Pine image by Vlad Shapochnikov,

Synthetic Nostalgia

Some songs generate such strong synthetic nostalgia, that they change our identity. I’m sure there are other influences that produce the same effect. When I listen to music by Kaleidoskoop, I am transported to the leafy walkways of Stellenbosch University and I recall with great fondness the special warmth of that place. I long to return to my days as a student there. Except, I never attended that university. I don’t own that memory, but the nostalgia is undeniable once planted by the music.

Similarly, I long to “return” to Oregon, pulled by the music of Josh Garrels. This morning I heard some Ben Howard and looked at my phone screen to see what was streaming. I exclaimed, “That’s beautiful, Ben! That’s beautiful”. It was the intro to a song called “Old Pine”. Oh, for the old North American pine forests where we spent our childhood years at the cabin. Except, I didn’t grow up like that. I’ve never been to the Americas.

Nostalgia can be have sneaky undercurrent outside of its overt rearings. I’ve experienced that it can generate longing and aspirations, more dangerously manifested as feelings of discontentment and desert. Let’s be careful of those things even as we enjoy the exports of places which are not our home.

To extend Dan Gilbert’s comment on Synthetic happiness to the feeling of nostalgia:

“[it] is every bit as real and enduring as the kind… that you stumble on when you get exactly what you were aiming for." - Dan Gilbert