Embracing the Art of Survival by Nostalgia
One of the ways JB and I are dealing with All This is by taking several steps backwards and immersing ourselves in the halcyon days that were The 90s. I know, based on the stupid amount of time I’m spending on Twitter, that we are not the only ones to seek refuge in what was not just a simpler time, but for our generation (tag end of GenX), the only period of real hope that we lived through. I’ve written a fair bit about the difficulty of growing up in the grim grizzly grey of the 80s, and how the racism, capitalism, classism and poverty of those years shaped me, but have woefully neglected the huge impact of what came next. Sometime early in 1994, I had my Pleasantville moment (if you haven’t seen it, do) and my world slowly began to shift into colour. Less a seismic shift in the tectonic plates of the universe and more a slow, burgeoning build laced with a huge sense of anticipation, things around me that had felt distant and impossible and most often agonisingly unbearable began to offer up the smallest possibility of change. When Tony sings ‘Something’s Coming’ at the start of West Side Story, I can almost see my younger self sauntering down the road wearing a bright vintage minidress and clogs, hair swinging in the wind, on the cusp of escaping for good the vice-like grip of my brutally domineering mother and finally making my first group of actual friends.
I shall, and unapologetically so, return to further cultural references to describe the power of the cultural change that occurred in the early-mid 90s that enabled me to, in a very real sense, be alive for the first time. What made me suddenly become relatable to others wasn’t an overnight personality overhaul but the arrival of new sets of cultural markers around which our generation sparked and fused, and in which I was a genuine believer. Nirvana and the grunge scene offered me my first glimmer of a world that I could understand and belong to, and enabled me to take my first wobbly steps out of nerddom, like a real life female Marcus from About A Boy (if you haven’t read it, do). The heady days of the mid-90s Britpop revolution that followed transformed everything further – suddenly I was part of a movement, a real one that was on the news and everything. We thought we were living out the 60s all over again, we felt so important and potent and alive, like one sweating, screaming, pulsating force of nature, unified in our passion for the songs we knew better than our own thoughts. Naming every member of Menswear, Sleeper, Shed Seven and Elastica became a test of character, and high-tailing it to HMV to purchase the limited edition CD of each new release was 100% de rigeur. I have never paid so much undivided attention to music, immersing myself in every breath, every heartbeat. Lying on my bed with my eyes closed I would listen to each album over and over, then call my friends to spend hours debating favourite melodies and phrases. I can still tell if a Britpop record is even slightly out of time, and I totally kill this stuff at karaoke. My first gigs, Blur, Pulp, Oasis, felt semi-religious, all of us bound in communal hysteria, all feeling, knowing that this was something beyond ordinary. Yes, as Pulp themselves said, Something Changed.
As well as music, there were the films and TV. Tarantino was our god and we watched, re-watched, bunked off school to watch, dressed up as the characters, danced around to the soundtracks, covered our school-books with images cut from magazines and endlessly recited quotes in tandem. We were in love with Keanu Reeves and in perpetual mourning for River Phoenix. We became obsessed with Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, and thought we were dead sophisticated for immersing ourselves in the original Cool Britannia by watching old Michael Caine films. On TV it was The X Files, This Life and Friends, everyone bursting to discuss the latest developments the second the credits rolled, lazily imagining our own lives at the geriatric age of 20-something and selecting whose hair-do would suit us best.
Our outfits screamed knock-off 60s chic, a mish-mash of charity-shop finds (suddenly back in fashion) and whatever we could afford from Miss Selfridge from our crap-Saturday-job pay once we’d bought our Hooch and Chardonnay. All of us would pile into the same changing room, throw ourselves down on the ground and try things on for hours, so high on life it’s a wonder we even bothered drinking at all. Life suddenly felt like everything it was supposed to be, holding hands and singing aloud as we stumbled home barefoot in the early hours, sitting around the edge of the bathtub together rinsing our feet while trying not to fall in, and giggling stupidly long after we’d collapsed into our sleeping bags. I had finally found the hive mind I had craved as a child, and it was one of my choosing, one I believed in with all my heart.
Of course things moved on, as they do in life, and just a few years later I found myself looking back, and, to quote Hunter S Thompson, I could see the high watermark, the place where the wave finally broke (If you haven’t seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, do). Nonetheless, it makes complete sense that this is the moment I want to be in right now, the pure feelings of hope and joy whose essence I want to escape into by reimmersing myself in the cultural trappings of that time. I can forget about the in-fighting, the silly rows and endless bitching, and of course the unholy amount of puking, and just remember the beautiful shining glow of a world where (to quote HST again) everything was right, and we were winning. Nostalgia might be nothing more than an empty bubble of perfumed air, but right now I’m happy to keep breathing it in if it helps me deal with the sheer poison of living through the reality of the present.