Nostalgia vs. Memory – A Ramble

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Although this was supposed to be an article about creating things (art, fiction etc..) that are inspired by the past, I ended up spending all the article talking about my own experiences with the difference between nostalgia and memory. Likewise, I wrote the first draft of this article before I wrote these short stories. Still, this might help you to think about the differences between the two things more clearly.

A couple of days before I wrote this article, I went through a bit of a musical nostalgia phase. Whilst I can’t remember exactly what prompted it, I ended up looking through my collection of old CD singles again (anyone remember those?) for songs that made me feel nostalgic about the 1990s.

Whilst I bought relatively few CD singles during the 1990s (since I was a kid then, and I tended to listen to the radio and to audio cassettes more), I later went through a phase of buying every interesting old CD single I could find in charity shops when I was about seventeen. So, this wasn’t exactly my first musical nostalgia phase.

The interesting thing was that the songs that made me think about the 1990s the most were pretty much the last ones I expected. Whether it was Geri Halliwell’s surprisingly good cover of “It’s Raining Men”, “Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna or “Brimful Of Asha” By Cornershop, most of the songs that instantly made me vividly remember the 1990s weren’t exactly the kind of “retro” music I usually listen to these days.

In fact, the only songs that genuinely remind me of the 1990s that are close to my current tastes in music are probably a couple of punk songs from The Offspring’s “Americana” album. This, of course, makes perfect sense given that, although I discovered the punk genre in the late 1990s, I didn’t discover the heavy metal genre until about 2001 or the gothic rock genre until 2008. When I was a kid during the 1990s, the only music I listened to was what was easily available in the charts and/or on the radio.

Yet, if you were to ask me to think of “nostalgic 90s music”, I’d probably think of all sorts of cool bands that – to me now – seem very “1990s” but which I hadn’t actually heard during the 1990s. This, of course, is the difference between nostalgia and memory.

But, it’s not just music, it’s lots of other things too. Whenever I try to imagine a 1990s setting for a short story, comic or painting – my first thought is often about old American TV shows from the 1990s. Yet, I’ve never actually been to America. When I want to make something “look 90s”, I think of movies and music videos from the era that I never actually saw back then. When making “1990s style” art, I also tend to think of fashion designs that were a lot more common across the pond than over here.

I think that part of this is due to the fact that my nostalgia about the 1990s is a relatively recent thing. Even up until about 2008 or 2009, I was much more fascinated with the 1980s than the 1990s. So, I’ve had to do a lot of research into a decade that hadn’t quite fully entered mainstream nostalgia. Of course, American TV shows, movies, journalism, fashions etc.. tend to be a lot more well-documented online. So, they tended to turn up a lot more during my research.

Yes, in some ways, this is a little bit annoying. Because, from what I can remember and from everything I’ve seen later, the culture of 1990s Britain was really cool. It had more of a punkish rebelliousness to it than ’90s America did.

Whether it was ‘edgy’ TV shows like “Bits” or “Queer As Folk“, whether it was the cynically humourous attitude of (print) game journalism back then, whether it was the watered-down punk attitude of the Spice Girls (compared to modern pop bands, they were practically punk! One of their music videos from 1997 is also cyberpunk too!) or whether it was gleefully rebellious celebrities like Tracey Emin (I may not be a fan of conceptual art, but she was one of the coolest artists of the 90s) the 90s was a much more edgy, hedonistic, rebellious, creatively free and generally cool decade in Britain than in America. It’s just a shame I wasn’t old enough to truly enjoy or appreciate it back then!

But, is this disconnect between nostalgia and memory an entirely bad thing? No. I really like the stylised “nostalgic” version of 1990s America that I’ve built within my own imagination. It’s excitingly different to the more mundane everyday memories of 1990s Britain that I have. It’s really fun to make things (like this comic) that are based on this imagined version of another decade in another country.

But, at the same time, it doesn’t really have the same level of personal intensity as things that are actually based on memories. Making things that are based on memories, rather than nostalgia tends to have a level of vividness that doesn’t come from trying to conjure up an imagined version of the past. It feels like you are revisiting the formative parts of your imagination.

