Maybe, no…., probably due to my dance with the devil in 2017 I’ve been in a reflective mood for much of the last three years. Furthermore, later this year I will turn 50 and this has got me thinking about the passage of time, how we perceive it and how that perception changes over the years and how some of those changes can creep up on you.
A couple of years ago at a reception to celebrate our graduating Masters students I brought along a photo of my MSc classmates from the University of Stirling. I’d come across the photo as we were doing the last of the unpacking after the move to Seattle. It dawned on me, as I stood there in 2018, that the photo had been taken 25 years previously in 1993. It was 25 years since I’d been in the same position as the students now facing me. This got me thinking, as 1993 didn’t seem that long ago, but it was 25 years, 25 years that had crept up on me. Twenty-five years! It wouldn’t go away, the thought that it was a quarter of century since I’d finished my masters. And then it dawned on me that I was only born 25 years after the end of World War II. However, when I was growing up it seemed a lifetime away. This is got me thinking about how we perceive time and how that your perception changes as you get older.
Sitting here in 2020, the equivalent of 1945 to 1970 is 1995. 1995! Kurt Cobain was already dead, it was the height of Britpop and we were already 30 years on from the swinging sixties. I remember in the summer of 1995 going to see R.E.M., with Oasis as support, at Slane Castle in Ireland. That was 1945 to 1970 and my birth. Today I appreciate that I was born not that long after the end of the war. It makes me look back at relatives and family friends totally differently, they weren’t actually as old as I thought they were when I was growing up. Those who fought in World War II weren't much more than boys.
This is why young people can appear to ignore history. But actually, they aren’t. It just seems distant to them. As you get older you not only hang on more to things that happened, but your perception of time and its passage change. For example, OMD's song Enola Gay was released 35 years after Hiroshima. It seemed to reflect back on ancient history to my 10-year-old ears in 1980. However, it’s now 40 years since it was released. Possibly for those of us in Generation X the switch from black and white to colour television made that distinction even more evident. Virtually everything on tv before I was born was in black and white, virtually everything afterwards in colour. It made news footage from the thirties and forties, events and tv shows from the fifties and sixties seem from a different age from the perspective of a little boy growing up in the 1970s. I was born less than a year after Apollo 11’s landing on the moon, but the mere fact it was a set moment in time made it appear to me as though it has always been there. But for me it had been. I never knew a time before Neil Armstrong had stepped onto the lunar surface.
I’ve also come to believe that your perception of time is inescapable from your own age. It is to some degree proportionate to your age. That is why childhood memories contract time. Even today, 1977 to 1984 seems like a lifetime. Going from 7 years old to 14 is huge. So much seemed to happen, time seemed to move so slow, because proportionately it was enormous. In a bizarre way, 1977 seems as far away to me today as it did ten years on in 1987. However, if I look back from today to seven years ago it seems like a couple of days ago. This is despite so much happening since. In 2013 Nathaniel was only one, Thomas, Abigail and Ruby had yet to make their appearance, we were still in London.
As this perception of time changes, I’ve found that I’m able to increasingly put not only my own life but broader history into a greater perspective. It allows you to look back and reconsider history in a longer-time frame, to appreciate why grudges can last so long and how an understanding of the bigger picture and longer time-frame is so important. It makes you re-evaluate things that you’d previously dismissed. It also helps you appreciate how things can change so quickly. Even here in 2020, 2002 doesn’t seem that long ago. Forget global politics, what has changed musically in the last 18 years? Yet 2002 is 1962 to 2020’s 1980. In those 18 years we went from the Beatles ‘Love Me Do’ to Joy Divisions ‘Love will Tear us Apart’. Or is that just me getting old and starting to feel that music is all the same nowadays?