In Essays, Innovation

A live band’s recreation of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album a few nights ago made me sad.

Turns out I experienced an affliction called nostalgia, which was first diagnosed in the mid-17th Century to describe the feelings of melancholy among Swiss mercenaries far from home. It can more broadly involve wistful recollections of past times, whether real or imagined.

Only I’m not one to dwell on the past much; happy memories make me smile, and I wince now and then over others, but I tend to plan for the future while living in the present. I truly don’t think that things were better when I was younger, even if eating and drinking came with fewer side effects.

But there I was, strolling around an outdoor, park-like concert venue on a beautiful summer’s night, and it hit me that maybe I missed this music.

It just didn’t make sense.

The Beatles broke up when I was ten and, while my first 45 was Let It Be, I spent my teenage years listening to bands like Deep Purple and Yes. The Beatles seemed anchored in another time altogether, and I had no broader, fond notions about what life had been like then.

I discovered their music as I got older, and learned to love a lot of it (the early stuff still sounds too antediluvian to me), and I have the capacity to hear it any time I want, courtesy of iTunes and Spotify. Ticket to Ride is among the top twenty songs of all time, but I don’t play it often, nor do I reminisce about the 1960s now that I know more about the era.

Frankly, I ponder what it would have been like to live in Paris between world wars, or in Philadelphia during the American Revolution.

Classic Albums Live, the group behind the music, specializes in producing “note-for-note, cut for cut” recreations of albums by Boomer bands like Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Fleetwood Mac. That also means recreating all of the studio tricks which, in the case of the Beatles’ producer genius George Martin, involves snippets of string parts played backwards and various interstitial sound effects.

They’re really good at what they do, and that’s the problem.

The music was perfect, but the experience was ersatz…the Beatles were noticeably absent from the stage, as was any hint of improvisation or a missed note. Even the fade-outs at the ends of songs were mimicked.

It wasn’t a performance by an old band marching through their greatest hits with the assistance of hearing aids, pitch correction software, and studio musicians without arthritis. It was a complete auditory simulation.

The music made me nostalgic for reality.

I missed the truthfulness of experience that isn’t modified by convention, or manipulated by someone else’s intent. I missed being immersed in one moment that didn’t have a preordained outcome, and not knowing what the next would bring. I missed the real feelings of a here and now, and found myself instead in a make-believe sometime when.

I wonder if people who feel nostalgic are really pining for such verisimilitude? If so, it suggests a simple solution:

I’m enjoying listening to the Beatles as I type this, but what makes me feel good is the reality of writing a sentence that I’ve just invented.

Creativity is the cure for nostalgia.

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