Nostalgia/They're All Gonna Laugh at You
In this new and hopefully ongoing series, I will pick one song, album, tv show, movie, whatever to review. But rather than do a straight review of it, I will use that document to launch into a general discourse about reviewing and how I evaluate things. Hopefully it will give some insight into the way I think about this kind of stuff. Anyways, I know it'll be interesting and fun for me to write out, and I hope you guys enjoy it too. As always, feel free to let me know.
The debut installment is about nostaliga, and the work in question is They're All Gonna Laugh at You by Adam Sandler. Just so that you know, two other installments I've basically planned out are Cultural Signifigance/"Macarena" and Musical Autobiography/"Behind These Hazel Eyes". Contingent on how this one turns out, of course. Enjoy.
Nostalgia/They're All Gonna Laugh at You
I hate Adam Sandler. I've seen almost every movie he's ever been in, and I hated every single one of them (oddly enough, one of the few I haven't seen, Punch Drunk Love, is the only one I had a fighting shot of enjoying) (Wedding Singer was OK). I hate his schtick on Saturday Night Live, and not only do I not find him funny, I abhor the very style of comedy that he exemplifies. That kind of silly, lowbrow, frat boy humor that seems to live on forever. But yet, I'd be lying if I said that They're All Gonna Laugh at You wasn't one of my favorite comedy albums of all time.
The album was released in 1993, and so it thus predates nearly the entirety of his film career, though not his Saturday Night Live career. But there's no real tangible differences in the style of humor between this and the rest of his work. So why is it that characters like "The Buffoon" manage to crack me up time and time again with such witty, well-written exchanges as:
Buffoon: I fed my snake beer once. He was slithering this way and that. It was all **'ed up [editor note: Family blog and all]
Admissions Advisor: Well, we discourage excessive drinking here, among both our students and pets.
Buffoon: F***'ing ****
Admissions Advisor: Yes, that's not an uncommon reaction to this policy.
His silly and annoying character, The Buffoon, appears in several skits all throughout the CD, and remains vaguely annoying but funny throughout. As I look down the tracklist, most of the skits are either just stupid ("Right Field", "The Beating of...", "Buddy") or overlong ("I'm So Wasted", "Toll Booth Willie") or both ("The Longest Pee"). But they make me laugh, even most of the ones I just listed. And at some point, I'm forced to ask myself to what extent this love comes from nostalgia as opposed to actual quality, whether it's possible to separate these two, and indeed whether as a reviewer I should even be trying to separate these out.
My older brother bought this album right when it came out. I was 11 and he was 13. And we would go into the basement and play video games, and put this on the stereo and laugh our heads off. And when we thought we heard our mom coming, we would turn it down real low so she wouldn't hear it. She wouldn't have approved of all the swearing, you see, and would surely have confiscated it if she know of it. And we'd listen to passing motorists telling Toll Booth Willie to go f himself, and listen to crazy moms tell their kids that they would all be laughed at and the assistant principal telling cheerleaders that they were required to shower in his office and janitors singing songs about mops and we would just laugh and laugh. Shortly after this, he got his friends and I got mine and we went our separate ways. We are still friendly with each other, but it's nothing like it was then. It can't ever be.
My younger brother and I found this album stored away somewhere in my parents house and immediately put it on. I was immediately flooded with a rush of happy memories. There I was listening to it, and I was 11 years old, and I was turning down the volume because I heard footsteps. I found funny voices and swearing to be the height of comedy. I was still best of friends with my older brother and we were playing Mario Kart and just having a blast. But not only that, I was amazed at how well some of the jokes held up. Even if the skits go on too long or have stupid premises, most of them have funny lines scattered here and there. Oh, and "At a Medium Pace" is kinda brilliant. But where's the line behind "actually funny" and "11 year old Greg funny"? I've listened to the album a few times again since then and I'm not close to knowing yet.
To what extent is nostaliga a positive or negative force though? Fred Bronson has said in his column several times that a person's favorite song of all time tends to have been released when that person was around 13 years old. That rush you feel the first time you hear a song that kicks your ass, the first time you are blown away by how great a song is, it cannot be replicated. My favorite song was released when I was 16/17. Close enough. I went through a long period, in college mostly, where I was pretty much crusading against nostaliga. I hated it. Things should be enjoyed on their own merits, not hazy memories!!! Plus it implies some kind of "things were better back then" kind of viewpoint that I find distasteful. I've backed off that stance considerably since then, but I still can't, for example, watch those BS VH1 nostalgia shows.
So the question is, how much DOES nostalgia impact my enjoyment of music? I mostly listen to current or relatively current music, so not too much, really. But I still have a real soft spot for the pop music of 1996-2000, when I was in high school.
Still, as a reviewer, I always feel the need to strip away nostalgia and context and everything else to just focus on the work itself. It's an instinct that goes against everything I like, since the reviewers who inject the most of their own personality and opinions into their works are the ones who I tend to enjoy most, but it's something I work against. Is there a duty to attempt objectivity on the part of a reviewer? There's certainly a responsibility to give everything a fair shake. A responsibility that I think most reviewers avoid (see my post on romantic comedies or Raise Your Voice). But, I tend to think that as long as a person does a good job of explaining what the work is like, and does a good job of explaining specifically why they enjoy it or not they've done their job. That's basically my philosophy with reviewing things. And there's not a whole lot of room for nostalgia there.
So it's a bit ironic (hypocritical?) that as a reviewer I'm trying to put all of myself and all of my taste out there but I try to strip away all nostalgia from my reviews and thoughts, when it makes up part of my listening habits. But this is what I think of it, after all this: I think people are too quick to attribute things they genuinely enjoy to nostalgia. This was a classic game when I was indie. "Pop music, no I hate that. I only like 'Steal My Sunshine' due to nostalgia!" I think when it comes to pop, there's an unreasonable need to try to justify your tastes, and nostalgia makes an easy scapegoat. I think it's an easy, bullcrap out when people don't want to admit to themselves they really like something or don't wanna examine why they really like something (I say "they" here and later, but this includes myself a lot of times). But I think it's harkening back to a different day in your youth. Music critics are jaded. I've heard thousands and thousands of songs, heard many I love and many I don't. I've almost become inured to the feeling of really loving something. I think people want to go back to the days when they were easier to impress. When music was just about love and enjoyment and not "Oh this is derivative crap, blah blah blah". It's their inner poptimist coming out! Attributing all this to "Oh, it's just nostalgia" is sidestepping the issue and is shortchanging the work.
So screw it, They're All Gonna Laugh at You is an album I loved when I was 11. Maybe though the years, it's become harder and harder to make me laugh. Maybe I've become too critical of comedy. I don't know. This album throws away all my guards and just lets me be silly and laugh. It's a great album, nostalgia be damned.