So, yes – like fantasies and reality, nostalgia and memories can be two vastly different things. But, they can both be good sources of creative inspiration.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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The Joy Of… Magazines

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[Note: I prepare these articles quite far in advance and, in the time between preparing this article and posting it here, Metal Hammer magazine was saved. Still, I’ll post the original draft article for the sake of posterity.]
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Magazines are one of those things that sit in the background of everyday life and aren’t really noticeable until they start disappearing. This happened late last year when I read, to my horror, that “Metal Hammer” magazine was shutting down. Luckily, I was able to get a copy of the final issue, but the whole thing made me think about magazines and how awesome they are.

Although I’ve only been a semi-regular magazine reader at most within the past few years (mostly for financial reasons), it’s surprising how important magazines have been to me over the years. I mean, I was first introduced to the zombie genre thanks to having a subscription to CVG magazine for a few years during my childhood. Back in the mid-late 1990s, they constantly ran previews of “Resident Evil 2” and it looked like the coolest thing in the world (even though I wouldn’t get to actually play it until the early 2000s).

Likewise, when I was a teenager, I had a subscription to “Official Playstation 2” magazine. This was during one of the very few times in my life that I was actually up-to-date with current gaming. Actually having a slick, shiny physical magazine (with a monthly demo disc, no less) just made the whole thing feel a lot more modern. Even though I only ended up getting a fraction of the games featured on the discs, actually being able to play parts of current games was amazingly cool.

Hell, one of the many reasons why I’m still so interested in retro gaming is the fact that, thanks to modern digital sales, I can actually play many of the cool computer games that I read about and/or saw on demo discs in the gaming magazines I read when I was a lot younger.

Then there were all of the various lifestyle magazines. Yes, these actually used to be a lot more popular (during the 2000s at least), and they were one of the coolest things in the world back then. Plus, whether it was “Attitude”, “Loaded”, “Bizarre”, “Diva”, “Hello” etc.. there was something for everyone too.

Plus, to some extent or another, these magazines elegantly straddled the line between “respectable informal journalism” and “daringly risque” well enough to actually appear on the main shelves of a fair number of newsagents during the 2000s.

In the simultaneously more liberal and more puritanical world of the internet, there doesn’t really seem to be an exact equivalent of this fascinatingly rebellious intelligent middle ground any more.

Anyway, going back to “Metal Hammer” – when I got the last issue of this magazine, I thought that it would make me feel nostalgic. After all, I’ve probably discovered at least a third of my favourite metal bands via this magazine. I have a lot of good memories associated with this magazine, even though it had been a while since I last read it.

But, when I actually read the final issue, there was nothing “nostalgic” about it. They were still reporting in depth about the current metal scene and interviewing all sorts of current bands that I either had or hadn’t heard of. It felt like I’d barely been away from the magazine at all. Although it came in a format that is “obsolete”, it felt more vivid and alive than most websites do. The quality of the writing was significantly better too.

And, yes, that’s one thing I miss about magazines. Magazine journalism. There’s something about the space limitations of a physcial format that promotes good writing. There’s something about the authority of words printed on paper that leads to better writing. There’s something about the monthly format that eliminates the need for gossipy “clickbait” articles. Likewise, curated letters pages in magazines often tend to be far more enjoyable to read than online comments are (especially if, like in CVG magazine, the editor would sometimes write politely sarcastic replies to the more opinionated letters).

Because of this, the tone of magazine journalism somehow manages to be both formal and informal at the same time in a seamless way. This is something that you don’t really see that often online (I mean, “Cracked” is the only online example of this I can think of).

Yes, I love blogging and I wouldn’t give up the freedom of the internet for the world. But it’s kind of sad that both online writing and magazine journalism don’t seem to co-exist as much as they used to. Both are good in different ways, and there should be a place for both in the world.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (14th August 2017)

This silly “mid-2000s nostalgia” digitally-edited painting was surprisingly fun to make. Basically, after watching a few episodes of a ‘so bad that it’s good’ anime series from the mid-2000s called “Tokko“, I was in the mood for making another attempt at painting a ‘nostalgic’ painting set in the mid-2000s.

