The Woodpile – Frightened Rabbit
I’m completely obsessed with the latest Frightened Rabbit album. Listening to it takes me back to Nashville the summer of 2010, when I first discovered them and their previous album The Winter of Mixed Drinks became my soundtrack for that year. This album seems like it will be the same way.
Directionless and Drifting: A Nostalgia Mix
Here’s a little Sunday night treat for you: I made a new mix called Directionless and Drifting. It’s a collection of songs about nostalgia. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that’s one of my favorite topics and I’m constantly amazing at how music triggers memories.
I’ve included songs that are about nostalgia and memories and childhood as well as songs that are forever tied to specific times in my life; Forget and Not Slow Down takes me back to my first semester at Kutztown, Devil Town takes me back to the summer commuting into New York, Change of Time reminds me of Nashville. Then there are songs that, for a reasons I’ll never understand, the first time I heard them, a wave a nostalgia swept over me as if these songs were from my past. The mix closes with two of these songs: Souvenirs by Switchfoot and It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy by Passion Pit.
Click here to listen and download Directionless and Drifting
Here’s the tracklisting:
- Forget and Not Slow Down - Relient K
- First Train Home - Imogen Heap
- A Pound of Flesh - Radical Face
- The City Lights - Umbrellas
- Change of Time - Josh Ritter
- Swim Until You Can’t See Land - Frightened Rabbit
- Come Back When You Can - Barcelona
- Devil Town - Bright Eyes
- Holocene - Bon Iver
- Give it Up - The Format
- Walls - The Rocket Summer
- Forever Young - Youth Group
- Vanilla Twilight - Owl City
- Inevitable - Anberlin
- Souvenirs - Switchfoot
- It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy - Passion Pit
I hope you enjoy it and I hope these songs cause you to consider your own histories and the soundtrack you’ve been making all along.
“Every new book I read comes to be a part of that overall and unitary book that is the sum of my readings. This does not come about without some effort: to compose that general book, each individual book must be transformed, enter into a relationship with the other books I have read previously, become their corollary or development or confutation or gloss or reference text.”
—Italo Calvino, If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler
I’m moving to Brooklyn next week so my current apartment is in various states of disarray—the living room is empty save for a few boxes; the kitchen is cleaned and organized, each utensil and gadget categorized and placed in its respective box to make the move easier; the bedroom looks sparse, every surfaced washed of its life. Every surface except for the bookshelf.
I’ve been saving the bookshelf for last. If it wasn’t for my collection of books, I wouldn’t have much to pack at all. Aside of general living expenses, most of my money goes towards books. When I moved to New York a year ago, I had to decide what I could bring with me to my new, smaller apartment. My books automatically made the cut. I wanted to be near them, surrounded by them.
And now it’s time to pack them again to move across the river.
Angela Riechers, writing for Imprint, questions the use of nostalgia and skeuomorphic elements in design:
Maybe we pine for outdated mechanical items because featherweight digital objects and applications lack soul. Quickly obsolete (the average lifespan for digital products is 18 months before a new version becomes available), they acquire no patina, remaining devoid of the gentle signs of wear and tear that prove they were used and even loved. The Singer Company’s 160th-anniversary limited-edition sewing machine—made mostly of plastic, with digital components—borrows its look from the company’s iconic cast-iron machines from decades past. There’s no significant downside, looks-wise; the anniversary edition is a lovely homage to the Singer heritage. But consider how many Singers from the early part of last century are still in use today, working flawlessly—then try to imagine this latest version still operational in 2112. Its nostalgic design is tinged with even more sadness than usual; it becomes an unintentional memorial to a vanished age of durable products.
This is an interesting thought. One look at a few of Apple’s iOS apps and you’ll see old desk calendars, spiral bound address books, old school microphones, and leather notebooks. As we transition more and more of our interactions to screens, we design those screens to echo the analog way of doing things. This provides an interesting challenge for designers. We’ve been given the opportunity to develop new modes of interaction, new standards and iconography, new reference points, yet we are largely relying on the past to dictate where we go.
I’m reminded of an old article by Michael Bierut on the design of baseball stadiums, pieces of architecture steeped in tradition and nostalgia but lacking any sort of innovation in recent years:
We all know that baseball fans love their nostalgic ballparks, and I certainly like the human scale and sense of place that the best of these venues provide. But do those values always have to arrive smothered in old fashioned wrappings? Sooner or later someone has to take a risk on something new.
