Nostalgia, Served with Mint Jams

This article was originally published on Medium (@oganesson) on May 21, 2022.

A little more than 40 years ago, the Japanese jazz fusion band Casiopea performed two shows at the Chuo Kaikan Hall in Tokyo, segments from which were recorded and released as the album Mint Jams three months later, on May 21, 1982. With its title derived from the initials of the band members, Mint Jams is often considered Casiopea’s best album thanks to the combination of its musicianship and clean, crisp remixing at the studio.

But this piece isn’t an album review. More than for its musicianship, Mint Jams holds a special place in my heart for its nostalgic value, back in the days when I first gave it a listen.

37 years after the album’s release, in the fall of 2019, I was a recently matriculated student at my university, and I was trying to make my way around a collegiate environment that was totally unfamiliar to me. Through the numerous clubs that I had joined, I was gradually befriending a multitude of people of all backgrounds and interests, and I was even developing tastes for hobbies and activities that I had never known about. It was during this era of exploration, familiarization, and socialization that I came across city pop, the funk-, soul-, disco-, and yacht rock-inspired Japanese pop music of the 1980s. From there on, I discovered Japanese jazz fusion, particularly Mint Jams, perhaps a crown jewel of the genre. Suffice it to say that I fell in love with it, learned to appreciate every intricacy of it, and made it an integral part of my fall 2019 and winter 2020 soundtrack.

Even now, almost three years later, as I listen to the clashing keyboard chords that open the album, my mind invariably returns to those colourful autumn days when I would sit in the vast reading room of the university library, looking out at the street scenes beyond the wide glass panes that spread from ceiling to floor, all the while working on an assignment or practice questions. Everything seemed to be on the up and up in those days. I was making friends, I was hanging out with girls, I was being involved and succeeding in various extracurricular activities I was experiencing for myself that university lifestyle that had seemed so daunting yet exhilarating for my high school self. Even the schoolwork seemed easy enough, as long as I put regular effort into it, which I did. Life felt relaxing and fun, and I was genuinely looking forward to every new day, especially the opportunities that span of 24 hours could provide me with.

Yet all that remains from this era are memories, spurred upon by the cheerful and positive instrumentals played by Casiopea. The opening track, “Take Me,” almost literally takes me back to those days of wonder and excitement, and the closing track, “Swear,” reminds me of the best of those moments, especially when I met the girl who would become my first love. Even the calmer songs, such as “Tears of the Star,” stir up introspective reminiscences of those fall and winter nights, when I would sit in my room, looking out at the starlit sky, or go on dates with my girlfriend, chatting away about our past dreams, our present desires, and our future goals.

Nostalgia is a powerful yet painful force in Ancient Greek, algia literally means “pain.” The original definition of “nostalgia,” as defined in the 17th century, entailed the anxiety that surrounded being homesick. Being nostalgic for something, even in its modern sense of reminiscing for the past, is a form of homesickness: longing to return to a “home” in supposedly better days. This longing usually manifests in artifacts from “home”for some people, this could be an old toy, a TV show, or a postcard from a former homeland. For me, the vessel that brings me back is Mint Jams.

What hurts about nostalgia is that the homesickness can never be resolved by going home. No matter how many times I listen to Mint Jams, how many times the tones and positive energy remind me of those several months, I know I can’t return there. After all, I can’t relive the past. It’s an especially agonizing feeling of homesickness because I’m reminiscing about a home that can no longer be reached. Since then, I’ve gone through a breakup, lost friendships, and ended my involvement with a few extracurricular opportunities and the world has gone through a shattering cataclysm that has irreparably changed how we view life. I would love to physically revisit that world when everything felt slightly more reassuring and we weren’t aware of what we would be about to face in mere months’ time. Unfortunately, that’s not possible and the only way I can replicate that is by looking at photos from back then and listening to the music that I loved at the time.

Coming out of the pandemic, life has been gradually returning to normal for me. I’ve been frequenting the library again, basking in the scenery around me as I work on assignments. I’ve been hanging out with friends, catching up on a year and a half of person-to-person interaction that we had all lost. With the summer approaching, I’m looking forward to outdoor activities and enjoying the warm weather. Yet in these days of recovery, I’m still compelled to find that something’s missing. I sense that I’m still struggling more than before the pandemic, that my mood isn’t as well-spirited as it was back in the fall of 2019. The future looks bright, but the past feels even brighteran endless beam of comfort and longing that continues to illuminate my recollections.

And just as it was one of my go-to albums almost three years ago, Mint Jams continues to be my conduit towards rediscovering that glowing light, right when I thought I could never feel its warmth again.


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