This year, all the good stuff I listened to, read and watched was a beneficiary of the Lindy effect.
This is the unscientific law that suggests the lifespan of a thing or idea is proportional to its current age. If people today are still reading a 100-year-old book, they are likely to still be reading that book a 100 years from now.
It’s a comforting thought – that, unlike us, good ideas can survive forever.
The opposite also holds true. The newer something is, the more brightly it burns, the less likely it is to remain relevant or appreciated past one season or the next.
Have you read Don Quixote? Because the first time you do that, you may come out the other side thinking it so modern it seems ahead of its time. Then you go back and skim a bad book you kind of liked five years ago and it feels like it was dug out of a tomb, that’s how out of touch it seems now.
This was not a good year for new things. We were a little preoccupied to devote the usual energy to our entertainments. So fewer new entertainments were provided to us.
That made it an excellent year for old favourites and personal classics. Having lost the ability to be nostalgic about our present lives – Remember summer? Wasn’t that great, doing nothing and going nowhere? – you may have become an explorer of your own past.
When Eddie Van Halen died, I went back and listened to every Van Halen album. Even the Sammy Hagar stuff, and don’t tell me that’s not a special sort of bravery.
I didn’t like Van Halen much when I was a kid. You can only be so enthusiastic about a band whose lead singer’s primary talent is doing the splits. But Van Halen reminds me of drinking in the park back when that was illegal, and therefore still fun. So I tarried there, loudly, for several days.
Before John le Carré died, I rewatched the 1979 BBC mini-series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Greatest show ever made, and all because of Alec Guinness’s eyes. That guy could say more with a slight pupil dilation than any current leading man can with 10 pages of dialogue.
Then le Carré died and I started it again. Even better the 13th or 14th time through.
I reread a bunch of Stephen King novels, trying to figure out why they’d so captured me as a grade-schooler. You know what? They stand up. That is really something – a book that appealed to you at 10 still grabbing the completely different person you are in middle age. Stephen King and The Wind in the Willows. That’s a tight list.
King’s mistake was being so good at what he does, so prolific, so effortless in his style, that people assume what he produced is genre trash.
Sadly, if you want to get over in this world, you have to make the things that come easy seem hard. Just read any interview with any mediocre artist enjoying a moment. It’s a lot of blather about process that makes writing or whatever it is sound as complex as particle physics. It’s not that it isn’t. It’s that it shouldn’t be.
Also, I doubt that scientists sit around at particle physics conferences complaining that their work is as hard as poetry.
That right there was a textbook pointless digression, which is essentially all I did this year. Digress constantly. Spend long hours visiting the internal archives to consult a few records. Trying to figure out if I still like what I once liked, and can therefore assure myself that the old me might still recognize the current me. It’s not an entirely satisfactory experience.
For every good thing I would like to be associated with, there is a mountain of garbage I used to think fantastic. This is the stuff the Lindy effect forgot – A Flock of Seagulls, Soft Cell, Billy goddamned Idol.
I disavow it entirely. That was a different me with limited access to culture. My people were more pop-a-bottle, put on the Irish Rovers and then we got ourselves a party types.
I also disavow the books. I would not, for instance, read the complete works of Robert Ludlum again, because it is only now I recognize they are all the same book, only with different titles.
The only thing I do not blame myself for is the TV. Like every member of my generation, I didn’t get any say in that. We watched what they showed us. All of it.
Would the 2020 me – just picking at random here – watch Magnum P.I. every weekday for a year? Probably not. Would the 2020 me agree that that was the greatest show on television, not because of the depth of its characterizations, but because the guy who played Higgins was actually from Texas? Doubtful.
But the me who did think and do those things was capable of having a conversation with a stranger. This me no longer is. So who’s the real winner?
I wonder if you had these same experiences this year, looking for comfort in the old and familiar, stuff that reminds you of the before times. At a certain point, the need to find the next big thing dulls in you, and you are happy with the thing that has lasted. On some level, life is a gradual receding of the new, until there is nothing you can see or hear that you have not seen or heard some version of before.
I used to think that was a tragedy. But after spending most of a year marinating in the idea – another one that has withstood the Lindy effect – I just think that like most things, it is neither good nor bad. It just is.
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