This article originally appeared in “The Mashup,” my weekly newspaper column for Florida Weekly.
It’s human nature to remember the positives from past experiences while conveniently forgetting the negatives. I’m not talking about aspects of experiences that were generally unpleasant: it’s doubtful that a nice receptionist is going to be foremost in your mind after getting a root canal that required 20 ampoules of Novocain to keep your yelling down to a level that wouldn’t empty the waiting room.
But it’s different when an experience was generally positive. In those cases, people tend to view the past through somewhat rose-tinted glasses. If you think about it though, there are probably excellent reasons your broke up with your exes, your first car likely broke down a lot more than you recall, and Wallabees weren’t the most stylish footwear on the market. So in general, it’s not a bad idea to enjoy the memories but leave the past behind.
Except, that is, when it isn’t. There are moments, usually completely unexpected, when rediscovering something from the past delivers an experience much better than remembered. This happened to me recently, and it was enjoyable enough to warrant creating the following short list.
It doesn’t comprise things that I’m claiming are necessarily the best in their respective categories, and I’m not trying to make a point that somehow the past is better than the present. These are just a few things my past that have, for me, more than lived up to their memories and I think they’re well worth taking the time to rediscover. They’re also, I think, things that anyone who missed them the first time around really ought to take the time to investigate.
David Bowie – “Ziggy Stardust” I remember watching a local news report when I was about 10 and David Bowie’s tour in support of the Ziggy Stardust album came to Madison Square Garden. The interviewer was speaking to a young woman, probably 18 or 19 years old, on her way into the show. Her face was painted, she wore gold sparkly makeup and silver clothes, and I recall her saying something along the lines of: “No, man, I’m just a space traveler, Bowie’s the commander.” “Why, that old lady’s some sort of freak,” I thought.
But a year or two later I discovered Bowie thanks to the song “Changes,” and subsequently purchased every record from Hunky Dory-on that I could, right up until 1983. That was the year I drove from Sarah Lawrence College to New York City just to grab the new 12-inch release of “Let’s Dance,” only to get back to my dorm room, play it once, and fall into a deep depression.
This was the man that released the German trilogy? That released Scary Monsters? But the sappiness of Let’s Dance doesn’t detract in the least from the brilliance of “Ziggy Stardust.” It’s an amazing album well worth listening to with more mature ears. The arrangements are beautiful, Mick Ronson’t guitar work was ground-breaking, and the record helped define an entire genre of music.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see the incredible influence this release had. It’s a record that can still impress someone that’s heard it enough to know every note, and it’s accessible enough to capture the attention of a teen ager. For those familiar with it, it will bring back memories of a time that anything seemed possible with the right soundtrack.
For those for whom it’s new, I envy you: the feeling of discovering something this good that you never knew existed is fantastic.
Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath” Remember what happened the first time you heard Sabbath? You were probably in the back seat of a friend’s Nova, engaging in behavior that may not have risen to the level of strictly legal, and your mind melted right there onto the vinyl backseat. I have news for you: it’s still that good.
Different from anything else out at the time, and arguably the first major band to explore themes as dark as insanity, Sabbath is like no other band. Ever. I recently started listening to their first album, and it’s fantastic; far better than I remember.
Some reviewers seem to think it borders on self-indulgent, but so what? It comes across just as dark, anguished, heavy and beautiful as it did 40 years ago (yes, it really has been that long, the eponymous album was released in 1970), and listening to it simultaneously intimidates you and makes you feel like a badass. If you haven’t heard it since high school, get out the vinyl or download it immediately: I can guarantee you it will give you the same feeling of shock and awe you got years ago.
And if you’re too young to know Ozzy Osbourne as anyone but the sketchy character from the MTV reality series, you absolutely need to find out who he really is. Some people claim Sabbath’s second album, “Paranoid,” is their best effort (and it is a fantastic record), but I say start at the beginning and grab their first. The rawness, musicianship, and the bite on Cream (check out the riff on N.I.B.) make it more fun than a barrel of Dutch monkeys.
Just be careful with the actual CD: place it too close to one of the myriad pretenders to Sabbath’s throne that has appeared in the last four decades and it will actually eat the CD and spit the liner notes at you.
Avoid: Any Captain & Tennille whatsoever: There may be some small part of you that thinks it would be kitschy and fun to revisit the innocence of this twosome’s hit singles. Fight that part of you with every ounce of strength you have. If you think it couldn’t be worse than “Love Will Keep Us Together?” You’ve clearly blocked out “Do That To Me One More Time” and the insipid “Muskrat Love.”
Redeeming only if you accidentally ingest poison and have no ipecac, in which case it may save your life. Young people looking for evidence that the older generation really don’t know anything may want to give it a listen though: the good Cap’n and his muse sold millions of records to people your parents’ age.
Saturday Night Live, Seasons 2-5: Yes, I am aware that Chevy Chase was only there for the first season, but he wasn’t the reason to watch the show, and SNL really found its rhythm in season two. The ensemble cast was, of course, fantastic but it was the writing that carried SNL. In those early seasons, Michael O’Donohue was head writer, and a more twisted, brilliant satirist is tough to find anywhere, anytime, with the exception of perhaps Matt Stone and Trey Parker (creators and writers of “South Park”).
Since the original cast left there have been brilliant and hilarious moments, but anyone too young to know the Belushi and Aykroyd years can learn an awful lot about comedy and satire from those early episodes. Even without knowing the context, sketches like point/counter-point, Aykroyd’s sleazy toy salesman (he sold a toy called “Bag O’ Glass” which was… a bag of broken glass), Bill Murray’s lounge singer and almost anything with the late John Belushi or Gilda Radner stand up as some of the strongest comedy ever on television.
SNL’s first five years changed a lot about TV and a lot about comedy, and they’re well worth revisiting or discovering (they’re available on Hulu).
Avoid: M*A*S*H* after the first couple of seasons. This may bring me some hate mail, but the bottom line is this: while M*A*S*H* was never completely terrible, it transitioned from an extremely fine comedy in the early years (when McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers were in the cast) to a horribly preachy ego-boosting vehicle for Alan Alda.
Those later episodes come off even more irritating now than they did when they were first broadcast. Watching them will make any fan of the early years wish that Radar’s announcement about Colonel Blake’s plane (“it spun in, there were no survivors”) referred to the entire show. People too young to have watched the majority of seasons missed little beyond a series of patronizing lessons on morality, and Mr. Rogers was a far less annoying source of those.
(And in brief) Meat:
Rediscover Club Sandwiches – fresh turkey, lettuce, tomato and bacon on white toast, cut diagonally into quarters. Dip in mayo and pretend you’re Jay Gatsby. Way better than the simplicity would lead you to believe.
Avoid the McRib – there’s a reason McDonald’s keeps killing it, now it just needs to stay dead. Dip one in anything and pretend you’re in prison. Way worse than your memory would lead you to believe.