I've been thinking a lot about change lately.
I'm about 40 pages deep on a new book which is chiefly concerned with how and to what degree one changes over the course of their life. (It's a comedy!) This question, I realize, is also my recurring theme — the one that's present, in some measure, in just about everything I've written. I think a lot of writers have a recurring theme that obsessed them like this, and in some ways, I'm lucky that my recurring theme is an easy one. Almost all fiction is primarily concerned with people changing. That's storytelling 101! Send your hero on a journey, have them change.
But this one is especially about that, so I've been thinking about change. I'm reading through a very dense book called The Origins of You - How Childhood Shapes Later Life. The authors are primarily concerned with research to answer the question of whether the famous Wordsworth quote "The child is the father of the man" is true. (Spoiler alert: mostly.)
And then I was listening to the radio this week (shout-out WFUV!) and I heard a song that got me thinking about change all over again.
Art hits you differently at different stages of your life. There are movies and songs I loved as a younger person that don't have the same impact on me now, just as there are things I love now that I know wouldn't have connected with me when I was younger. Sometimes it's about your level of sophistication, but a lot of times it has to do with where you are in your life and what you have or have not experienced.
When R.E.M.'s Up came out in 1998, I had just started my freshman year of college. Their drummer, Bill Berry, had left the group, and it was considered their "electronic" album, which was not my bag. Especially coming off of 1996's New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which was partially recorded live and has a raw and immediate quality (and is to this day one of my favorites). The first single off the album, though, was not especially electronic. In fact, Daysleeper is a bit of a throwback, reminding me of earlier R.E.M.
In 1998, though, I did not like it. I found it repetitive (I feel like Michael Stipe says "Daysleeper" almost as many times as he says "Call me when you try to wake her up" in The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite). I found it silly (his bold declaration "I work at night" sounds like something Batman might say). I haven't thought about it for 25 years.
But hearing it on the radio this week, it brought tears to my eyes.
The simple reason, of course, is the subject matter. I didn't understand what it meant to work for a living when I was 18. Now I've got a job that I really do love, but I'm also keenly aware of the ways that capitalism shapes and defines our lives and our every waking (and sleeping) hour. So a song about someone who distorts their life into unnatural shapes for their job hits me in a way that it never could have back then.
When I was in my 20s, I heard XTC's Earn Enough For Us for the first time. On the radio (shout out 107.1 The Peak!) on my way to a job that I also loved, but where earning enough for us was a daily struggle that I was failing. Needless to say, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was going to say that it doesn't have the same effect anymore, but I just listened to the first few bars to get the link for the video above and I started tearing up, so I was actually mistaken about that. I'm not at that stage of my life anymore, but music can bring me back there.
I wouldn't have had that same reaction in 1998, and certainly not if I heard it when it first came out in '86. Are there songs that I did react emotionally to as an adolescent? Absolutely. Would I have the same reaction now? Probably, but I really do not want to feel the emotions of an adolescent. Once was enough for that.
So...am I a different person now than I was in 1998? Is that Justin inside of me, or was he left behind on a timeline that spools ever forward? Is the child the father of the man, or does the man carry the child with him?
I don't know! But it's the question I'm trying to answer in basically everything I write. Maybe one of these days I'll figure it out.