There’s “live,” and then there’s hearing things a bit later, via modern technologies, or reaching way back, generations ago, with crowded memories of what parents and grandparents once said, raved about, remembered fondly. There are visions, still, of the departed dancing, coming alive at the sounds in our kitchens, living rooms, and houses of friends who shared their generation’s songs and moods and collective dreams. And there are young singers today who have much further to go to reach those bygone eras, but want to, want to tap into generations past as well, because even they sense a time less encumbered by 24/7 expectations and never ending competition for eyes and ears and dollars.
What does it mean to feel nostalgic about eras we never actually experienced first-hand? Is experience of artistic connection carried through the genes, or just a belief in transmissions that we make happen through a certain kind of love? Love complicated by a thousand other things that get in the way, fight against our desire for purity, innocence, and direct, unfiltered responses, without obstructions of any kind. As in, more impossibilities.
Humans have been given more than a few nicknames over the centuries to set us apart from other species, but another strikes me now: We refuse to accept that this or that is impossible. We just keep moving on as if it’s all there for us, if we push for it hard enough. Or, its near-opposite, flow, just flow. It’s highly unlikely any other species is so stubborn, so hopeful, and it’s easily one of our most frustratingly beautiful, admirable, and gloriously irrational traits.
In the first song below, the Filipino-English singer, beabadoobee (2000), joins forces with the Icelandic-Chinese singer, Laufey (1999), to take us back in time to the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s — or any other non-time and non-place we might imagine.
Beabadoobee, Laufey – “A Night To Remember”
There’s a Gershwin vibe there for me, blended with a kinder, gentler West Side Story — perhaps — set in Paris, in a new world, a time of remembered innocence with fleeting hints of something darker, but not nearly enough to diminish the mood. It’s not a song for cynics, nor for the completely innocent, either. But its Latin rhythms become universal, regardless, dancing and dreaming with the pan-language of love, friendship, connection, and embrace.
My parents grew up with songs like the next in line, loved Big Band and Swing, and I’ve followed suit. Musicians and singers like Gene Krupa and Carolyn Grey were the “hep cats” of their time, beyond “cool” and light years ahead of those who tried so hard to suppress their voices. It’s amazing to think that music nearly a century old still sounds so fresh, so ecstatically raucous and joyful. Controlled anarchy/ordered chaos. It set the stage for the youth movements of the 1950s, ’60s and beyond.
Gene Krupa & His Orchestra – “Boogie Blues” – featuring Carolyn Grey
Last, but not least, here’s the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, ably assisted by the legendary Louis Armstrong:
Ella Fitzgerald — “Summertime” (1959)
This takes nostalgia back further still, a remembrance of a fictionalized time, from the Opera, Porgy and Bess. Written by George and Ira Gershwin, with lyrics by DuBose Heyward, we’re many times removed now from their nostalgia, and easily far enough to form our own. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong were as well, when they made this recording, remaking the song in their own image, for all of us, just as Billie had done before them.
The performance itself is perfection, which opens up countless landscapes, thought-clouds, emotions, and new horizons. Here, now, then, forever. It’s easily one of the most relatable classic songs of all time, a slow, swift vehicle to a better place we may never want to leave.