Friday, February 26, 2010

"You know you better watch out"—A Feeble Tribute to Beautiful Ghosts

Prompted by a friend's thoughts on high school reunions, I got to thinking about my own high school experience and (as happens to me at least once a year) reliving parts of it via old music. That about sums up why I don't know anything about what the kids are playing on the gramophone these days: I'd rather just listen to Wu-Tang.

That is, rather than seeking a nostalgic link to the past, I really still love Wu-Tang's early material. If anything, I've grown to appreciate artists like the Wu-Tang Clan, Outkast, and Biggie more over time than I ever did in high school; while bands in which I was excessively emotionally invested at one point (I'm looking at you, Nirvana) now tend to bore me. Seriously, it's embarrassing.

This isn't a review of mid-nineties hip hop or an analysis of why for me it's so much more enduring than examples from other genres during that period, but a preface to an admission that for me one artist does have the power to evoke heart-wrenching nostalgia.

The chosen one is Lauryn Hill in 1998-99. I was a fan of the Fugees and had enjoyed Wyclef's The Carnival, but The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill just hit me in a really deep place. It was released a few weeks before the beginning of my senior year, and throughout the 1998/99 school year her music was everywhere. 1998 was a big year for "crossovers" in hip hop--it followed Sting's participation in a tribute to Biggie, it was the year of the ascendancy of Puff Daddy and Will Smith, the year that ODB made his way onto the soundtrack of a Warren Beatty film--but Hill managed to have virtually universal appeal without sacrificing quality or vision. It's just a gorgeous album, and I play it on a loop every time I return to it but it has yet to get old.

I've confirmed in many conversations that I'm not alone in this, nor am I alone in the main qualification of my devotion to the L-Boogie cult: the Lauryn Hill of Miseducation had ceased to exist by the year 2000. This nostalgia for music that absolutely saturated the air during the formal end of my childhood is only strengthened by the wistfulness that results from wondering what the fuck happened to this staggeringly beautiful and talented woman.

So let's chalk this nostalgia up to unrequited love and perennial disappointment as leitmotifs in adolescence, in the songs on this album, and in the life of its creator. I loved her, she was way out of my reach, but I secretly wished her well, and in the end she fell apart. Yes, I'm hokey and melodramatic. I still love The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and I'm still in love with Lauryn Hill in her 1998-99 incarnation.





4 comments:

Tamara said...

So I know that it doesn't actually count as a comment when all I do is quote you back to yourself, but OMG, SO GOOD:

"So let's chalk this nostalgia up to unrequited love and perennial disappointment as leitmotifs in adolescence, in the songs on this album, and in the life of its creator. I loved her, she was way out of my reach, but I secretly wished her well, and in the end she fell apart."

Way to raise the blogging bar, BJG.

BJG. said...

Blogs are a solipsistic medium, and this is a solipsistic post about a solipsistic album; so I'd say quoting me back to myself is appropriate. Thanks for the kind words.

Ben Garceau said...

Oh man, "Everything is Everything" brings me back to this untouchably beautiful (and naturally unconsummated) summer romance from my senior year in high school. I still get all soft inside when I hear the two secret tracks. Seriously, what happened to her? I guess that kind of spectral perfection is doomed to collapse under the weight of our expectations. Whether I'm talking about Lauryn Hill or that girl in Indiana is difficult to say.

BJG. said...

Very nicely put, Ben. "To Zion" almost makes me cry.