2.12.2014

Who Cares About History?



A few years ago, my turntable broke. So I had to decide whether to buy a new one or not. I have a good amount of vinyl but, frankly, most of that stuff is available now through my Rdio app. And there's not a lot of space in my new house. So my records got relegated to the garage (I couldn't sell them; the few dollars I'd receive could not compensate for all the memories within those beautiful objects).

Once in a while, I find myself waxing on — as it were — to my son about vinyl. I'd tell him about how shopping for records in Greenwich Village was a mission, after which I'd come home with these tableaus of possibility. I'd put the record on — Jackson Browne's "The Pretender," Jethro Tull's "Minstrel in the Gallery" — and linger over every image, every word.

My kid couldn't care less. Put on Backstreet Freestyle again, Dad! he yelps from the backseat. He knows nothing of albums. He knows stars and he knows songs. Gone are the days of the record, ten songs, give or take, in such and such an order created at such and such a time. A record was a record in every sense, a marking of time for both the creator and the listener. Sure, I could lift the needle to skip a song but that's just not the same as an Rdio playlist. I created such a playlist for my kid, his favorite songs — Mackelmore, Kendrick Lamar, Queen, Kanye West, Brian Eno and REM (victories for dad!). In his mind, it's not only record shmecord. The record, in every sense of the word, is not even on his mind.

The internet promises the end of history and the end of history is what it delivers: everything at once, a radical simultaneity, an allatonceness, Mahler next to Mackelmore next to Fleetwood Mac next to Motown. I say this without judgment. In fact, I love it. I think it's beautiful to see and experience time splayed on an infinite horizon there for the taking. So why tell my kid about record?

And then, the other day, I'm driving with my boy on the 101 past Candlestick Park — now condemned — and I find myself telling him things like, Look! In that very stadium, Willy Mays played. Willy Mays! And Joe Montana! Jerry Rice! And now they're tearing it down. I have to say, my kid couldn't have been more bored. As I'm prattling on about the Stick — about Mays and Montana, about the '89 World Series earthquake — I realize that, were I not speaking, he could lead his whole life and know nothing about Candlestick Park.

And then it occurred to me: Who cares? What possible difference does it make if he's never even heard of the Stick — or Mays and Montana, for that matter? Who cares if he never knows what vinyl is? What possible difference does it make? I'm recounting tales of the Stick in an air of assumed historical gravitas, that this stuff just is important. Did you know, son, that that's where Jerry Rice did something great? Where the fuck did I get that voice, that assumption? I was channeling some cultural cliché, Ken Burns speaking through me as time itself.

Why do I tell him these tales? He doesn't care. And there's nothing inherently better about these things. All media have their respective qualities. So why tell him about records or Candlestick Park?

Because I'm terribly afraid of death. How can I be here and then gone and no one is any the wiser? How can they not tell tales of my shmuckdom for ages? And I suddenly saw the entire historical enterprise as a fear of death. History matters because all of us old farts, and all our old stuff, is gonna die. So remember vinyl! Remember Willie Mays! Remember Candlestick Park! Remember me!

But what possible difference does any of that make to my vital, flourishing, freestylin' 10 year old son? Who cares about history?

2 comments:

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

1) A reason to care about history (broadly conceived) is that the past is to some extent determinative of the present, just as the present is to some extent determinative of the future - to quote Gerald Weinberg in Secrets of Consulting, "Things are the way they are because they got that way."

2)Lama Yeshe wrote, "Chocolate, like all our pleasures and all our problems, is impermanent—chocolate comes, chocolate goes, chocolate disappears. And that’s natural. When you understand this, your relationship to chocolate can change, and when you deeply understand this, you will truly have no fear of anything at all."

Daniel Coffeen said...

Well, see my latest post: a rhetorical exercise, alas.

But what prompted it was that moment driving on the 101 w/ my kid when I saw the utter silliness and futility, felt the fear of death in my bones emerging as stories that bored him. It was a poignant moment.