Nova Rex, Nostalgia, and Neurology

Nova Rex 80s photo
Photo courtesy of Nova Rex – 1987.

For some of you, I’m guessing that one of the emotions aroused by looking at 1980s-era Nova Rex is plain old nostalgia (we’ll get into the self-professed cheesiness later). The dictionary defines nostalgia as:

“…a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to, of some past period, or irrecoverable condition; or the state of being homesick” – Merriam-Webster

A yearning for the past, yes, but homesick? A Psychology Today article explains that the term “nostalgia” was coined by a Swiss doctor in 1688 from the Greek words for “homecoming” and “pain,” who offered it as a diagnosis for soldiers achingly pining for their homeland. It was actually considered a mental disorder.

Of course nowadays nostalgia is considered a normal emotion – mostly sweet, sometimes forlorn. It’s most common embodiment is a pleasant, fleeting, sentimental remembrance of “the good old days,” or as one author poetically puts it:

“[Nostalgia is] a vehicle for traveling beyond the deadening confines of time and space.” – Psychology Today

Nova Rex is most definitely a driver of that time-space vehicle.

1986 Nova Rex Ad
1986 band advertisement – it could be from Player  Magazine but I can’t tell for sure. Courtesy of Nova Rex.

The band, founded in 1985 in Canada, is comprised of Kenny Wilkerson on bass, JP Cervoni on guitar, Eddie Cruise on drums, and Adrian “Felicia” Adonis on vocals. From Canada they moved to the thriving ’86 Central Florida rock and metal circuit (where I spent a lot of good old days) and played with bands I remember well – Stranger, Juliet, Bobby Friss, Stormbringer. From there they braved the [irrecoverable] Los Angeles Sunset Strip scene, playing at The Whiskey and Gazarri’s and other such venues….Ahh, a time and place that definitely sets me awash with sentimental pining. After the coming of grunge, when the seemingly manic good times had crashed, the band spent the remainder of the ’90s in both Indianapolis and Florida, before taking the next decade off. 

While some of my pals do, I don’t remember running into Nova Rex until 2015 (I think we crossed coasts a lot) at Florida’s own ’80s in the Park. In fact, if my spotty memory serves me right, I spent a few minutes reminiscing with one of the band members about ’80s Tampa Bay area rock bars (e.g., 49th Street Mining Co. and Mark Twain’s). Since Nova Rex’s revival in 2010, I’ve seen their name pop up at rock festivals all over the U.S. and Canada – from Rocklahoma to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, from Florida to Vancouver – rock festivals and bike weeks keep this band gigging full-time.

On top of all of those shows, they’ve also compiled quite the impressive pop culture bio:

  • Released a well-received documentary, Nova Rex: Aint Easy Being Cheesy
  • Was featured in the documentary Hair I Go Again along with members of Warrant, Quiet Riot, Tesla, and Motley Crue, among others
  • Was ranked number 48 on VH1’s The Hair Metal 100: Ranking the Greatest Glam Bands, right between Badlands and Vinnie Vincent Invasion
  • Had its memorabilia added to the Smithsonian Collection representing the ’80s metal music and hard rock collection (to be precise: “a pair of leather chaps, an instrument sponsored by Budweiser, and a cassette tape featuring a mouse in a tank-top holding a knife”(Jentsch, 2012)).
  • Has had an Anhueser-Busch sponsorship since 2010, and had one back in 1992-96. According to media post.com, Anheuser-Busch is the nation’s top corporate sponsor of music tours, festivals, and venues (Gazdik, 2017).

Nova Rex banner ad

This past summer Nova Rex released a new album, Nova Rex: Rock Star Road Show, a new video for their single She’s a Bitch (see below)and are scheduled to play a lot of fun upcoming shows: New Year’s Eve on the Sunset Strip 1984 with Roxx and Every Mother’s Nightmare, then back to Florida for early 2018’s Gasparilla and ’80s in the Park.

Nova Rex Smithsonian
Nova Rex’s contribution to the Smithsonian Collection of hair metal/hard rock culture: “a pair of leather chaps, an instrument sponsored by Budweiser, and a cassette tape featuring a mouse in a tank-top holding a knife.” Photo courtesy of Nova Rex.

So the question is: What is it about this almost-famous band that keeps it playing over a 100 shows a year, decades later?

Is it their sound? The band’s imprint on hard rock and metal culture is, of course, rooted in the genre’s hard and heavy groove.

