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Finding New Comfort in Old Favorites

There’s a certain type of music that touches my soul; the nostalgia-inducing type.

The sound of Caamp, an Ohio based band formed in 2015, comes to mind.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Taylor Meier’s twangy solos and vocalist Evan Westfall’s starry-night banjos.

Raspy melodies, smooth like butter, a paradox that arises from the depth of Meier’s vocal chords.

A depth that makes my heart flutter with equal-parts foreign and familiar.

Propelling blood through veins of wrists submerged in faucet water, desperate to erase the Sharpie “X” from the back of my hand in pursuit of delusions of adulthood.

The way it fluttered on hot summer days, clouds of dirt emerging from beneath my angst-ridden Doc Martens madly chasing a beat.

The way it skipped a beat the first time I realized skunks did not frequent music festivals, that if I inhaled hard enough, the crowd’s exhale was enough for a free high.

Recently, my grandfather became very ill.

After a four-hour drive home, I frantically walked into his hospice room, practically assaulted by its stillness. The window beside his bed shook in the wind, a stark contrast against my grandfather’s heavy breath.

Johnny Cash’s deep ballads emanated from my father’s iPhone.

Like my love affair with Caamp, my father sought nostalgia in Cash.

As an attempt to reassure himself. As an attempt to reassure his father of a life well-lived, familiar sounds sparking memories of a record player spinning in his and my grandmother’s blue-carpeted living room.

That is one of the beauties of music. Despite various interpretations of lyrics or chords or cover art, song is laced with an underlying emotion. An emotion that surfaces as an audience lifts their hands in glory, entranced by the pastor that is the musician. It speaks to the spirit, from the spirit. It emerges from this one “life force” that nearly all humans can relate to.

On the road back to St. Louis, after I said goodbye to my unconscious grandfather, Caamp consoled my sorrow. Initially, I turned on Johnny Cash, but his “Jackson” duet with June Carter immediately turned me off. Ironically, I woke up the next morning to a text from my father. My grandfather had passed at 3 AM while they listened to “Jackson.” Perhaps the “life force” I have spoken of was at work: despite his earthly passing, my grandfather’s essence lingers on. My refusal to grieve over “Jackson” reiterates my grandfather’s permanence: his agile, hide-and-seek playing self, his big bellied, smiling at the fifteenth variation of the same Christmas gift self, his withered self, his absent self. They are all one and the same.

I started this post intent upon writing about Caamp, but in a couple of senses, the Ohio duo and wild farmer-boy turned anti-hero Johnny Cash are not all that different. With their debut in 2016, “Ohio’s” opening lyrics “some things you can’t forget” had already predicted a nostalgia that would evolve with their music’s popularity. A nostalgia that undeniably exists in Cash’s music. Watch his music video “Hurt” for a very obvious illustration of this.

Narrative-style, truthful lyrics, and a feel for an America of wide open fields of opportunity for success and immense hardship, as well as the ambiguity of where the seeming poles diverge.

Self-advertised as “Ohio boys making beautiful music,” I cannot argue with their subdued confidence. Neither can their loyal fan-base, whom they perform for live really well. If you don’t believe me, check out Gaslight’s recording session of their “Misty,” “Iffy,” and “So Long, Honey.”

The latter-most song by Caamp carries a lot of wisdom - wisdom that I felt pertinent to my first intimate experience with death. If sentiment endures from moment to moment, generation to generation, etc., despite your physical state of affairs, you better: “Be good to your mothers, oh they did the best they could. /And you better bleed for your brothers, cause’ lord knows that they would.” Reflect upon the memories. Dream about the future. Embrace the good and bad all the same because our distinctions are often too superficial.

So, thank you Cash and Caamp for reminding me of this. For reminding me that nostalgia, despite wistful memories, is a celebration of the past and a tool for moving forward.

Perhaps I’m misusing Caamp’s lyrics, but in continuity with everything I’ve said before, music is open to interpretation. So I’ll finish with a lyric from “So Long, Honey” that illustrates nostalgia’s role in progressing forward: “And you can float on the wind for so long, but someday honey you’ve got to come back down.” I mean, you can’t let go if you don’t grab on first.

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