What does the phrase Making Present mean? This past week I facilitated a discussion regarding the Sacrament of the Eucharist with a group of colleagues. The theological explanation of this sacrament struck me that when Catholics share the Eucharist, they make Christ present in a very public way. Each Sunday people of faith walk to the front of their community, receive the bread and wine which makes present Christ’s sacrifice. This sacrament is a powerful action and an often repeated memorial to that event.
I then questioned how and if this phrase relates to the study of history? Do we make present history only when we participate in active memorials? Now there are many directions to carry this analysis but I am going to connect to 80s and 90s music, one of my passions. Just a few days before the discussion mentioned above, I watched an engaging documentary directed and narrated by Dave Grohl of first Nirvana, then Foo Fighters fame, called Sound City (Listen here for Interview ). I was not a huge Nirvana fan (I am a much bigger fan of the Foo Fighters today) and their song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” did not move me to wear the flannel shirts and torn jeans that typified the Grunge era. I do, however, appreciate the impact this band had on the music of my late teens and how it redirected music from where it was in the 80s. As an aside, this photographer argues that perhaps Nirvana signified the end of Grunge and not the beginning proving that virtually every topic in history is open for debate.
Grohl’s Sound City documents the now defunct Sound City Studios, its famous soundboard (right) and interviews most of the legendary bands that recorded there. These bands include Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, Weezer, Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana. Grohl reflects that without this sound board which he acknowledges, “enhances” and “embellishes” but does not change sound, Nirvana’s revolutionary Grunge album, Nevermind, could not have been produced. This handmade sound board, called a Neve, still uses tape but was state of art in the early 70s before computers took over the music recording business. Grohl comments, “…we’re living in an age where you can manipulate or change any of that to make it sound any way you want. You can make yourself the greatest singer in the world or the best drummer in the world with the aid of technology. So a place like Sound City, which was just a big, beautiful room where you would hit record and capture the sound of the performer — a place like that isn’t necessarily in demand anymore.”
Grohl and his Foo Fighters find all of the Sound City bands willing to gather, reminisce and record on the Neve including an amazing song collaboration with Paul McCartney (Right). Grohl marvels at that moment he was composing music with McCartney, who as a Beatle influenced him most, with Nirvana’s living bandmates who lead him to stardom. Quite a personal circle of history. The Neve and Eucharist are examples to begin a conversation but it seems that making present indicates that you must take an action to memorialize an event or object and give it more meaning. When one receives the Eucharist, they are walking up, and participating in a sacrament, which is by its definition an action. “Sound City” shows musicians gathering and recording music on the Neve which results in a lasting memorial collection of songs. Just talking or reading about these events or objects are not enough to make them present. We have to “do.”
Name some examples (personal or in in society) that you have seen when the past is truly made present? Can you think of particular countries that make present their history more than others? Do you have any objects at home that can capture an era or story from the past & how are they used or remembered? Grohl stated he thought the sound board would end up in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in a display case. That leads to another question: Do museum displays make present history or simply remember it (is there a difference)? Some of you will want to link a site in your answer that shows what you think is an exhibit or event that truly makes present history.