Is it their anthemic party songs? According to Kenny Wilkerson in an interview with MetalBabeMayhem.comBosoms & Beer” is a song…about a middle-aged guy that is living with his mom and just doesn’t want to get a job…“Lock n’ Load” on the other hand is…about being in the military and going off to war. We have always been big supporters of the Armed Forces and have been involved in a lot of charities for them, so it’s a salute to them.

Is it their live shows? In one big respect, yes. It’s the ability to create that fun-loving, live music energy reminiscent of that local music scene of yore, which is decadently evidenced in the band’s documentary, Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy. Sleazeroxx.com describes it best:

“When I say Nova Rex packed clubs during their heyday, younger readers may think ‘yeah, right’, but you have to remember that this was a different time. In the days before internet, YouTube and DVDs, people actually had to venture outside to get their hard rock fill — meaning that every city/region had their own local heroes that were superstars inside their territory.” – Sleazeroxx.com 

Kenny Wilkerson goes on to explain: “The difference between us and a band like Def Leppard was just numbers, instead of a 1000 chicks after a gig we only had 20.”

Nova Rex live
Photo courtesy of Nova Rex.

When you put it all together…the sound, the look, the significant touring schedule and a strong social media presence, I’d say that what really keeps this band gigging full time is that well-driven time-space vehicle, nostalgia. Specifically, nostalgia’s powerful impact on the human psyche, and the resulting effect on the leisure and entertainment industry. Nova Rex’s good old days, now etched in pop culture history, lend themselves to fleeting yearnings of a place and time that can never be again, a show with a fond escape to funner, simpler days. And in today’s world, that’s powerful. 

Consider the neurobiological and psychological studies on nostalgia:

During nostalgic episodes, blood flow increases to several areas of the brain, including the reward centers – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and various neurochemicals stimulate pleasant feelings; in fact, these are “…the same neurotransmitters that cocaine chases after” (Moawad, 2016; Stern, 2014). 

“This reward center involvement explains the very common phenomena of feeling pleasant emotions upon hearing a song from the past, even if the song was not necessarily a favorite song at the time, it was prevalent in popular culture or in a person’s life.” – Neurology Times 

What’s more, recent neuroscientific studies have shown that the songs we loved during our young adult formative years, when everything was important and identities were forming, have the strongest hold on our emotions, and suggest that our brains “bind” us to those memories and music, entwining them into identity, belonging, and meaningfulness (Stern, 2014).

“Musical nostalgia, in other words, isn’t just a cultural phenomenon: It’s a neuronic command.” – Slate.com

Nova Rex 3
Photo courtesy of Nova Rex.

What a lot of us don’t realize, however, is that psychological studies repeatedly show that we reconstruct, rather than reproduce, our memories each time they are relived (McDonald, 2017). Nostalgic memories are compared to the canvas of an artist, shaped to re-experience as pleasantly as possible in the present. We idealize them, making them rosier, fitting random memories jarred by random senses together in a magical way. We’ve all seen it happen, yet we believe our memories, our autobiographies – the recall pleasure overrides complete accuracy. As with anything else, the rewards of nostalgia require balance: an appreciation of what can be reflected but not relived, and how it can be used as coping strategy or a crutch (Boym, 2007). 

“No matter how adult we may become…music remains an escape hatch from our adult brains back into the raw, unalloyed passion of our youths. The nostalgia that accompanies our favorite songs isn’t just a fleeting recollection of earlier times; it’s a neurological wormhole that gives us a glimpse into the years when our brains leapt with joy at the music that’s come to define us.” – Slate.com

Nova Rex stage sponsors
Photo courtesy of Nova Rex, with noted credit to Bryan Harley Photo and MotoscycleUSA.com.

Other studies show that we are more nostalgic in unsteady or changing times and in colder rooms and climates, and it has actually been shown to warm people up (Burton, 2014). 

And where did all of this research on the power of nostalgia end up? But of course, in the hands of corporations and entrepreneurs as they find ways to successfully and profitably provide people with the nostalgia they crave. 

“Our perceptions of nostalgia are so positive that advertisers and entrepreneurs spend millions of dollars each year trying to make us nostalgic because they know that we will spend millions of dollars to feel that way.”  – Psychology Today

Jaye Martinez Stage Clothes post
A recent Facebook post by Jaye Martinez, singer of the local band Eccentric, and Lemmy, expressing the vital visual identity element of ’80s nostalgia.

