A Wrinkle in Mind
January 5, 2023 | Jim Angehr
Happy new year, everyone! And here’s something depressing for you.
From my teen years well into adulthood, by the end of each year I’d have prepared a list of my top ten albums of the annum. Only recently did I realize that it’s been a while since I’ve put together such an itemization—but not because I listen to less music than I used to. It’s instead because I listen to far less new music than my younger self enjoyed.
Yikes! I don’t know if I’ve heard ten new albums in all of 2022, especially if the criteria would include sitting down and playing them straight through.
My taste in music is going backwards. Lots of jazz, and old jazz at that. For Christmas, I gifted myself the six CD box set of Bill Evans’ Turn Out the Stars, a set of live recordings from 1980 that captured his latest trio mere months before the pianist died. For my current standards, acquiring an album from 1980 actually qualifies as new music.
Books are similar. While I make a genuine effort to keep up with current fiction and read from a broad diversity of authors, 2022 was the year when I broke the seal on rereading novels that I had already years ago taken in.
First up in this trend was John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, a classic comedy/picaresque set in 1960’s New Orleans. I went back-to-back from Dunces to Robert Stone’s A Hall of Mirrors, a sort of Southern noir—although Stone himself was a New Yorker—that likewise takes place in the Crescent City of the mid-60’s.
I first read Dunces and Mirrors over 20 years ago, and a large part of this recent exercise was that it gave me occasion to recall my two-decades-younger self and reflect upon the different ways in which I experienced these books with such a large span of time in between.
Bottom line is that I registered these novels quite differently this last time through. Different aspects of the Toole and Stone were funnier than before, some less so, and some scenes more despairing, some less so. There were even certain things in these fictions that I realized I had been completely misremembering for 20 years.
The passage of time and the unreliability of memory. That was one of my main themes from 2022.
I don’t have a top ten list of favorite new albums for you, but I have do have a "top one"—Craig Finn’s A Legacy of Rentals. The erstwhile leader of the band The Hold Steady, Craig Finn isn’t a young artist anymore, and in fact he may be older than I am by a couple of years. In his own words, A Legacy of Rentals considers questions of memory from different perspectives. This solo album was accompanied by a podcast series called That’s How I Remember It, a show in which Finn interviews various artists/creatives about the twin cruciality of both the clarity and fungibility of memory. The title of the podcast comes from a line in one of the key songs on Rentals called “Never Any Horses,” where the protagonist drunk dials an old girlfriend to compare notes about an abortive vacation weekend they shared way back in the day. His old paramour doesn’t have time for him and admonishes that his recollection of those days is quite different from what she remembers happening. There were "never any horses," and so on.
People have told me that I have a good memory. I’m not sure if that’s true in the absolute sense; I think it’s more that over 20 years of most-every-Sunday preaching has trained me to be able to access my remembrances quickly for the sake of weaving some personal narratives into my sermons. Either way, the reality probably is that whenever I’ll tell a story from the pulpit (or otherwise), the further back the tale may date, the less accurate it will probably be. Still, that’s how I remember it.
I’m still mulling over my mom, who died back in November after a decade-plus slide into Alzheimer’s disease. How heartbreaking and tragic to have witnessed her own cache of memories dwindle to nearly zero by the end of her life.
Whether by Alzheimer’s or no, the older we become, the less we retain. Entropy omnia vincit. If I find myself as I age facing more of a tendency to fold in upon myself, there will become less of myself to fold into. And given this sobering state of affairs, how could any new year ever be a happy one?
Except if there’s One whose memory never decays, who loses no fidelity even over the longest periods of time.
To paraphrase Isaiah: our memories wither, our recollections fade, but the mind of our God stands forever.
A hopeful and happy new year, friends.