But, then, I realised that there’s a good reason why the world isn’t saturated with mid-’00s nostalgia. I may have been a teenager back then, but it was probably one of the most hilariously uncool decades ever (second only to this dreary, austere and puritanical decade).

Sure, flip phones were cool and maybe flame shirts were too (not to mention that DVDs are timeless, and ‘The Da Vinci Code’ isn’t a bad book) – but almost everything else was just hilariously silly – sickly alcopops, fake Chinese script tattoos, Limp Bizkit, boho fashion, “l33t haxxor” elitist nerdiness, emo fashion, chav fashion, that bloody ‘crazy frog‘, endless American remakes of J-Horror films, the sequels to “The Matrix”, MSN Messenger, MySpace etc…

So, this painting is as much a parody (I certainly had a laugh when making it) of the mid-00s as it is a ‘nostalgia’ painting.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Like 2005" By C. A. Brown

“Like 2005” By C. A. Brown

Three Tips For Finding Your Own Artistic Interpretation Of “Retro”

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The word “retro” means a lot of different things to different people. Depending on who you are, it can refer to anything from the 1920s to the 1990s, perhaps even the early 2000s. Everyone has their own subtly different definition of what is “retro”.

Of course, if you’re an artist, then making “retro”-style art can be a great way to get inspired and to make your art both distinctive and fascinatingly nostalgic. But, of course, the trick to doing this is to actually find your own interpretation of “retro”. So, how do you do this? Here are a few tips:

1) Retro techniques: The best way to give your art a “retro” look, whilst still making it look unique, is to look at the kind of techniques that artists used to use in your favourite parts of modern history.

Although you shouldn’t directly copy the exact details of any part of someone else’s art, there’s no rule against learning and using general things like colour combinations, lighting styles, common compositions, general fashion types etc…. If you’re unsure of the difference between inspiration and copying, then read this article.

Generally, the more research you do into art, films, TV shows, illustrations etc… that were made during the time period in question, the more unique your application of these techniques will be. Why? Because you’ve seen lots of techniques used in so many different ways, you’re unlikely to directly copy the style of any one thing.

Plus, by learning “retro” art techniques, you’ll be able to give artwork that is set in the present day a ‘retro’ look too. For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting of mine that is set in the present day, but heavily inspired by both the 1980s and the 1990s.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th September.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th September.

The action-filled composition of this painting was inspired by the fact that old 1980s horror novel covers often feature a lot of dramatic movement. The high-contrast lighting is a technique that has been inspired by too many things from the 1980s/90s to list here, and which I use in virtually all of my paintings.

Like with a lot of my more recent art, the colour scheme was mostly inspired by a modern set of 1980s-style “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“. The punk-style skeleton was inspired by old comics, heavy metal album covers and VHS cover art from the 1980s and 1990s.

So, if you look at lots of retro stuff (and modern retro-inspired stuff) and learn the techniques that are used in it, you can give your own original artwork a uniquely “retro” look. Even if your art is set during the present day.

2) Know yourself: Don’t try to make your art look “retro” just for the sake of it. You should only add “retro” elements to your own unique art style if you genuinely think that they look cool, and if they genuinely make you feel inspired. In other words, you have to know your own aesthetic tastes really well.

Just because a particular type of “retro”-style thing is fashionable (or unfashionable) at the moment doesn’t mean that you should copy it. Ignore fashion and focus on what you personally think is cool. If you’re not sure what that is, then look at your favourite old movies, comics, games, album covers etc… and ask yourself “what makes them look so interesting?“.

