Jason Isbell On Nostalgia

I got all excited the other day because A. there was a new Jason Isbell interview on Sound Opinions, B. a re-release of one of my favorite Drive-By Truckers’ albums (Isbell’s old band), and C. I had enough time to listen to some of each. 

Cover me up in a warm blanket of sweet nostalgic bliss. 

And then, partway through the podcast, Isbell starts talking about the problems with nostalgia. 

Suds me up with bursted nostalgia bubble soap. Damnit. Didn’t know I was going to therapy. It’s his Running With Your Eyes closed documentary all over again. 

He calls nostalgia “one of those accidents of privilege.” He makes an evolutionary psychology argument for how in the cave, the closest to reminiscing we got was painting pictures on walls of what to remember to kill or avoid. 

Talk about recording your hits. 

But the core issue he has with nostalgia is, being nostalgic is not seeing any other perspective than your own. When you’re romanticizing your view of the past, you’re being inconsiderate to the other people in the story. 

Yes, a songwriter who regularly performs beautiful story-songs is saying this. 

Nostalgia isn’t bad, but it can be a trap. Here’s the nuance I wasn’t expecting (and only understanding after revisiting my notes) – 

He brings up pictures of babies. They’re great memories. But the kids grow up. If you keep thinking of kids as babies or adults as children, nostalgia is a trap. Your nostalgic perspective can influence your present relationships. 

Nostalgia can trick you into never learning, only pining. 

Nostalgia can steal the agency of others. 

Nostalgia can isolate you from being present in honest relationships. 

Isbell can and should play “Cover Me Up” every night. But he has to remember it’s a snapshot. Taken from his perspective. 

In the moment, it’s a tool. And what matters is that moment, with the audience, in the present, looking at the picture, together, holding space for everyone to have their own private, yet shared, experience and perspective. 

He ends his nostalgia thoughts with some inspired advice, “At least have some new problems.”

Words to live by. Paint the past on the wall. Sing about it if you want. But don’t forget, life is happening in the present. Remember to live there, or more clearly, here.  

h/t Sound Opinions for the Isbell interview

speaking of nostalgia, and kids, and everything in this post…