Recency

I was over the Cheeses for dinner last night. Afterwards, we had a bottle of wine and settled down to watch a movie. The movie happened to be the recently released film about Laurel and Hardy (Stan and Oliver), plucked from a selection of movies to watch.

It was a pretty good movie, and affecting in ways, but the fascinating thing was that Cheeseboy, around my age but who grew up on the other side of the world from me, had basically the same memory of Laurel and Hardy as I did.

When I was a kid there’d often be old movies played in school holidays featuring comic performers of yesteryear. That’s how I discovered the Marx Brothers. I remember watching at least one W.C. Fields movie, there were Abbott and Costello, and the Three Stooges (I loved them), and Laurel and Hardy.

In the years since I don’t think I’ve seen anything of them except the odd Marx Brothers movie. They were of a time for me and when I was a kid, of a recency – say between 25-50 years prior – that they still had a general connection to the era I was growing up in, though times were very different.

Cheeseboy had a similar experience in Holland, it seems, though he never encountered the Three Stooges. Laurel and Hardy were his favourites back then, big in the Netherlands, it seems. He explained one of their famous scenes to us, the scene where they haul a piano up a long stairway before letting it slip and crash down at the foot of the stairs. I remember those sort of scenes myself. It was all slapstick and visual gags, facial expressions and body acting.

It seems to me that sort of humour has gone out of fashion. You don’t see much slapstick anymore. For us, watching as adults, there was a sense of childish glee and nostalgia as we watched. It’s innocent humour, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t happen so much now, because fewer people grow into the world innocent these days (though there’s no exemption for stupidity). As adults, it was refreshing.

Watching with us was Cheeseboy Jr. He hadn’t heard of Laurel and Hardy, and I wonder what he made of it, though he watched to the end. He probably we was a bit silly as we hooted occasionally, and told our stories. Unfortunately, this generation doesn’t have that experience, though maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s a Laurel and Hardy of the Z generation I don’t know about.

I sometimes wonder about the historical perspective the generations grow up with. I don’t mean the big stuff like the wars and shit like that, I mean the cultural stuff. I’m willing to accept that when I grew up, I may have been more alert and conscious of things that came before. I was curious and asked questions and read books. I’m Gen X, but I reckon my close cultural knowledge extended back probably to around the depression era – roughly speaking, to the beginnings of the talkies and the jazz age.

I knew a lot – still do – remember watching movies with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, the early Carey Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire (there were a lot of his movies being played back then), even Errol Flynn. I knew a lot of the music because mum was a music lover and a singer as well, and would go about the house singing old standards. My grandparents had grown up in that era, and though I don’t remember ever discussing it with them, I’m sure I must have absorbed some by osmosis.

By contrast, I recall a conversation I had about ten years ago with a very cool hipsterish dude at a party. He was about twenty years younger than me and was big into music. He raved about it as if it was his sole purpose. We talked a while about recent bands when for some reason, probably connected to what we were talking about, I made a reference to the Spencer Davis Group. They weren’t a huge band, but they were notable in the sixties scene, particularly in Britain, and spawned some significant careers out of it. They had some great tunes, a strong, funky groove and I think that’s probably what I was alluding to, comparing a band of the day back in time to the SDG.

The guy gaped at me. He’d never heard of the Spencer Davis Group. I was amazed. How could you be a serious music lover if you didn’t know the roots of it? Upon discussion, I found he had only a sketchy knowledge of the Beatles. Once more, I was astounded. I looked at him as if he was from outer space. He was an affable character smiling at me with curiosity, and so I showed him a clip on my phone of the Spencer Davis Group, Gimme Some Lovin’, or I’m a Man most likely, though maybe Keep on Running – great songs. He was blown away. “How’d I not know this stuff?” he exclaimed. I wondered the same.

I like to think in the years since he’s filled those gaps in his musical education, but the point is, recency means that our sphere of knowledge only goes so far back, and seems to be shrinking. What’s a reasonable period of time to have knowledge of before your birthdate? It was about 35 years for me (and, even so, decently sketchy understanding going back even further). Is it less now? It feels sometimes as if we are becoming goldfish in a fishbowl.

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