Perhaps the problem is that we stopped believing both in a better future and in design’s ability to further it. The thread is broken; terrorists have shoe bombs and bioweapons, and we’ve lost hope in the promises of flying cars and glittering cities hovering in the sky. The world’s climate and environment seem headed on a crash course to ruin. And so we cling to design that relentlessly references days gone by because we know what to expect—the scary challenge of the new has been removed from the equation. We seem to want design to give us the reassurance found in the recognizable.
Design is about movement. It’s about building a new future and a better tomorrow. I long for the past — the easier times, the vintage photos, the classy suits, the sound of a cassette rewinding — just as much as the next person but is this longing preventing us from moving forward, from developing new systems in which to interact?
Caught in Suspension
“Nostalgia, it’s delicate, but potent, it’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called a carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
—Don Draper, pitching a campaign to Kodak in an episode of Mad Men
Sometimes it’s the crisp morning air as I leave for work; I take a deep breath, inhaling a memory lost in time. Other times it comes with the music, the melody triggering something deep in my bones, reviving a distant memory. There are only brief moments in life where one feels they are in the right place, at the right time, and with the right people. It’s these moments that remind us what it is like to be alive.
We long to hold on to these moments, but we’re caught in the suspension of the present—hanging between the past and the future. Each moment that passes is gone forever, never returning to us. Times doesn’t return. All we can do is move forward.
We make art to imagine a better tomorrow, to build new worlds, to anticipate the future, but in the process of making, we end up documenting our histories. “The moment just past is extinguished forever,” wrote George Kubler, “save for the things made during it.” Our art eases that suspension, delicately balancing our history and our future. And maybe that’s the paradox of art, it’s created to give us a glimpse of the future, but is forever locked in a moment just past. Our art, then, becomes mile markers in our stories, keeping record of where we’ve been, creating a carousel, allowing us to travel backwards and forwards all at once.
It’s like when you scan your bookshelf and realize the tattered spines tell just as much about your story as the author’s. Or when that song comes on and you suddenly find yourself somewhere else. The things we surround ourselves with—our books, our music, our art, our objects—they all hold a piece of our story.
Time may never return and memory can be fleeting, but the art we create allows us to hold on to that nostalgia, to keep it close. As I was preparing images for my new portfolio site a few weeks ago, I found myself looking at work I’d done years ago and photographs I forgot I had taken. I was reminded of the late nights in college, hunched over my computer perfecting each project. I could feel the Spring air as I would walk to class each morning, as I prepared to graduate. These pieces are now forever tied to a memory, to a specific time. The art we make become much more profound when we realize they are the only tangible items we have to mark our journey.
The weather has been unusually warm in New York this week. I left my apartment building for work on Wednesday morning and as I stepped outside, a sense of nostalgia swept over me with the same Spring-like air I felt looking at my old work just a few weeks earlier. The past and future coming together in one instant. I breath in and am reminded of what it feels like to be alive. As I walked to catch the train, the sound of birds singing rose higher than the morning commute traffic.
The Story and the Wonder
Today was my first time to the Natural History Museum. It was near the top of my list of places to go once I moved to New York last summer but life always seemed to get in the way. This holiday seemed like a fitting weekend to carve out a few hours to spend a few hours with dinosaurs and ancient relics of cultures past.
The museum welcomes a sense of wonder; walking past the Asian mammals to the tropical birds, across the African masks to dinosaur bones, under the giant whale, near the mineral exhibit, you start to see how small we are and how vast time is. Entire civilizations have lived and died before my feet even touched Earth.
I started to feel nostalgic for places I’d never been and longed for memories of being a kid, wide-eyed and open to the mysteries of the universe. When you’re young, it feels like the world is yours for exploring. Every rock needs turning over, every tree climbed, every insect put under the microscope. That feeling disappears as we get older and weighed down with everyday life. In the museum, it’s okay to look at rocks again.
Yet walking through the exhibits of ancient civilizations, I was struck by the familiarity. They made tools, created art, and lived together, bonded by their respective cultures. They aren’t much different than us. Since the beginning of time, humans have had an impulse for creating, a desire for beauty, and a need for community. It’s these things that bind us together, and when you’re in the museum, those strings pull just a little tighter, pulling us closer together, allowing us to find our place in the human story. Looking at the African tools, I wondered if its creator thought about these things, if he realized the world is vast and time is long.