If you make retro-style art that is inspired by the things that you personally find “cool”, not only will you have a lot more fun making it (and feel proud of it) but you’ll also come up with a much more unique interpretation of that particular “retro” style than you will if you just try to make a particular type of “retro-style” art because it is fashionable or unfashionable at the moment

For example, with something ike retro music nostalgia, I tend to get nostalgic about FM Radio, audio cassettes and CDs. I’ve never really used vinyl and have no real interest in it. Yet, vinyl is the thing that people always think of when they think of “retro” music. This difference has inspired at least one comic of mine (it’s from 2016, so the art looks kind of old though):

"Damania Resurrected - Trained From Birth" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurrected – Trained From Birth” By C. A. Brown

Likewise, when people on the internet talk nostalgically about retro console gaming on the internet, the original NES is often the console that they mention. Yet, all of my early childhood console nostalgia is about the SNES (and the original Game Boy). So, if I was going to make some art inspired by old console gaming, it would probably be SNES-inspired rather than NES-inspired. Even though the NES is more “fashionable” these days.

So, if you know and understand yourself, your “retro” art will be a lot more meaningful.

3) Have fun:
You shouldn’t take this “retro” stuff ultra-seriously. It’s ok to only be partially-inspired by old art. In fact, if you want your art to look unique, then your art shouldn’t be entirely inspired by any one thing (including one time period). So, don’t fuss too much about whether your “retro” art looks “authentic” or not.

It doesn’t matter if it looks “authentic”, or “historically accurate”. All that matters is whether it looks cool or not. So, don’t be afraid to blend things from different time periods. Don’t be afraid to add modern-style elements if you think that it improves your artwork. Don’t be afraid to change things. Don’t be afraid to use artistic licence.

As I said earlier, you should only make retro style art if it is something that you personally enjoy doing and because you personally think that it looks cool. To use a phrase from the 90s, “stop trying so hard”. If retro stuff inspires you, then add it to your art. If it doesn’t, then don’t. The goal is to have fun and to make cool artwork.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

History, Nostalgia, Creativity And Subtlety – A Ramble

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Although this is an article about creating historical art, historical comics, historical fiction etc…. I’m going to have to start by talking about real-life “anachronisms” and some vaguely geeky stuff. As usual, there’s a good reason for this.

The night before I wrote this article, I happened to find an absolutely fascinating historical video online. This was one of those mildly unusual things that, like colour footage of 1920s London (or colour photos of 1910s Russia) or old footage from the 1920s/30s that seems to show people using mobile phones, seemed like an anachronism. But, what was it?

It was a modern-style HD video of New York… filmed in 1993. Seriously, you can actually watch this in 1080p if you have a fast enough connection and/or enough available RAM. I watched it in 720p, but it was still pretty astonishing, given when it was filmed.

Some of the high-definition scenes in the film look wonderfully retro and some look slightly eerie (eg: modern-style footage of the Twin Towers etc..), but a few scenes look like they could have been filmed today.

For example, there’s some aerial filming which – if it wasn’t for a barely-noticeable helicopter shadow on a building– could easily be modern HD drone footage. Likewise, there’s a close-up of an old man sleeping on a bench, which literally looks like something from a modern HD documentary.

So, what does any of this have to do with creativity?

Well, one of the many interesting things about this modern-looking HD video from 1993 was the comments below it. One thing that seemed to “shock” a few people was the fact that nobody was staring at a smartphone in the footage of the busy streets. People were actually *gasp* acting like people whilst walking down the street.

I was more distracted by the retro fashions etc… to notice this (which is especially odd, given that I made an entire webcomic about smartphones, time travel and 1990s America a while ago), but the absence of smartphones seemed to be one of the things that made it stand out as something from the 1990s.

And, yet, it’s a really subtle thing.

So, this obviously made me think about works of art and fiction that are set in the past. Often, when we’re making art or comics about the relatively recent past, it can be very easy, and very fun, to go down the “nostalgia” route and exaggerate notable features from the time in question. Like with some of my own “nostalgic” 1990s-themed artwork:

"1990s Office Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Office Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

"1990s Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

But, often the most telling signs that something ‘serious’ is set in the past are a lot more subtle. For starters, many things are surprisingly timeless. Although the inclusion of these things in historical works might make them seem ‘modern’, they’re often anything but modern.

For example, the copious use of four-letter words in the fictional medieval-style setting of “Game Of Thrones” is probably closer to how people actually talked in medieval Britain (even if many written records of the time were kept by pious monks etc… who didn’t use four letter words). Even a few centuries later, the old French slang term for British people – “les godames” – comes from the fact that we used to use the word ‘goddamn’ a lot. So, it’s hardly a modern thing.

