Speaking of college, we stopped by the old alma mater on the way down to NC the first Sunday of vacation. We’ve done this before and doubtless will do it again; it’s a convenient halfway point where we can grab lunch at one of the campus-accessible watering holes, and then meander through campus itself which is pleasant and charming for my wife and myself, and a reasonably safe traffic-free place for the kids to run around and get some carseat fatigue out of their respective systems.
I started my freshman year of college twenty years ago, right around this time of year, and that is fairly mindboggling. It means it’s statistically likely that the bar where we ate lunch has waitresses on staff now who weren’t even born back when I was getting kicked out of said bar for clumsy attempts at underage drinking. Time keeps on slipping and we slide along with it, but it does manage to catch me off guard every now and then.
The bar still has a jukebox soundsystem which plays pretty much round the clock (or at least round the hours of operation), so we had a soundtrack for our mid-roadtrip repast. At one point a fairly recent tune came through the speakers and my brain went immediately into an involuntary rejection reaction. I simply could not reconcile those particular environs with pop music released in this century, let alone this year. Which is deeply weird, because it’s not as if the entire college town is frozen in amber by any means. The road into town from the highway has had businesses come and go over the past couple decades (mostly restaurants; no such thing as Chipotle back when I was a student but you better believe there’s one now) and the campus itself has had old lecture halls and dorms refurbished and new ones constructed. Even the bar has changed somewhat. Not the layout, and not the menu (thank goodness) but certain elements of the décor: old boxy tv’s replaced by hi-def flatscreens with satellite hookups, and more recent photos of student athletes rotating in and bumping older ones from their places of honor on the walls. And I take all of those things in stride.
But for some reason, the music just occupies a more primal place in my memories, I guess. It feels fundamentally wrong to sit in one of those booths and hear any songs in the air that weren’t released prior to my graduation. Oldies are fine, even songs from before I was born, because they were always part of the bar scene soundtrack back in those pre-commencement days, too. But post-millennial pop? Not the place, not at all. It feels alien.
I recognized the absurdity of this line of thinking immediately, and didn’t even feel the need to comment on it to my wife across the table in the moment (and I babble to her pretty much non-stop, so that is a very low bar to fail to clear). It’s one of the many things I’m inconsistent about, I guess. In the abstract, I’m quick to mock irrational nostalgic attachment to anything in anyone, myself included, with the hope that I don’t really fall prey to such regressive thinking all that often. Then lo and behold, a situation comes along where I fall prey like a slow, fat ungulate. I don’t turn my nose up at new music and in fact make certain efforts, however small and sporadic, to stay at least peripherally aware of what the kids are listening to now and not turn into that guy who just listens over and over again to the same old CD’s or MP3’s he bought back when new music appealed to him (inevitably translated as “in college or shortly thereafter”). But it seems that when I’m back in a physical location that’s much more a part of my memories than part of my current life, I subconsciously expect auditory reinforcement of that. I realized the short-order cook who I knew by name couldn’t live forever, and obviously the classmates who were waitresses in the 90’s have all moved on and probably gotten careers and families just like I did. It makes no sense whatsoever to not similarly anticipate that whoever has been in charge of the jukebox at the bar would update the selections as twenty years roll by. I get that, I do.
But music apparently plays by its own rules, according to my gut. Considering how I’ve been obsessing lately about my own deteriorating memory, and my need to re-read books and re-watch movies that I’m losing, it’s interesting and a little bit heartening to realize there’s another area of my brain that’s got a much higher retention percentage. Still crazy, but at least a different kind of crazy, and I am nothing if not someone who prizes variety.