This varied and diverse collection
of articles focuses on the wide-ranging phenomenon of nostalgia in a number of national, international and transnational contexts. Engaging with and building on existing studies in disciplines as different yet as complementary as popular music studies, cultural studies, psychological studies and consumer/marketing research, it aims to contribute further towards defining the burgeoning field of popular-music-related nostalgia.
It goes almost without saying that the study of nostalgia is now a well-established area of intellectual enquiry, although still a field in which new approaches and insights are being provided. One of the “problems” of talking about nostalgia is that everyone seems to know what it means in general, but it is still a concept that requires constant discussion in order to grasp its slippery polysemy. The authors in this current collection of studies all “discuss their terms” in different ways, within the context of their individual analyses, but here we offer the briefest of overviews, as a way of approaching our subject. Defined broadly as “a sentimental longing for one’s past” (Sedikides et al., 2008a: 305), the term is now widely regarded as a “common” “”emotion” or “experience” (Wildschut et al., 2006: 980, 981; 2010: 582). As Constantine Sedikides et al. observe, nostalgia was “regarded throughout centuries as a psychological ailment” (2008a: 307), most notably “equated with homesickness” (2008a: 304). Moreover, as Barbara Lebrun comments, drawing on David Lowenthal (1985: xi and 13),
The notion of nostalgia is traditionally defined as the consciousness of a malaise in the present, and as the selective and imaginary mental reconstruction in the present in order to alleviate this unease (2009a: 42).
Several commentators have also viewed nostalgia in ambivalent terms as “bittersweet” (Hirsch, 1992; Baker and Kennedy, 1994; Madrigal and Boerstler, 2007), combining “joy and sadness” (Barrett et al., 2010: 390, 400, 401?2), “disenchantment” and the “desire for re-enchantment”, “a sense of longing associated with the future” and “loss associated with the past” (Pickering and Keightley, 2006: 936), as well as “progressive, even utopian impulses” and “regressive stances and melancholic attitudes” (Ibid.: 919). More positively however, Sedikides et al. also observe, that nostalgia is now “emerging as a fundamental human strength” and is recognised as fulfilling several “psychological functions” (2008a: 307).
Several categories or divisions of nostalgia have been highlighted in academic accounts of the phenomenon. Fred Davis identifies three orders of nostalgia : simple, reflexive and interpreted. As Davis comments, first-order or simple nostalgia “harbors the largely unexamined belief that things were better (more beautiful) (healthier) (happier) (more civilised) (more exciting) then than now” (1979: 18). In second-order or reflexive nostalgia, the individual raises “questions concerning the truth, accuracy, completeness or representativeness of the nostalgic claim” (Ibid.: 21). Third-order or interpreted nostalgia “moves beyond issues of the historical accuracy or felicity of the nostalgic claim on the past and, even as the reaction unfolds, questions and, potentially at least, renders problematic the very reaction itself” (Ibid.: 24).
In a similar vein, Svetlana Boym distinguishes between two forms of nostalgia. The first, restorative nostalgia, “stresses nostos (home) and attempts a trans-historical reconstruction of the lost home”, “does not think of itself as nostalgia, but rather as truth and tradition, and “is at the core of recent national and religious revivals”. The second form, reflective nostalgia, “thrives on algia (the longing itself) and delays the homecoming ? wistfully, ironically, desperately”, “dwells on the ambivalences of human longing and belonging and does not shy away from the contradictions of modernity”, and “calls [the truth] into doubt” (2001: xviii).
Further distinctions have been drawn between nostalgia, which is experienced first-hand (“real” nostalgia) and that which is experienced second-hand via the recollections and reminiscences of other individuals – what may be termed “simulated” (Baker and Kennedy, 1994) or “vicarious” nostalgia (Goulding, 2002), or “historical nostalgia”, “in which the past is defined as a time before the audience was born” (Stern, 1992).
Nostalgia has also been viewed as individually and/or collectively experienced or, to use Jose van Dijck’s terms “individually embodied” and “culturally embedded” (2006: 359). When nostalgia is experienced individually, concerning “personally relevant events” (Sedikides et al., 2004: 205), the emotion has been regarded effectively as a “cushion” (Bose Godbole et al., 2006: 630) – one that “buffers existential threat” (Juhl et al., 2010) or offers a “self-protection mechanism against death-related concerns” (Routledge et al., 2008: 137). For certain commentators, nostalgia is also experienced particularly during times of disruption, discontinuity (Davis, 1979: 34?5) or instability, particularly when “societies” are “in turmoil … experiencing troubles, turbulence and transformation” (Brown, 1999: 368). Nostalgia is identified as a response to the “uncertainties” (Pickering and Keightley, 2006: 920) or “challenges and threats” of the “present” (Vess et al., 2010: 9), and, more specifically, to modernity (as well as late modernity) with “its relentless social uprooting and erosion of time-honoured stabilities” (Pickering and Keightley, 2006: 922; see also 938). More positively, studies have shown that “nostalgic reverie is a crucial vehicle for maintaining and fostering self-continuity over time and in the face of change” (Sedikides et al., 2008b: 230), countering loneliness and increasing social connectedness and support (Zhou et al., 2008; Wildschut et al., 2010: 582).
