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hanson, nostalgia and the great american music hall

Dragging Calvin to see Hanson at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco resulted in his buying me an ‘I Heart Hanson’ shirt and demanding I wear it for the remainder of our stay in the U.S. as punishment. He was not the only disgruntled male at the gig, but he was probably the only one who hadn’t been roped into it with the promise of sex afterwards so he was, understandably, feeling a little disenchanted. So, for a change, it wasn’t me who got drunk.

But I digress.

This actually wasn’t the first time I have seen Hanson.

Soon after arriving in Arizona for my university exchange in 2009, I found out that Hanson were to be performing there during my stay. Then I forgot about it. Then I ran out of blog material and realised I had no choice but to go and convinced several friends to accompany me with the promise that we would drink both beforehand and afterwards. But in truth, we ended up chattering about fulfilling every fantasy we had in the late 90s by finally seeing them and could not focus our attention even on vodka. I couldn’t even bring myself to get there early and stake out our places near the front because the anxiety of being in the venue before their arrival on stage had the potential to send me into cardiac arrest.

Hanson’s newer material is entirely pretty okay to good, but it’s not the reason I choose to see them live now.

Earlier in 2009, I had spent a night holding hands with someone I had a crush on in high school. The following day, I heard Bruises by Chairlift for the first time. The combination of these two things made me nostalgic for an earlier time in my life, until I realised that I listened to Avril Lavigne and not songs like Bruises when I was fourteen. And more often than not, it’s this fake nostalgia that takes us back. It represents what we think it was like to have lived through a certain part of our lives but in reality, one often has nothing to do with the other. No one thing can completely embody an era; at best, they are faint reminders.

Hanson is something of a unique case where nostalgia is concerned. I have no idea how old I was when I first heard the lyrical prowess displayed in Mmmbop, nor do I know how old I was when they disappeared from my radar. Wikipedia tells me it was roughly between 1997 and 1998, but I have a skewed memory of how long I did anything for before the age of 10. Whenever someone asks me how long I learned piano, I generally make up an answer, thinking that it’s something I innately know, and then have to tell them I’m lying a moment later because it’s a completely random guess.

But the thing with Hanson is that we rarely idolise those who are essentially our peers. They do not sound like what I think I listened to when I was nine, they are what I listened to when I was nine (and/or ten/eleven/twelve). There will likely be few, if any, bands over the course of my life that are still performing when enough time has passed since my peak of loving them for me to want to see them for the express purpose of being reminded of that period. But Hanson were close enough in age to their biggest fans to enable this to happen 12 years after they made a multitude of girls wonder why they couldn’t be as pretty as they were.

My greatest fear in seeing them live was that they would choose to pretend that they have any hope of ever escaping the songs that led to this early success, and the show in San Francisco, much like the one in Tucson, did not disappoint on this front. But, to their credit, they create a good balance between the songs their original fans will always want to hear, and those that they are aiming to pave a different career with. Isaac, Taylor and Zac are very able and talented musicians (Isaac even uses pedals…pedals!) but Taylor’s distinct voice will probably never allow them to be separated from their early career.

There are plenty of precedents for child actors, but not so much for child musicians; Hanson’s dilemma in reaching a wider audience with a different sound is an unfortunate one, but it’s also a challenge that they’re not quite rising to, probably because they don’t have to. Even though they’re not selling out the mega venues they did once, they’re certainly making an easier living from music than the vast majority of musicians, albeit as a result of their teenage wails.

I genuinely loved being at Hanson’s concert in Tucson in November 2009 (and I don’t say that with the least bit of irony), but the San Fran show made me realise that once is probably enough.

But I got a free t-shirt.


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