Likewise, historical change isn’t really an instant thing – so, the best way to show that something is set in the past is often to focus on these timeless things and to keep the “old” details relatively subtle.

This also reflects how nostalgia actually works. For example, in late 2016, I had a sudden and vivid moment of 1990s nostalgia that actually led to me spontaneously writing a short essay and making a cartoon.

All of these old memories were suddenly brought back to life when I happened to hear about a videogame series that I played when I was a lot younger. It was a subtle “background detail”, but it probably evoked more nostalgia than a picture of the Power Rangers playing POGs whilst watching a Tamagotchi advert that was playing on a CRT television in the middle of an episode of “The Fresh Prince” probably would.

So, yes, nostalgia and a sense of history can often work better when they’re fairly subtle.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Nostalgia Itself Can Sometimes Be More Inspirational Than The Things That Provoke It- A Ramble

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Although I’m going to start this article by talking about a time when I revisited a game that I felt nostalgic about, there’s a good reason for this. But, if you’re interested in some ideas about nostalgia and creative inspiration, then it might be worth skipping the next four paragraphs or so.

The afternoon before I originally wrote this article, I was in a vaguely nostalgic mood and decided to take another look at a computer game from 2006 called “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” that I played for the first time in late 2011 (after playing the original “The Longest Journey” game during summer 2011).

Although I didn’t feel like replaying the whole thing, I wanted to quickly relive some of the good memories that I had of this game. So, I loaded up one of my old save files from near the beginning of the game – ready to jump back into the complex immersive fictional world that I remembered so fondly.

But, it didn’t seem right. Dialogue that seemed significant and emotionally powerful just a few years ago just came across as needlessly melodramatic or “depressing for the sake of depressing”. Likewise, the large explorable futuristic version of Casablanca that I remembered from the beginning of the game actually just seemed to be a few linear streets. Previously interesting characters just seemed to be more annoying than anything else. There were also more loading screens than I remembered.

After a few minutes, I stopped playing. This wasn’t the game that I remembered! Sure, it looked vaguely similar. Sure, the characters looked the same. But, it just seemed less enchanting, immersive and dramatic than it was a few years ago.

This, naturally, made me think about the nature of nostalgia.

It took me a while to remember that nostalgia is as much about the difference between the person you were in the past and the person you are now as it is about any specific game, movie, book, TV show, song, comic etc…

Generally, we become nostalgic about things for one of two reasons. Something either seems to sum up a particular time period perfectly (eg: floppy disks, audio cassettes and POGs sum up the 1990s quite well), or it has a strong emotional impact on us when we first encountered it. It was exactly the right thing that we needed to play, watch, hear or read at a particular time in our lives. It was something that either fired our imaginations, helped us to understand ourselves and/or provided something good during a gloomy time.

If nostalgia falls into the latter category, then it is often best to avoid revisiting it. After all, even though it was a small- but essential – thing that helped to make you the person you are today, you are almost certainly at least a slightly different person to the one you were in the past.

So, if you try to revisit something that used to have an emotional resonance with you, then it probably won’t have exactly the same resonance any more. You’ll probably end up looking at it in a more dispassionate and disconnected kind of way. Needless to say, it won’t live up to the vital and important memories that you have of it.

However, if you don’t look at it again, it’ll still be the amazing thing that it once was. You’ll remember it as being much better, much more dramatic, much more significant, much more detailed etc… than it actually is. And, if you’re a creative person, then this is exactly the sort of thing that you need in order to get inspired.

After all, inspiration comes from using your imagination to turn pre-existing things into new things. It comes from seeing something and thinking “I want to make my own version of that!” and/or “I wonder what something like that would be like if I added something else to it?

Since nostalgia tends to do some this for you automatically, you’ll be in a much more advantageous position to start coming up with creative ideas if you take inspiration from the nostalgia itself, rather than the thing that actually made you feel nostalgic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Joy Of… New Nostalgia

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As regular readers probably know, I write most of these articles quite far in advance of publication. Anyway, the night before I originally wrote this one, I watched the first episode of “Red Dwarf XI” and was absolutely astonished by it. This is a sitcom that has been going since the late 1980s (although I only started watching it on VHS and DVD in the early-mid 2000s)… and they’re still making genuinely funny new episodes of it!