Other accounts have differentiated between nostalgia and other similar or related terms. For example, Sedikides et al. highlight the difference between “reminiscence and autobiographical memory”, which “are acts of remembering specific events in one’s life, including the order of their occurrence”, and nostalgia, which “goes well beyond memory veracity or temporal ordering of past events. It is centred on personally relevant events, is dipped in affect, and serves vital existential functions” (Sedikides et al., 2004: 205). Nostalgia is also to be distinguished from retro, which adopts a more detached or ironic view of its subject. For example, as Elizabeth E. Guffey argues:
Where nostalgia is linked to a romantic sensibility that resonates with ideas of exile and longing, retro tempers these associations with a heavy dose of cynicism or detachment; although retro looks back to earlier periods, perhaps its most enduring quality is its ironic stance. (2006: 20; see also Brown, 1999, and Reynolds, 2011: xxx-xxxi).
Furthermore, as a perennial feature of the popular-music field, nostalgia has assumed during recent years an increasing prominence within many national contexts. Existing studies have, for example, explored how nostalgia contributes to the development and status of particular popular music forms and genres. Barbara Lebrun’s study of French chanson néo-réaliste, which rose to prominence during the 1990s (e.g. Pigalle, Les Négresses Vertes, and Têtes Raides), indeed highlights the “incoherences” and “contradictions” of the genre, which is “reactionary and rebellious, old-school and modern, elitist and collective” and combines nostalgia, conservatism, protest and distinction/cultural exclusivity (2009b: 59-60).
The role of popular music nostalgia in identity formation has also been a further concern. As Tia DeNora observes,
Music can be used as a device for the reflexive process of remembering/constructing who one is, a technology for spinning the apparently continuous tale of who one is [and as] a device for the generation of future identity and action structures, a mediator of future existence” (2000: 63).
Andy Bennett focuses on
how the increasing dominance of the retro market in contemporary popular culture is enabling respective post-war generations effectively to relive their youth and to engage in nostalgic representations of what it means to be young, on “how such nostalgic perceptions impact on perceptions of contemporary youth”
which leads him to question “the validity of terms such as “Generation X” (2001: 153).
Media/internet coverage of popular music nostalgia is particularly extensive in many national contexts. Chris Tinker (2012) has, for example, examined the significance of popular music nostalgia on French television, particularly following the launch of the successful Âge Tendre et Têtes de Bois (“Young and Headstrong”, David Looseley’s translation) series of concert tours and holiday cruises. Such coverage has several functions: to represent the past more positively than the present (“simple nostalgia”), emphasise joy rather than the “bitter-sweetness” often associated with it, represent a fantasy return to youth, and promote social and cross-generational cohesion. Coverage also supports popular music nostalgia as a commercial force but problematises its status within the wider musical and cultural field.
Of particular importance are the ways in which popular music nostalgia is experienced by listeners and consumers. Holbrook and Schindler describe, for example, how
via a process called nostalgic bonding, a consumer’s history of personal interaction with a product during a critical period of preference formation that occurs roughly in the vicinity of age 20 (give or take a few years in either direction) can create a lifelong preference for that object (2006: 109).
Cases include informants who “experienced strong nostalgic bonding with musical recordings”, a young DJ who “describes his endless hours spent with a particular mixing device” and a bass fiddle/double bass player in New York who “focuses on a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) button given to street musicians who perform in the subway” (Ibid.: 119-120). Arno van der Hoeven examines the development of cultural memories of 1990s dance music in the Netherlands, drawing on in-depth interviews with audiences, DJs and organisers of dance events, distinguishing between “decade-parties”, in which “reflective nostalgia” “playfully refers to the passing of popular styles, songs and fashions”, and the “restorative nostalgia” of “early-parties”, which “aim to excavate original house sounds” (2014: 328).
A further – more institutional – dimension of the imbrication of nostalgia and popular music is the way in which public policy has gradually developed definitions of heritage which extend to cover fields of popular cultural practice and forms, specifically allowing popular music artists, genres and works to be included not only in private/commercial “Halls of Fame”, but also in official institutions supported by cultural policy. In the UK, the National Centre for Popular Music was a short-lived example of this trend but in other established museums, popular music is increasingly “remembered” either through special collections, or simply made more visible through curatorial devices such as the V&A museum’s “subject hub” for Pop and Rock music. In France, the Cité de la musique has established a successful intermingling of celebration, education and nostalgia through temporary exhibitions devoted to pop music artists and genres. Nostalgia is a component in the transformation of popular music into heritage.