I Am the World’s Forgettin’ Boy
This is absolutely irrational on my part, obviously, and a by- product of pay-
ing selective attention to things, but sometimes it feels to me like history
just stopped moving at some point, like it fell into a rut and stayed there—
not just musically, though that’s certainly part of it, but even politically, like
how America’s adventures in the Middle East have been in a holding pattern
ever since 9/11, or even Desert Storm. Which is of course absurd—things are
changing all the time, by the minute, and it’s not like history progresses “for-
ward” anyway. But somehow, something deep in my gut still believes it. Maybe
it’s just what happens when people get old.
Anyway, some things do get better! In all sorts of ways, life is safer and
more just than when I grew up. Fair housing, marriage equality, theoretically
affordable health care, Confederate shame—all upheld in one June week in
2015! Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic” to the contrary, I can live without a
world where staying in a miserable marriage is the only choice—and I never
got the attraction of standard transmission anyway. Still, the idea of society
(and since it’s the subject at hand, music) somehow constantly maturing and
evolving—inevitably getting closer and closer to perfection—is its own myth.
It’s why certain sounds get lazily dismissed as “dated,” and why pop- culture
nostalgia so often involves a winking assumption that years ago we sure did
look ridiculous. Ultimately, such condescension encompasses every decade.
When do we ﬁgure out that, no matter how modern we are, somebody 20 years
from now will make smug fun of us?
We pretend years and decades end, but they never really do. As Paul Beatty
wrote about history in The Sellout, his 2015 novel about redacted ghetto com-
munities, the timelessness of minstrelsy, and early-’90s rappers investing in os-
triches, “We like to think it’s a book—that we can turn the page and move the
fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is
time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.” Conversely,