Now feels like the summer breaks from yesteryear—disruptions from routine and (mis)adventures into the new, all while clouds of uncertainty loom overhead. The connection between the limbo then and the limbo now may attribute to this sudden urge to reconnect with childhood friends, replay old video games, or flip through photos of the past. But the strongest pull is for a specific sense of nostalgia, not just for any time in the past, but one that parallels our current time of turbulence—one in which we made it through.
Nostalgia might be the best tool for this present time, a way to reflect and imagine from the safety of a realized past reality. Nostalgia can be the threads, tying the present to the past: a familiar history to process a confusing present, and a familiar language to describe an unknown future.
There’s a tenderness to how Frank Ocean recalls his past over samples and cassette tapes. His memories are marked by a sense of longing and lust, but in many ways, perhaps through the process of recollecting these memories, many of these swirling thoughts find their way to gratitude and closure.
For Ocean, nostalgia is less about our current crisis and more about humanity’s inner and eternal crises. He’s quick to bounce from dwelling on the cosmic—free will and destiny, to the primitive and basic—sexual urges and simple crushes. This range is valuable, it allows Frank Ocean to glide from topic to topic while highlighting the emotional through-line. It’s less important what the actual events and circumstances are, but more how it feels. It’s less about the “things,” and more about the connections that tie the “things” together.
Nostalgia can sometimes feel unstable—a sense that often feels disappointing in the present, and unreliable for the future. But the truth is that too much attention is focused on what the rose-tinted glasses see (the things), when the power of nostalgia is one of imagination (the threads, the connections). Booting up Street Fighter during the pandemic might or might not live up to the expectation of what it used to feel like, but that doesn’t diminish the intensity of the feeling. The gift of nostalgia is not Street Fighter now, but Street Fighter then—brought to now. We’re given another opportunity to work through the old with new eyes—this can be a way to process burdens that haunt our present selves, and provide new insights for our future selves.
Frank Ocean revisits his past as he reworks “Hotel California” by Eagles and samples MGMT’s “Electric Feel.” More than just an exercise in yearning, these revisits allow an older, more mature Ocean to process his past relationships, deepen his own understanding of identity, and imagine a new future.
Along with the above, Ocean also creates variations of past hits by Coldplay and Mr Hudson. They’re all alterations of the original works, the past has been brought to the present, but there’s been some warping and bending. Not only does nostalgia bring time together, it alters and changes on its way to the present. Past events become malleable when they are brought to the now, nostalgia creates these new realities. (Perhaps we should be less disappointed in what the nostalgia glasses show us, and more impressed that our glasses are rose-tinted.)
It’s only with acknowledging the power of these memories, and prioritizing the feelings that come with it, that one can move forward—using this foundation to process the present, and plan for the future.
All that matters is that it felt real then as it feels real now.