“Better late than never.” Or so the saying goes. This past fall, I put this aphorism to the test.
But before I get into that, a little backstory.
For most of my life, I’ve been something of a late joiner when it comes to most cultural touchpoints. I was one of the last kids in my middle school class to have a CD player in the household. I didn’t see classic ‘80s films like Goonies or Back to the Future until I was well into high school. I didn’t really listen to Metallica or Madonna or Queen until college.
Or sometimes the touchpoints went past me altogether. I never owned an album by Prince or Cher or Michael Jackson.* Never owned a gaming console. In fact, I did not hold a Sega Genesis controller until last week, when I played Sonic for the first time and had my a** handed to me.
Is it delayed nostalgia? A chance to retroactively experience what my peers did in the 1980s, and I’m attempting decades later? Or am I simply looking to reconnect with aspects of myself, buried under the responsibilities of adulthood, that I haven’t visited in a long, long time?
Perhaps it’s all of those things.
So I’ve begun to experiment, to see if I can fill in some of the gaps. I did watch, within the past two months, both E.T. and Halloween for the first time. The experience wasn’t the same as it would have been if I was a kid. But I still felt surprise and empathy with E.T., and the full force of the jump scares in Halloween.
I bought Sonic and a bundle of retro games for my PS4.
Sometimes, for the heck of it, I blow off practicing French on Duolingo simply because it feels so friggin’ good to say no. (I always did my homework as soon as I got home from school, and this small but belated rebellion is deeply satisfying.)
I’ve added Kate Bush and other artists featured on Stranger Things to my Spotify queue.
Which brings me to Stranger Things. Yes, I’m late to the game on this one too. I didn’t watch the first four seasons when they originally aired. But now, with the final season on the horizon and a partner who persuaded me to give the series another shot, I’m knee-deep in the supernatural doings of Hawkins, IL. And along with all of the fine points of the show (the craft, the acting, the storylines, the music, which have been covered to death elsewhere), I’m getting a whopping flashback to the 80s.
Aquanet hairspray. Lite Brites and Spirographs. (You can actually still buy Lite Brites!)
Nancy Wheeler’s reporters’ notebook. (I carried the exact same kind on my early freelance assignments.)
The panic about Dungeons and Dragons.
Being a free-range kid and roaming the neighborhood on bikes.
All. The. Perms. (Yeah, I had one of those too.)
Seeing these things onscreen both triggers memories and reminds me that I while I missed a lot, I didn’t miss everything.
This realization was recently driven home on a gray Pittsburgh afternoon. I stood at the sink washing dishes (at the same time, so as not to appear too responsible, I was listening to Def Leppard and Guns n’ Roses while whipping up a batch of simple syrup for cocktails).
Sunlight managed to sneak through the clouds at just the moment “Sweet Child O’ Mine” blasted from the speaker.
Where do we go?
Oh, where do we go now?
Oh, where do we go?
And I saw that some things, like the right song at the right moment, are timeless.
*I was gifted Thriller this summer, on vinyl, and I’m delighted with it.