went on a particularly wet camping trip with my wife and her family in Devon. We went to a campsite frequented by her family over the years of her youth, a part of the country I had never even set foot before. Now to be quite frank neither my wife nor I are great campers. Yet my sense of foreboding over the inevitable rain and hordes of holiday makers was met with an ever increasing sense of anticipation from Karen. Knowing her love of comfortable beds, a large suitcase of clothes and clean bathrooms, I knew this could not be stemming from an expectation of what awaited us over the threshold of ‘Oakdown Campsite.’ Rather, it was the sense of stepping back in time to carefree childhood happiness. This was particularly so when it came to visiting the old cliff top house where she had enjoyed many Christian holiday camps either before or after her family camping trip. As we walked up the hill to ‘Upcott,’ her excitement grew in parallel with my detachment.

Don’t get me wrong. My love for my wife means I love doing anything which helps me know her better, including understanding her past. But I could never ‘love’ Upcott or Oakdown as she loves them. And she will never ‘love’ Mosely Shoals as I love it.

Joy and loneliness lie side by side in nostalgia’s memory lane. Yet what cannot be shared in looking back can unite in looking forward. In his analysis of nostalgia, CS Lewis believed this reality is not found in the beauty of that which is past, but the longing it creates. “For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

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