It feels like I only go backwards, baby—Kevin Parker / Tame Impala
Every part of me says, “Go ahead”
I got my hopes up again, oh no, not again
Feels like we only go backwards, darling
I’ve been watching movies on most Friday nights during quarantine. Last night, picking a film seemed hard and staying awake for it seemed unlikely. Instead, I browsed a collection of video playlists I didn’t know were on my TV’s Apple Music app. The top playlists starred musicians whose careers I hadn’t followed, artists I knew as celebrities with no connection to their sound. But soon I found two playlists I was curious to play out of pure nostalgia: Classic Indie Videos, and ’80s New Wave Videos.
With these videos on in the background, I sat down with popcorn and my reading list. Top of the list was to learn more about hauntology, a concept an old friend mentioned in an email this week. She was speaking in terms of activism, the idea that we fight the last battle, are stuck trying to get to a utopian future that is no longer possible to get to because it was a vision from a time in the past. New utopias are possible, but they require looking at the present with clear eyes rather than holding on to the past.
Writing new utopias is how Future Cartographic started, so the idea is one I’m interested in. And this series began with a haunted memory of losing the election of 2004. But last night the cursory internet research on the topic was overwhelming for a sleepy Friday night. Mark Fisher is the author my friend mentioned, and I started with this interview. Much of the online conversation about hauntology is tied to culture, and music in particular says Fisher:
I mean, the whole 21st century music scene could be described as nostalgic: where is the sense of the future now? Today, if you ask people what is “futuristic music,” they would reply electronic music from the 90s, or even Kraftwerk, and stuff like that. In a way, we still rely on an old future.
The video playlist included a number of songs I love and short films I had either never seen or had forgotten about. Others were vivid in my memory. When they were new to me, they offered the promise of a future filled with unending surprises in sound and film and art. Many were low tech — “lo-fi” and grunge sounds, videos with no special effects — and showed the potential for making your own media before iPhones and ubiquitous internet.
But now, these videos are mainly a comfort. They remind me of past selves: The Breeders’ Cannonball directed by Spike Jonze, which reminds me of eating with college friends next to a dining hall video jukebox in Wisconsin; Depeche Mode, Cure, and Smiths videos, which remind me of dancing at the Black Cat here in D.C. pre-quarantine — dance nights themselves oozing with nostalgia (for me) for hanging out and going to shows in Minneapolis in the 1990s; Mazzy Star, whose CDs I played night after night as I drifted to sleep when they were new.
Music videos are not something I think about much these days, but I do pay attention to new music. I wrote earlier about my boss in a 1996 mailroom who was attached to his classic rock radio station. I understand the desire to surround yourself with pleasant and comforting associations from the past. But new futures, a path forward, imagining utopia, requires pushing past nostalgia to understand the present.