Robert Sibley reflects on what the power of music has to do with nostalgia:
The word comes from the ancient Greek words “nostos,” referring to “homecoming,” and “algia,” meaning “grief or pain or suffering.” Hence, nostalgia reflects the desire “to escape pain by returning home,” or, as some etymological dictionaries have it, “to return home safely.”
What this suggests is that nostalgia can be a form of psychological therapy, a break from the madhouse vagaries of contemporary life — you know, terrorism, killer weather, crashing airplanes, exploding towns, rampaging gunmen. To listen to fondly remembered pop songs, whether on the car stereo heading to work or at a concert, nostalgia provides such a respite. …
One of the major narrative inputs for my generation was the Beatles. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were effectively members of what psychologists refer to as our “fictive kin.” We didn’t know them personally like we did family and friends, but their music — from ebullient adolescent love songs such as She Loves You and the drug-mediated experiments of A Day in the Life to the symphonic farewells of Let it Be and The Long and Winding Road (the Beatles split as a group in 1970) — made them an intimate presence in our lives. The Beatles, in short, provided the musical accompaniment for many of the most meaningful moments of our lives.
I still remember doing my homework at the kitchen table in our house in north Red Deer when I first heard that brief trill of drums that opens She Loves You, my head snapping up to look at the countertop radio as if to ask “what’s this?” An insignificant moment in a life, to be sure, but somehow embedded with epiphanic clarity in my memory. Of course, I’ll never forget working up the courage to ask Maxine Edwards for a dance at the local community hall as Lennon belted out Can’t Buy Me Love. And when I hear the lyric “Out of college, money spent/ See no future, pay no rent/ All the money’s gone, nowhere to go/ … oh that magic feeling” from 1969’s Abbey Road album, I’m once again on the veranda of a dingy seaside café in western Morocco, hypnotized by the endless wash of the Atlantic Ocean as I celebrate my 24th birthday. Sun, sand, sea and song; it was pure magic.
Is this “homesickness,” an inability to cope with the world? I think not. The Beatles once sang, “Once there was a way to get back homeward/ Once there was a way to get back home.” The way, I suggest, is in the song itself. Listening to the old songs is like visiting your hometown after a long absence. You know you’re not staying, but there’s a feeling of rejuvenation in visiting times and places past.
And there’s something truly rejuvenating about cover versions of songs, especially when they defy jaded expectations and are done well.
For example, Jane Monheit has a very cool, head-turning jazz cover of “Golden Slumbers / Long and Winding Road” on her new album, The Heart of the Matter.
Jane seems to have a gift for doing terrific covers. Explore her discography and have fun discovering all her clever musical remakes and reconfigurations.
But, getting back to the Beatles, let me end by recommending a personal favorite — Laura Crema’s soaring cover of “Blackbird.”