Radio Quarantine – William Basinski: Lamentations (2020)

The first time I heard Disintegration Loops by WILLIAM BASINSKI, I seem to recall praising it for being atmospheric in the sense of creating an open, almost infinite space. Lamentations, true to the title, has walls of grief around it. It’s enclosed and almost claustrophobic, like the emotion itself. It’s dark, as opposed to the light of Disintegration Loops. The sounds turn back in on themselves. They devour themselves. Perhaps, as a 2020 release, it’s meant to capture the strangeness of sitting in quarantine, watching the narratives of our world crumble. The captions on Bandcamp used the term ‘abysmal beauty’ and that is apt. It works, whether or not that was the intent.

It didn’t occur to me, leaving the office back in March and telling a handful of co-workers that we would see each other in a week or two, that we would still be scattered about in December. If you want to make God laugh, tell him about our plans for tomorrow, is what The Crocodiles would tell me in a situation like this. This doesn’t make me sad, per se, but it’s been an adventure in inner space. For all the freedoms this time has offered, there has almost been too much time for reflection and introspection. Ideas turn back in on themselves and devour each other, leaving nothing but remains and dulled feelings. Now that’s been soundtracked also.

I’ve been thinking a lot these last couple days, about my own warnings about nostalgia. I’ve spoken about it and written about it so many times but it seems the right words have never come. The word nostalgia literally means homesickness and the longing to return to another time. It’s a common affliction and it has been the theme of countless songs, and paintings and stories. I will maintain though that it’s mostly a romantic lie, or at least that is the case more often than not.

My own reflections on my past have unearthed so many fond memories and they are memories that I will treasure for as long as I have a memory. There is a broader picture though and it is one of grief and lament and longing to escape and be free. That’s what makes the memories all the more valuable now, that the human spirit could find moment of joy in the most horrid, dire situations. There are no delusions though and no nostalgia.

There is no deep longing to return to those times.

Imagine spending decades in prison. You wake up some mornings to a beautiful sunlight and breeze and the sound of birds coming in through the caged windows. You lie down in your cell after dinner and perhaps there is a sunset that you can see. You have good feelings. Maybe you were out in the yard that afternoon with your friends, playing ball, or laughing an joking and sharing your dreams for the future. You talk about what you miss and what you will do when and if you are ever released. You fall asleep feeling good about the day.

Do you want to return to prison to relive that day? Or will you just hold onto the memory of that day and cherish it. Is it possible that you will ever ache to relive that day? My guess is that the answer is a strong no, no matter how bad a day you’re having or maybe it’s a long string of days. Nostalgia can be a tricky bastard that way. You have to view the whole picture or you are simply lying to yourself.

Rose-colored glasses, indeed.

I am a very sentimental man. There is no part of my life that wasn’t full of very special moments that I will struggle with all my might to hold onto. A tremendous amount of work was put into excavating those memories from an otherwise troubled past, whereas for a long time there had been a determination to trash the lot. That former period left me alienated from myself though so the labor put into salvage was well worth it.

I am not a nostalgic man. There is no period of time that I would return to. There are people I wish were still in my life. Many just drifted away, or I let them drift as I worked to escape where I was mentally and emotionally. A good number took their own exit to explore different paths. Some simply died. That’s how life goes. I am not a nostalgic man, though. I don’t lie to myself. I will lament the loss of these people, the way a sentimental man will. My love for them is as unwavering as their impact on my life. I wouldn’t repeat the rest to be among them again though. When I find myself feeling nostalgia I pause to view the entire picture.

So perhaps that finally covers it, this fear of lying to myself. Maybe it steels me to the point where further exploration is possible. I don’t know.

An article for a point of reference that let’s me know that I’m not alone in these feelings about nostalgia: WHEN NOSTALGIA WAS CONSIDERED A DEBILITATING DISEASE

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