A few weeks ago all the majors news sources ran stories on Tommy Ramone’s death. Tommy, the drummer for the 1970s rock band, The Ramones, was the band’s longest surviving member at just 62.
Now, I confess I have little knowledge of The Ramones beyond “Blitzkrieg Pop.” (A tune which serves as a great example of how music that was once revolutionary becomes somewhat quaint one generation later.) The story caught my attention not because I care deeply about the The Ramones, but because I hardly care about them at all.
By stepping back I realized that the stories were about more than a deceased demigod of 1970s rock. The stories were really three parts nostalgia and one part obituary. In a way, Tommy Ramone’s death stands for something bigger: the death of a time and culture now long gone.
The linked article opens with, “And that’s it; they’re all gone.” The sentence’s grim finality seems to mourn more than just a Ramone. As the son of baby-boomers, I’ve been regulated to a constant barrage of assertions that culture has been in a steady decline since they’ve moved out of youth. Contemporary music, T.V., movies, all pale in comparison to the standards of their day.
I realize that a blogging Millennial calling a Boomer “egocentric” is like a pot calling the kettle black. But I hasten to mention that the pot’s assertion is nonetheless correct.
I’m willing to bet that people click on obituaries not to mourn the life of a proto-punk drummer. It’s probably more about what the drummer represents, the decades-old way of life that’s now almost forgotten. It’s about nostalgia, and its consequent melancholia. These articles are a poor substitute for a time machine, a DeLorean with leaking transmission fluid. They can transport a small part of us back in time or resurrect a fading feeling, and these remnants fill us with joy. But we also mourn because that’s as close as we’re ever going to get to our past–nostalgia’s melancholia and its bitter pill.