A couple weeks ago, legendary shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine released their first album in twenty-two years. The press surrounding the release of m b v was as extensive as any I’ve seen for a musical release in quite a long time. Why? What’s the big deal about this band coming back after so long?
First, a disclaimer: I’m really only using My Bloody Valentine’s new album as a springboard for less musical ideas, so if you’re looking for an album review, I apologize. Go read Pitchfork or SPIN or Rolling Stone. That being said, I am a huge fan of My Bloody Valentine and would highly recommend the new album to anyone looking to get their shoegaze (read: “loud, distorted guitar noise”) on. But I digress.
Last time we heard from My Bloody Valentine was the year 1991, when their groundbreaking shoegaze masterpiece Loveless hit the airwaves. Now, in early 2013, they’ve returned. I saw my Facebook feed light up with hundreds of updates from my late-teen peers, each one of them raving about this new album. When the band released a free stream of the album online, their website crashed almost immediately. I’ll admit, I too was in on the madness, and I tried my fair share of times to refresh the page in hopes of hearing those new tunes.
The most logical reason I can muster for my eagerness at hearing the new My Bloody Valentine album is as follows: the last time they released music, I really enjoyed it. I was hoping for more of those great tunes. But there’s more to it than that, and I’m fairly certain that little extra had something to do with the I’m-a-child-of-the-90s-and-man-that-was-the-best-decade-ever-and-I-sure-miss-it phenomenon. Here’s the curious part: I was born in 1992, which means I was only eight years old when the new millennium rolled around, leaving the 90s nothing but a distant, hazy set of memories for me. And what’s more, My Bloody Valentine’s last album was released in 1991, before I was alive!
How could I possibly feel nostalgia for something I didn’t even experience until long after that something had actually occurred? How many of us watch Mad Men or listen to Led Zeppelin and just think to ourselves, “Man, if only I had been alive back then?” This form of retroactive nostalgia is perhaps even more powerful than nostalgia for things we’ve actually experienced. It allows us to create a deeply personal history, to construct from secondhand memories a past that is equal parts beautiful and elusive. It is the best possible way to remember the past: in one’s on mind.
Nostalgia has by necessity two key facets: the brain’s ability to hold memories and the actual existence of the memories themselves. Around this time in our lives—that is to say, the late teens and early twenties, our college years—is the prime phase for the inundation of nostalgia. We’ve had a couple decades of memories to sort through, and our minds are at their primes in regards to processing and responding to memories. I know what I like, and I remember what I remember, so I can pick and choose, separate the good from the bad. Suddenly, my selective memory kicks into gear, and once that happens, I’m only remembering the good things that happened in the past! And, boy, doesn’t the past look nice now! After all, it’s made up almost entirely of either traumatic events that we can’t avoid or the awesome movies, music, books, and memories that happened in years past. Supposedly we are shaped by the past, as if it were some uncontrollable force of nature that molded us like Play Doh over the years into some unseemly shape that we could not possibly have foreseen. Maybe there’s an element of truth to that. But maybe there’s more. Maybe, while our past shapes us, we can shape our past. We can paint a picture that becomes something manageable and beautiful. Something we enjoy looking back upon and then somehow try to recreate as we step forward.
So here’s what I say: embrace the nostalgia. It’s all around you anyway, in fashion, in film, in our lives. We create our future based on our pasts, and My Bloody Valentine has tapped into that wishful vein at just the right time. When something like a long-lost favorite band returns to the scene from the depths of your nostalgic memory, the best response you can have is sheer fanboy excitement: here is that wonderful memory returned in the flesh! We can actually experience it in the here and now, so go forth and experience it. Here are your beautiful memories coming to greet you in person, ready and willing to continue this story of nostalgia. Now go. Go listen to My Bloody Valentine, in 2013, and let the past and the future collide into a breathless moment of nostalgic bliss.