Taking Stock: Nostalgia

Widen the screen just a little, in fact, and a particularly prominent and disturbing lost self can be seen as merely one guest in a room full of permutations, good and bad. And each of those selves must have an idealized doppelgänger of its own. (Benedict Cary’s Times article)

Today we take stock. And here’s a (not always reliable but interesting) social studies take:

A 2003 study at Concordia University in Montreal and the University of California, Irvine, for instance, suggested that young adults who scored high on measures of psychological well-being tended to think of regretted decisions as all their own — perhaps because they still had time to change course. By contrast, older people who scored highly tended to share blame for their regretted decisions. “I tried to reach out to him, but the effort wasn’t returned.”

In New Year’s Cocktail, Benedict Cary discusses the role of regret – at times useful but at others corrosive.

It’s always New Year’s day with Edgar Allen Poe, prioritizing sadness and regret, all embodied in a lover’s lament for a beautiful, young woman’s death. He may be irritating but he’s right about our gut responses – he understood what moves us. Nostalgia, sadness, poignancy. My impatience with him is probably tied to how much I treasured and invoked such feelings in myself when I was young and my regrets had no sense of proportionality. Why would an eighteen-year-old find nostalgia in the “Whiffenpoof Song” or tender nostalgia in “Auld Lang Syne”? But then, as Cary observes, those are points where choices are less retrievable and have large and quite unforeseen consequences.

I’ve been touching bases more often with old friends in the last few years; one of my brothers just phoned that he & his wife are dropping by this afternoon (younger than me, retired, and with an RV, they now travel the country). Our family, separated by eight hundred miles, doesn’t do such things. Maybe we will, now.

Most friends seem pretty satisfied with how their lives have turned out – married or single, gay or straight, with children or careers, lists of books or of grandchildren – or perhaps looking back on a life of mellow and pleasant moments and fleeting relationships. Some of course are rethinking old choices. Many share with me regrets about exercise and diet; some about drugs and alcohol. But health seems more and more clearly a crap shoot.

This was brought home to me at our every-other-year party as regrets arrived from people who were spending a sad amount of time at M.D. Anderson or nursing quite sick siblings and parents. Then there were many who (probably again a reflection of age) just couldn’t fight off the flu or colds (an e-mail from a friend who spent New Year’s Day in the emergency room, for instance). We will soon have more leisure time but then most of us may be spending more of it in doctor’s offices.

But we are also getting to the point where we can start considering the alternative and this looks pretty damn good. And life is just beginning – my oldest children phoned to say with Christmas calls and letters they found five friends expecting. Demographics are looking up – didn’t that happen fast?

1 thought on “Taking Stock: Nostalgia”

  1. My Way
    (P. Anka, J. Revaux, G. Thibault, C. Frankois)
    [Recorded December 30, 1968, Hollywod]

    And now, the end is here
    And so I face the final curtain
    My friend, I’ll say it clear
    I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
    I’ve lived a life that’s full
    I traveled each and every highway
    And more, much more than this, I did it my way

    Regrets, I’ve had a few
    But then again, too few to mention
    I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
    I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
    And more, much more than this, I did it my way

    Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
    When I bit off more than I could chew
    But through it all, when there was doubt
    I ate it up and spit it out
    I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

    I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
    I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
    And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
    To think I did all that
    And may I say, not in a shy way,
    “Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way”

    For what is a man, what has he got?
    If not himself, then he has naught
    To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
    The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!

    [instrumental break]

    Yes, it was my way


    “My Way” is a song with lyrics written by Paul Anka and popularized by Frank Sinatra. The melody is a French song “Comme d’habitude” composed by Claude François and Jacques Revaux. Anka’s English lyrics are unrelated to the original French by Claude François and Gilles Thibaut.

    Paul Anka heard the original 1967 French pop song while on holiday in Paris. In a 2007 interview, he said: “I thought it was a shitty record, but there was something in it.” He acquired publishing rights and, two years later, had a dinner in Florida with Frank Sinatra and “a couple of Mob guys” at which Sinatra said he was “quitting the business. I’m sick of it, I’m getting the hell out”.

    Back in New York, Anka re-wrote the original French song for Sinatra, subtly altering the melodic structure and changing the lyrics: “At one o’clock in the morning, I sat down at an old IBM electric typewriter and said, ‘If Frank were writing this, what would he say?’ And I started, metaphorically, ‘And now the end is near.’ I read a lot of periodicals, and I noticed everything was ‘my this’ and ‘my that’. We were in the ‘me generation’ and Frank became the guy for me to use to say that. I used words I would never use: ‘I ate it up and spit it out.’ But that’s the way he talked. I used to be around steam rooms with the Rat Pack guys – they liked to talk like Mob guys, even though they would have been scared of their own shadows.” Anka finished the song at 5am. “I called Frank up in Nevada – he was at Caesar’s Palace – and said, ‘I’ve got something really special for you.’?” Anka claimed: “When my record company caught wind of it, they were very pissed that I didn’t keep it for myself. I said, ‘Hey, I can write it, but I’m not the guy to sing it.’ It was for Frank, no one else.”

    Even beyond chart performance, Sinatra’s recording of “My Way” had staying power, and soon became the signature song for the latter stage of his career, even though according to his daughter Tina, “he always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent.”

Comments are closed.