I am the first to admit I am a big spender on concerts and related travel and merchandise, and simply having a good time with music, friends, foods, and spirits. A few years ago I heard a friend say: “My rebellion has gone mainstream.” I knew what she meant. Off the top of my head, I’ve heard Aerosmith and Twisted Sister in Wal-Mart commercials (I wonder what Tipper Gore thought when she heard that…?), Ozzy Osbourne in a Honda commercial, Motorhead in a Kia commercial – the list goes on and on. Skulls, once the province of metalhead jewelry and belt buckles, are popular on children’s clothes and merchandise galore; I bought a Led Zeppelin t-shirt at Target last week. It’s like a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac, it’s a generational shift – and we’re a generation that’s known for our leisure and entertainment related spending, with the merchandise, just like a concert t-shirt worn in high school the day after a concert, serving as a badge of identity. 

All of this is how we “do” nostalgia, and willfully draw upon a flood of neurological pleasure from our memories. And best of all, it’s all good:

Aint Easy Being Cheesy screen shot Dish
Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy, the band’s 2011 documentary.

Both psychological and neurological studies show that nostalgia is “…largely a guilt-free pleasure, offering many tangible benefits to our mental, social and even physical well-being (McDonald, 2017). In fact, a 2015 study found that metalhead, musicians, and groupies of the ’80s had happier youths and were better adjusted, “…middle-class, gainfully employed, relatively well-educated” adults, and suggests there is a subcultural protective factor in social bonding with like-minded people, and this sense of belonging and identity assists in maturity (Howe et al., 2015). Who knew. Other studies show numerous social, mental, and physical benefits of music based leisure activities (MacDonald, 2016).

So in the end, it seems that indulging in nostalgia is good for you, good for society, good for the economy, and good for ’80s bands like Nova Rex. Head bang on. I leave you with Nova Rex videos from now and then…enjoy ;o)

 

References*

*NOTE: This is not a peer-reviewed article. This is just me doing some general internet and some peer-reviewed research into current psychological topics and applying them to my everyday world. 

Boym, S. (2007). Nostalgia and its discontents. Hedgehog Review. Summer 2007, 9(2), 7. Retrieved from www.iasc-culture.org/eNews/2007_10/9.2CBoym.pdf 

Burton, N. (2014, November 27). The meaning of nostalgia: The psychology and philosophy of nostalgia. Psychology Today. Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201411/the-meaning-nostalgia

Cohen, A. (2017). What’s next for Nova Rex? MetalBabeMayhem. Retrieved from metalbabemayhem.com/whats-next-nova-rex/

Gazdick, T. (2017, August 14). Marketing Daily: Anheuser-Busch, Uber Top Music Sponsors. Mediapost. Retrieved from www.mediapost.com/publications/article/305770/anheuser-busch-uber-top-music-sponsors.html

Jentsch, E.W. (2012, December 7). Hair band history: Teasing hair and playing rock-n-roll. Smithsonian Institute. Retrieved from americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2012/12/hair-band-history-teasing-hair-and-playing-rock-n-roll.html

Howe, T. R., Aberson, C. L., Friedman, H. S., Murphy, S. E., Alcazar, E., Vazquez, E. J., & Becker, R. (2015). Three decades later: The life experiences and mid-life functioning of 1980s heavy metal groupies, musicians, and fans. Self and Identity, 14(5), 602-626.

MacDonald, F. (2016, April 13). Seeing live music can reduce your your stress hormone levels , study finds. Retrieved from www.sciencealert.com/rocking-out-to-live-music-linked-to-reduced-levels-of-stress-hormone

Moawad, H. (2016, October 13). The brain and nostalgia. Neurology Times. Retrieved from www.neurologytimes.com/blog/brain-and-nostalgia

McDonald, H. (2017, October 10). The art of nostalgia: Nostalgia as an aesthetic form of memory. Psychology Today. Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com/blog/time-travelling-apollo/201710/the-art-nostalgia

Nostalgia. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nostlagia

Skid. (2011, September 1). Review of Aint Easy Being Cheesy. Sleaze Roxx. Retrieved from sleazeroxx.com/reviews/nova-rex-aint-easy-being-cheesy/

Stern, M.J. (2014, August 14). Neural Nostalgia: Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers? Slate. Retrieved from www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/08/musical_nostalgia_the_psychology_and_neuroscience_for_song_preference_and.html

 

Copyright 2017 Rocksandy. All Nova Rex photos used with permission of Nova Rex. All rights reserved. 

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