a few classics revisited

Have you ever gone back to a book, or a restaurant, or a play that you really loved, only to find it disappoints you upon revisiting it? Ever since re-reading The Catcher in the Rye when I was 23 or so, I have been terrified of hitting up the old standards. The life-altering story of growth and introspection seemed self-indulgent and boring once I was in my twenties. Rare are the classics that stay powerful. Counting Crows’ “A Long December” continues to exacerbate my maudlin tendencies despite being associated most with the winter I turned 17 – perhaps it’s just that I haven’t outgrown emo angst yet. God willing I never will! I can still rock out to Everclear’s Songs from an American Movie, which was the soundtrack to my junior year of college. But some music and books don’t transition with us as we get older, and the specter of Holden Caulfield hovers near when I dare to pull revered works from a dusty shelf.

For whatever reason, a few days ago I was feeling brave and I pulled out not only The Brothers Karamazov but Phish’s Rift. Let’s deal with the less profound of the two first. At this point it my life I believe that the deeper work is the tome of Russian literatur, but there are days when Trey et. al. make a pretty good case for their own sagacity . Since Phish has started touring again I have been thinking more and more about my days of ripped jeans and wallet chains. If I recall correctly, I wore an extra-large Phish t-shirt and corduroys to my BC orientation (no wonder I never quite fit in with the J. Crew crowd. I had never even heard of J. Crew. But that’s another post). During a PR Committee meeting at B.Good two weeks ago I heard a track off of Junta and stopped dead in my tracks as I had flashbacks to high school (one of the flashback frames involves Phish’s Lawn Boy on cassette).

On the drive to CT this weekend I popped in the beautiful blue CD. As the opening riffs sounded I wondered, would I still find the poetry of “Fast Enough for You” as brilliant as I once did? The answer is not quite, but it’s still darn good and those guys know how to slap together a couplet better than just about any band out there. What really struck me was the virtuosity of their playing and their musicianship. The opening minute of “My Friend, My Friend” is stunning, and they have a way of pushing the beat around that makes me a little bit nervous but ultimately inspires trust that they will keep control. That’s right, Phish inspires trust in me. Make of that what you will.

So I discover that some of my beloved tunes from high school have stood the test of time. The real question is whether or not Dostoevsky has. I went on my Dostoevsky kick when I was 19 or 20, going so far as to read a library copy of House of the Dead on the beach in St. Thomas at Deb and Eric’s wedding. (Also the purview of another post – my odd choices in beach lit. Common Ground was my companion on the beach the summer of 2007. Weird.)

Like a lot of college kids, my life was changed by The Brothers Karamazov. Part of the power of that book is that it is so vast. I truly believe that anyone can find in that book a character, an episode, or an emotion that will resonate with them. The first time I read it I fell deeply, madly in love with Alyosha Karamazov (the first but not last time I fell for a fictional character), and the second time through I identified more with Fyodor Pavlovich. That most recent read-through was more than five years ago, so I decided (thanks to some inspiration from Christina) that I would give it a shot again. I’m about 80 pages in and I am as enthralled by the writing as ever. Now that I teach church history I understand far more of the ecclesiastical references without having to constantly flip back and forth to the end notes. I still have some trepidation though – when I close the book will I still pronounce it “amazing!!”, the highest praise of the college undergrad? Maybe I will, but I bet the tone of voice will be different.

I’m not old, but I’m older, and each year that goes by I know more than I did before. I can never go back to experiencing something for the first time. I was trying to mush all of these thoughts into a blog post yesterday just after I arrived at my parents’ house for a few days of R&R. One nice thing about cerebrally picking apart nostalgia is that it doesn’t really give you time to feel it, but as I jogged past a kids’ vegetable stand – one that wasn’t ironic, or out of place, or sponsored by WIC – the feeling hit me straight in the gut.

I love “Ain’t it a Pretty Night” from Susannah. Like many poignant arias, this is a tough one for me to get through, mostly because I as an actress I have to un-know a lot of things. When Susannah wonders if her big-city dreams will cause her to miss the rustic attributes of home, she simply announces “I could always come back if I got homesick for the valley!” I’m not one for “you can’t go home again” melodrama, because I do go home, again and again, and have a perfectly fine time and then go back to the city. But each time I go home or go anywhere, I know a little more and I’ve seen a little more. I remember when all I needed for adventure was a walk in the woods. Something about the uncharted, untamed quality of large expanses of trees filled me with excitement because I never was quite sure where I was heading. Same thing with long walks and later long drives down rural roads I had never been down, undertaken just to see where they would go. Now I am better acquainted with the lay of the land and it takes more to inspire that sense of adventure. Even when life offers me uncertainty and adventure, half the time I am too lazy to take up the offer. Some pieces of the past seem doomed to stay there – like The Catcher in the Rye – but the best ones travel forward with me as I change and the world changes. And luckily for me on occasion I can still venture out into the woods and find something or some place that I don’t already know.

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1 Response to a few classics revisited

  1. Lauren says:

    "'you can't go home again' melodrama…" I stick with "you can't step in the same river twice," courtesy of Philosophy 101. Probably it's at least as cliche as the other, but it's more satisfying to me. I love revisiting the life-changers and finding that they still delight – for different reasons. We'll probably never outgrow Dostoevsky – and should re- read him at least every couple years.

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