“Everyday life is destined to change forever, but some things are never better than their predecessors.”This is according to renowned US rapper, Wordsworth in EMC’s Winds Of Change. It’s not uncommon to have people making comparisons between the present and yesteryear, and preferring the past. But what’s the cause of such comparisons? In some instances, if not the all, it’s probably because how the future is imagined would be and how it turns out to be is, in many cases, two different animals. Rarely do we face the future with a pessimistic view because we would like to believe that as creatures of development our horizon can’t be characterized by stagnation and regress. So, we tie the flags of our aspiration to the poles of hope with the view that they will remain there even without a concerted effort from us to keep them there. At the nadir of aspirations we become nostalgic. The etymology of “nostalgia” states that the word employs two Greek roots, nostos meaning “returning home” and algia which means “longing”, so we long for an atavism of sorts. We often hear older generations talk about the ‘good old days’. The invoking and longing of days gone by is largely imbued by the inability to identify with the present and what it has to offer.
There was a period when Jazz was said to have ‘died’. It was probably such pronouncements that led Wynton Marsalis in releasing his critically acclaimed The Majesty Of The Blues were in he cautions against the accepting as fact the death of jazz as supposed by profit driven recording companies. In “Pre-mature Autopsies”, which was written by Stanley Crouch and by Rev Jerimiah Wright, the following is said of the recording industry’s pronouncement: “We are told that because it(jazz) did not co-sign the ignoble proclivities of the marketplace, because it did not lie back and relax in the dungeon with riff raff, because it had an attitude of gutbucket grandeur, and because it sought to elevate through elegance, for all of these things, it has died, for some a most welcome death… They (mainstream) feel this sound began to outlive its usefulness the moment it could no longer be abused in the world of prostitution, that world where the beautiful, wondrous act of intimate romance and procreation is reduced to one fact: a sham ritual in which the customer’s appetite for lies is equalled by the prostitute’s willingness to tell those lies in whatever detail he is ready to pay for.” Wright bemoaned the supposed death of jazz. And in an act of defying the end of jazz he employs nostalgia and reminds those who may have forgotten about the sacrifices of paragons of old:”Don’t forget the people like Duke Ellington, who will not leave the field once it becomes obvious that the sound of a cymbal swinging in celebration is more beautiful than the ringing of a cash register. Remember that there are those who, like Duke Ellington, are willing to face the majesty of their heritage and endure the slow, painful development demanded of serious study.”
In the many activities, whether sports; music and even politics, that people bother themselves with daily, there are many a story of people within such activities whose work ethic has been perfidious towards the traditions and principles of the said activities. Look at state of hip hop, particularly from the US and you will realize that it’s a far cry from what it was some 30+ years ago. How did a culture that spawned from intended social neglect, a culture that was about social awareness and upliftment end up like this? One of the founders of hip hop, Afrika Bambaathaa asks, “How we went from living like gods to living like dogs?”It wasn’t surprising to see Nas release an album titled “Hip Hop Is Dead”. Perhaps it was reflective of the times. There is only so much KRS ONE, The Roots, Master Ace, Jean Grea and those of proclivities similar to their own can do.
Last week I was with an older relative of mine and we ran into an old friend of his. They reminisced on their ‘good old days’ and the one thing that struck me was when they spoke about how true football was played in the past and not this ‘hogwash’ that we served today. It is an issue that almost always dominates sporting debates, particularly football. The older generations decries the lack of passion and commitment from today’s players. They utterly dismiss the labelling of what we are dished up with as football. Could they be jealous of ‘modern’ players’ opportunities? Maybe. Afterall, the money they earned was mere peanuts to what many professional soccer players take home, or to the nearest drinking hole. But something tells me that an entire generations’ unfavourable opinion of today’s footballing standard can’t just be summarized as being envious. There has to be some truth to those statements. Bafana being ranked 90th in the world doesn’t really help the cause.
At the heart of the dilemma facing the aforementioned activities is the cash register! The moment money is thrown into the mix, then, things seem to take on a life of their ‘own’. It was Lauren Hill who said: “Funny how money changes situation.” The demands of capital are hard to ignore more especially when you have allowed them to insidiously eroded your passion and render your work ethic towards your activity as pejorative. The introduction of huge amounts of money seems to be the dichotomy of those who make money and those made by money and more often than not it’s the latter in whose favour the scale usually tilts, to the peril of the chosen activity. But there are, although in small numbers, those who, like Duke Ellington did, pay minimal attention to the seductive sounds of cash registers. Purists they are called. They are The Last Emperors, Tumis, Zubzs and Immortal Techniques of the world amongst others and in footballing terms they are arguably best represented by the likes of FC Barcelona, the Spanish, Brazilian and Portuguese teams and a few others. Rev Wrights speaks about these people when he says that: “Out there somewhere are the kind of people who do not accept the premature autopsy of a noble art form. These are the ones who follow in the footsteps of the gifted and the disciplined who have been deeply hurt but not discouraged, who have been frightened but have not forgotten how to be brave, who revel in the company of their friends and sweethearts but are willing to face the loneliness that is demanded of mastery.” We must understand that the introduction of money doesn’t have to derail us from our principles. We must also be mindful of the fact that the death of things occurs when there’s indecisiveness about the new paths to be negotiated, when there’s a lull in leadership is when it’s most opportune for ignominious forces to occupy the vacant space. The dominance of guile forces in our lives is determined by our comfort under their reign. So, we should be glad that the death of things occurs because death gives way to new life in the circle of life. So, the death of things, whatever they may be, is in essence a renaissance.