But this is hardly the first “old” thing that I remember discovering when I was a teenager or when I was even younger, that is still going in some way or another. In fact, I’d originally written something approaching a full-length article about my history of being a fan of Red Dwarf, Iron Maiden, The Offspring, Blade Runner, the “Doom” games, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes etc.. before deleting it because I realised that it probably distracted from the points that I’m going to make in this article.

There’s something amazing about things that are “old” and yet “new” at the same time. These are all things that are kept alive by both their creators and their fans.

For example, there’s a new “Doom” game (which is too modern to run on my computer 😦 ) and there’s going to be a “Blade Runner” sequel. Yet, the old versions of both things were and are still going strong because of fan-made content. Whether it’s the fact that there are still thousands of people making new levels for the old “Doom” games or the fact that “Blade Runner” has inspired so many other things in the sci-fi genre (including a lot of my own sci-fi art, comics etc…) for literally decades after it was released, both things were kept alive by their fans as much as, or more, than by their creators.

But, yet, none of the TV shows, films, bands, games etc… I’ve mentioned in this article really pander to their fans in any huge way. Sure, they’ve kept the best bits of their older incarnations, but they aren’t afraid to try subtly different new things. I mean, an Iron Maiden album from the 1980s and an Offspring album from the 1990s sound both similar and different from anything that these two bands have released in 2012-16.

They aren’t like a lot of much more “popular” things, which often seem to be defined and designed as much by things like marketing data as they are by actual people. They often don’t have planned obsolescence built into them (eg: like superhero movie/comic reboots, games that move to the latest consoles etc..) to ensure that the latest version is the “coolest” thing. The latest version is just another version, often no better or worse than the outstandingly brilliant older versions.

In other words, they actually seem like they were (and are!) things that are created by people, rather than focus groups and marketing departments.

They’re things that have been created by people with a particular sense of humour, a particular set of musical tastes, a particular worldview, a particular attitude towards their creative medium of choice etc… In today’s world, this sort of thing would probably be seen as “uncommercial” . In fact, it was probably seen as uncommercial several decades ago. And yet because of this these things still have the kind of dedicated fans that cash-obssesed marketing departments can only dream of.

They aren’t advertised incessantly and yet they still pick up new fans. I mean, most of the “old” things that I consider to be my favourite bands, games, books, films etc.. certainly weren’t “popular” when I discovered them by serendipity, accident, recommendation or curiosity back when I was a teenager. They were inherently cool, but they weren’t the kinds of things that the “cool kids” were enjoying when I was a teenager.

In fact, many of these things have something better than advertising. They have an imaginative fanbase. They have a fanbase that is so inspired by these things that they will actually make their own things inspired by them.

For example, “Blade Runner” may only be one movie but the number of other films, games, TV shows, songs, comics and artwork (including many of my own paintings and some of my own comics) that have been inspired, influenced by, or make references to this one little film are too numerous to count. And, yet, the film itself isn’t something that is advertised everywhere or directly remade every five years.

Likewise, many of these “new and old” things are things that were created by people who are still learning and experimenting after several decades. They are things that are both very much their own thing and yet are open to new influences and inspirations.

One perfect example of this is probably the band Iron Maiden. They’re a band who have made very few covers of other songs, and yet their own musical style has both changed drastically and remained instantly recognisable over more than three decades. It’s probably been influenced by more things than the band will ever reveal, yet it’s very much it’s own thing. They’ve had three different lead singers and they’ve gone through both “dark and serious” and “light and fantastical” phases, and yet an Iron Maiden album is still very much an Iron Maiden album.

I could probably go on about this for hours, but there’s always something uniquely wonderful about finding something that is both old and new at the same time. Something which is both thrillingly new and reassuringly old when you first discover it and twhich later ends up taking up residence in your mind and shaping large parts of your own imagination.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