Were The Good Old Days Really That Good?

From my column in the Albert Lea Tribune, Monday August 29, 2016

bobby vintonNostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. Nostalgia was what I felt as I spent the day painting my porch this past week.

I like to paint when it has creativity involved, but it doesn’t take much creativity to slap some white paint over worn white paint. Yes, I like to see the change in the appearance, but getting there is a little boring to me. So I turned on the tunes on my Amazon Music and set it to a ‘60s station so I could enjoy the beautiful weather and make my painting sentence a little lighter.

I flashed back to my teenage years. I listened to “Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton and remembered exactly who I had a crush on and danced with to that song. As I was listening, I also flashed back to what was happening in the world. I don’t think back then in my ninth-grade mind, I connected the words to what was happening in the world. “Mr. Lonely” is about a lonely soldier far away, wanting to be back home and feeling forgotten. The Vietnam War was raging, and I imagine many solders felt that way for many reasons, one of which, they were fighting an unpopular war and were not appreciated. I might not have figured that out in my ninth-grade mind, but I got it on this beautiful afternoon in 2016. It could be a song from a soldier today.

One of the lines hit me, in which the soldier laments he gets no letters in the mail. There was no quick internet chats or email, just snail mail during the Vietnam War, and I remember how long it took for letters to get to someone I loved who was serving in the war. It seemed forever to receive word from those special people to know they were fine and safe, yet because of the time, circumstances might have changed by the time the letter arrived.

As I sang to some of the other songs (I hope the neighbors didn’t hear my off key voice) I wondered why my parents let me listen to some of them. Some songs by popular artists were about drugs and the psychedelic experience. I don’t think my parents had a clue because they didn’t think to listen to the music or they must have tuned it out when I had the radio playing, or they didn’t understand it. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so upset about the heavy metal songs a couple of my children listened to in the ‘80s. It was kind of like calling the kettle black.

I remembered a hit of nostalgia a few years ago at my place of work. It was in the same building as my teen center years, and a song came on the radio as I was working at my desk. I had a flashback to being in the same building at the same spot when I heard the song when I was 16 years old. I never thought when I was 16 I would be sitting at the same place, in the same building years later.

As I kept my paintbrush moving, I thought about my best friend, Karen, who I shared many of my days with in the ‘60s. She is no longer living, but I felt she was right there with me when certain songs played. I wanted to call another of my ‘60s friends, Linda, but I didn’t want to put down my brush for fear I wouldn’t pick it back up again. I wanted to share a time we were driving around the countryside on a warm summer night listening to a song from Donovan. Or “Summer in the City” by the Lovin Spoonful.

There are moments when I listen to the music from my youth, and it makes me sad because we can’t go back and relive those times or be with some of the people who were an important part of our lives back then. It reminds me I am getting older. But the painting day wasn’t one of those times. Listening to my music brought back memories of a time when I didn’t know as much as I do today. A time where I hadn’t experienced as much of life, and it felt like the future held so much hope. After all, we were going to change the world because the generation before us caused all the problems that we were being faced with in those tender young years. We were going to solve those problems.

Some things never change. The generation of today blames my generation for the problems they are facing today, and the young ones feel they will be the ones to fix it. My generation should understand their blame because we experienced the same feelings.

I thought of the race riots of the ‘60s and the threat of the Vietnam war. In 2016 we still have race riots, and we still have war.

My day of nostalgia reminded me the more things are different, the more they stay the same. New problems exist, and old problems rear their ugly head. Each generation shares experiences and hopes and dreams as did the previous generation.

Parents will always question the music of the youth. Youth will always question the decisions of the past generation. People will always fight for a better future and will always protest when they feel there is a wrong needed to be made right.

As much as I remember with longing the years of my youth with my music, when I now listen to the lyrics they remind me “the good old days” had their problems too. Time and age make them seem more idyllic. Music always made me feel better when my heart was shattered over some trivial teenage thing. Music now makes me feel better when my heart is shattered over mind-bending life disasters. That is another timeless treasure which has not changed.

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