Music is the best. You can make that statement, and it can mean a myriad of things, all of them true. For example, music is the best pedagogical tool around. If it wasn’t why would virtually every child in the USA learn the alphabet from the same melody? If not, my eighth grade French teacher wouldn’t have written a song about possessive pronouns to the tune of “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys. Why do churches innumerable sing “In Christ Alone?” It has one of the most biblically accurate and concise statements on the person on Christ there is in the English language.
The above being true, there is a dimension to music that draws on our emotions, bringing us to think and feel in concert with one another. Nearly anyone can think of watching a maestro as he vigorously conducts his orchestra through a symphony while looking as if he’s beating back Saruman’s Uruk-hai at Helm’s Deep. Music draws such a man in to a physical action that stems from his mediation and feeling of the piece. Music is the bucket that draws from the deepest well of the human soul. It’s no wonder that the centerpiece the Bible is the hymnal of ancient Israel.
What happens when that music draws out something other than pure water? If music is a bucket tied to a well, we have an instrument that can both draw out water, but it can also pour in poison. It can implant an idea or desire foreign to what had been there previously. Ugh, music is the worst.
Such an introduction could be copied and pasted to any number of discussions on music. Had it been written 20 years ago, its use would likely be to discourage teenagers from listening to secular music. The 1990s saw an interesting rise in dark and angsty, sometimes self-proclaimed evil music, but that was an undercurrent that bubbled up from the underground, became fashionable (and therefore marketable), and has mainly retreated into obscurity. What is far more important is what does not become obscure, what stays around and survives year after year.
What survives from the past is bound to evoke nostalgia, so what of a song that ruminates on nostalgia already? That brings us to the song in question, “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg. Released in the early 1980s, the song narrates a man’s chance encounter with his high school girlfriend in his hometown while running an errand on Christmas Eve. Instead of the standard and trite exchange one might expect, the two spend a few hours together, toasting beers in her car. The conversation runs its course, and as they sadly part, she kisses him. If you’ve not heard the song, it can be found on both Amazon Music and Spotify. In fact, it was the first Dan Fogelberg song suggested when I plugged his name into the search bar. The song is autobiographical, recollecting an actual event in the life of the songwriter.
The point of this post isn’t to question Dan Fogelberg’s character; he sadly died of cancer a decade ago. Nor is the point to warn the reader against drinking beer in a parked car, though such a practice might generate an interesting conversation with local law enforcement. No, while Fogelberg’s encounter with his former girlfriend started and ended there (which does not render it innocent as the song accurately states the the ex-girlfriend was another man’s current wife), how does this scenario generally play out? Sitting there, reading a blog, does this sound like a good idea? Listening to a song, singing along, feeling a little blue, do you gain some sympathy for it? If any one of us is honest, we probably do.
When presented in a song that is prime for anyone old enough to contemplate what he or she would be doing if life had gone differently, reconnecting with an old flame seems sadly sweet (just like the song indicates). The detail about her being married gets lost in the emotion of it all. And because it is dripping with a feeling that a large fraction of the culture can completely understand, you might hear it on the radio between “Mary, Did You Know?” and “Winter Wonderland.” It could be the next thing you hear after the blurb inviting you and the whole family to a local Christmas light display. But how does your family feel about you pondering your satisfaction with them because you ran into your homecoming date?
Nostalgia is one of the most powerful feelings and forces a person can encounter. How many current movies are trafficking in it right now? Disney is cashing in on 90s kids now entering their late 20s as they are steadily developing live-action updates to nearly their entire 1990s catalog. Numerous articles attribute the success of Netflix’s Stranger Things to its authentic 80s feel. As our culture becomes more technologically complex and we grow more hurried and harried, we naturally long for a simpler time. When we remember those times, we remember those people. Nostalgia’s grip isn’t new—Fogelberg released his single before I was born; the movie Stand By Me asked if anyone can ever have friends like they did at the age of 12 in 1986.
Like a bulldozer, the power of nostalgia is, and should be amoral. A bulldozer clearing land for a new hospital is great; one that has smashed into your dining room is another story. Which do you think it will be if you cultivate thoughts of reconnecting with the girl you dated when you were 17 while your wife sleeps soundly next to you?
I can hear the objection coming—the song is conflicted, what’s the big deal anyway, it’s not like they get a motel room. No, they don’t. “Same Old Lang Syne” isn’t exactly Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” mediating on teenage trysts in the trusty woods. Seger admits the whole thing wasn’t love, but vain fornication in that lyric. Fogelberg’s song reconnects hearts, promotes “meaningful human connection.” Be that as it may, meaningful human connection doesn’t mean good human connection. David certainly meaningfully connected with Bathsheba, just ask her husband, Uriah.
As we grow older, we certainly mature away from some vices. It’s a common grace. Even Hank Williams Jr. gravitated away from pills and 90-proof to cornbread and iced tea. Some kinds of bad decisions just don’t age well for most of us. But pride does go before a fall. We age out of some sins and age into others. Consider the end of this article from Chicago Tribune--social networking presents a danger for “accidental affairs.” An identical phenomenon has cropped up in the UK. Though I doubt many reading this particular blog consider themselves fans of Huffington Post, but this piece by blogger Sandra Walker communicates a similar danger. The short film embedded in the blog is an awkward and safe-for-the-family 13-minute exploration of the same topic I’m discussing now.
You can read my first post to this site and find out why I’m not on Facebook any more, and this is not a post to condemn social networks. Dan Fogelberg died the year after Facebook became available for practically anyone, and his song predates public access to the internet. There are plenty of adults who have never had a Facebook account who’d rather not discuss an incident from a high school reunion.
Proverbs 5:18 instructs the reader: rejoice in the wife of your youth. Does “Same Old Lang Syne” help or hinder us from doing that? It may play with the kitschy and harmless kiddie songs as you run your daily errands this December, but could it be that it is a hook in a bit of bait?
So often we rightly teach and tell our teens that what starts off small, dishonesty in a little homework assignment, for example, gives rise to greater character issues. Those copied algebra problems open the door for illicit cheat sheets during the final exam. We know this. While at 30, 40, and 50, we’re probably never going to be faced with the temptation to sneak a formula onto our graphing calculator, we might poison our minds and hearts against the spouse God granted to us in his grace. A song recalls a memory. A click on an app on your phone brings up a liked photo. That yields a message. I don’t have to trace out the rest of the story there. This year, cultivate a Christmas that waters the deep roots of your marriage. Love your spouse; remember that God has joined you together. No one should put that asunder. Not even the person who “got you” when you were 17. So when you hear the song while you’re walking through the mall or as it comes on the radio in the car, use it as an opportunity. Tell your spouse of the joy you have in your marriage. Tell your children to think carefully about reminiscing and wishing for the past.
Further reading for men: Rejoice in the Wife of Your Youth
Further reading for women: Only Love Prevents Adultery