As I left, I passed a boy and his father looking at a bird diorama; the father down on one knee, smiling at his son’s excitement. Together, they reveled in the mysteries of the world. I wished I could bottle up that excitement. I want to know the wonder is still alive as I settle into my place in the human narrative.
I think Craig Mod is one of the most interesting designers working today. Previously the lead designer for Flipboard for iPhone (which is fantastic), he’s currently a MacDowell Writing Fellow working on the future of the books. I like the way Craig writes and talks and most importantly, I like the way he thinks. His career has largely focused on what future books could look like and the experience that shapes them.
His recent talk at the Build Conference is a great look into what books can be and how to bring the nostalgia we associate with physical books into the digital space. We often speak about the artifact or the interface of future books but here, Craig argues what will be most important—most nourishing—is keeping that nostalgia and experience and romanticism as books go digital. I highly recommend this one.
“We could accumulate hundreds of thousands of images throughout our lives but they will never taste like anything. An image represents and verifies a memory but the rest is left to imagination. Every essential moment of a child’s life is documented if he was born in the West. With digital album after album for every birthday, every Christmas, he will never struggle to remember what his childhood home looked like. That reaching, that vague warm feeling for a place one remembers but cannot see; that is a sense now growing extinct. A child today grows up in a never forgotten house.”
The second issue of SWAY, the themed zine I started with my friend Rory King, is now available for download!
Download Issue 02: Nostalgia
This issue is centered around the theme of nostalgia. The first six spreads are my explorations with a look into time, memory, the past, Proust, and Woody Allen while Rory handled the second half of the zine. I’m really happy with how this issue turned out and I think it’s a great follow up to our first issue as we are starting to find our voice and get into a good process. I hope you also enjoy paging through it as we start work on issue 3!
Happy Friday! [Souvenirs - Switchfoot]
This is easily one of my favorite tracks off the new Switchfoot album. It’s a brand new song, yet it fills me with all sorts of nostalgia. Funny how that stuff works.
“The revolution he started—a half hour a day, five days a week—it wasn’t enough, it didn’t spread, and so, forced to fight his battles alone, Mister Rogers is losing, as we all are losing. He is losing to it, to our twenty-four-hour-a-day pie fight, to the dizzying cut and the disorienting edit, to the message of fragmentation, to the flicker and pulse and shudder and strobe, to the constant, hivey drone of the electroculture … and yet still he fights, deathly afraid that the medium he chose is consuming the very things he tried to protect: childhood and silence.”
Can you say…”Hero?”
Completely devoured this great essay on Mister Rogers—completely brought me back to my childhood.
There is a little bookshelf under the window in the dormer of my childhood bedroom at my parent’s house. On the bottom shelf, hidden behind some old issues of National Geographic and I large microscope, is a small photo album. My grandmother gave me that album close to fifteen years ago and it’s filled with images of trips we took together.
My grandparents took me on day trips every summer growing up. Sometimes it was to museums and another time it was a train ride. I remember a lot of these trips like they were yesterday.
I can’t remember exact year, but when I was in second or third grade, they took me to the Statue of Liberty. It would be hard for me to pick a favorite trip with my grandparents but if I had to pick one, that year’s trip would be close to the top. I remember brief moments from the day: riding the ferry to Ellis Island, walking up step after step inside the base of Lady Liberty, and my grandfather holding me up over the railing so I could look out over the entire island. I remember eating New York hot dogs on the bay, and I remember my grandmother taking this photo. It’s a photo of me, in a Don’t Mess With Texas shirt, standing in front of the New York skyline. Standing in front of the Twin Towers.
“Doug stands as the purest distillation of Nickelodeon’s simple, soulful interest in the inner lives of kids. Like the rest of his generation, Doug Funnie wanted to be different but wasn’t. He wished his massive nose was smaller. He wished he could dance. He wished he were smarter. The show constantly portrayed the false relationship between becoming a better person and becoming a different person; it grappled again and again with the devastating epiphany of adolescence that there are things about you that you can’t change.”
Happy Friday! [Superhuman Touch – Athlete]
One of my favorite things in the world is how music can invade your conscious and forever be connected to the time and place you first heard it. I first discovered the music of Athlete about this time last year—I had just moved to Kutztown, the leaves were changing, the weather was getting cooler, and I was welcoming in Fall. I decided to listen to Athlete’s wonderful album, Black Swan, again this week and I was immediately transported back a year. I guess that’s what good art is like; it becomes a part of your life. It adds something to your narrative. I like that.