Tuesday, August 23, 2016

This Morning a Song Triggers a Thought Triggers Memories Triggers These Words

1982. John Cougar Mellancamp debuts the song Jack and Diane. I am 10 years old and leaving 4th grade to enter 5th grade. It is Cicero Elementary School and I have Mr. Finster. We have sex education classes that year and all the books make sense. I only have one question, however, which deters my mother's response (Mr. Finster says, if you have questions, ask your parents), and since I do have a question I ask and she responds, "I think you need to ask your father." I understood the books I was given to read (and even the brochures handed to me for 'little brothers" that were in my sisters box of Tampons, although she gets very upset that I read these because she's in 6th grade), but I want to know an answer to my question.,

"I get it, dad. But how do you know when you're done. I mean, how will you know when you're finished."

His answer is quick and he doesn't even get to inhale his Lucky Strike more than once before he tells me. "You'll know, son. You'll know."

Last night, 2016, and 34 years later from the debut of that song, I'm talking to Edem about Blackish and we decide to watch a couple of episodes. In one, "Twins," the story is about how Jack and Diane, the youngest kids, no longer want to be twins and wish to separate from their shared bedroom. Their mother, "Rainbow," explains to the two kids they were named after John Mellancamp's song and she proceeds to do a horrible rendition of -- it is not even recognizable). She explains, "Come on. It's one of the catchiest songs of all time."

Not the way she sings it.

And Edem asks, "What is this song she is talking about?"

Edem arrived to the U.S. from Togo as a 16 year old after losing his parents to war. In a short period of time, all on his own, he's graduated high school and college, and is currently searching for what is to come next. "I've never had a television," he tells me. "I am not used to watching t.v." My t.v. is rarely on except college basketball, Big Brother, and when the twins are in town.

Edem's finds an adventure reality show to watch, where a British man is camping (rough) with Courtney Cox. She's starving and he finds a dead sheep in a pond of Ireland and says they should eat it. The meat is rotting, however, and he says it is no good. He says, "We'll have to eat the maggots." He cuts off the ball sac of the sheep and stores the maggots in them until they can burn a fire later. He will cook the maggots and she will eat them because they are roughing it and she needs protein. I haven't seen Courtney Cox in a decade or so (has Friends been over for a decade?). She is on her way to become Joan Rivers. I'm sad that her face is so plastic...perhaps she did it while auditioning for a part in the Hunger Games - perhaps in the Capital. Courtney Cox tells the Irish guide about her divorce with David Arquette, aging, being a single mom, remarrying, and trying to find a relevant voice in her midlife. For me, I can't get over her cheekbones and the fact that they don't move. Her mouth looks like it is in constant pain. It has been restructured Hollywood style to show no wrinkles, and I'm wondering about what midlife must be like for the rich and ridiculous because they can afford to create the mythology that they are forever young.

And I'm singing,
Oh yeah life goes on
Long after the thrill of livin' is gone
Oh yeah say life goes on
Long after the thrill of livin' is gone,
while sharing the music with Edem (on YouTube for crying out loud) so he can get the reference for Blackish, which has had him laughing since we began watching it. He wonders why the kids are named Jack and Diane and why I am laughing at how horrible the mother recreates the song for her twins.

And I text the twins, Abu and Lossine, to see if they've seen this particular episode, but they haven't. I wonder if they know the Jack and Diane song, too. I tell them, "Oh, that song I'm a Boss-Ass Bitch plays when the father gives his oldest daughter her first car."

Feeling old, I watch Mellencamp's video for the first time in a long time (I'm used to hearing it on the radio). I Google the  lyrics that I've heard a thousand times because I'm old and that is a staple in the lives of my generation but I want to know I've been singing them correctly all these years. I'm trying to feel the song for all its memories, but while listening to it in my 40s it has me thinking about how inappropriate/appropriate it was for my generation and, although I'm listening to it as I've done forever, I'm thinking about Edem's question about cultural references and then I have a flashback to a conversation Chitunga and I had earlier in the morning about his dream that was a little off color and, to be honest, timely for his age - uncomfortable for him, but hilarious for me, and I'm thinking about 5th grade. "You'll know son, you'll know."

Actually in 10th grade I knew.

But now I'm 44 and Courtney Cox looks like she's been made by Mattel. She is 52 years old. That Mellencamp song, though.
Little ditty about Jack and Diane
Two American kids doing the best they can.
And I'm thinking of everyone I left in Syracuse, especially my sisters, and what that song means to them, and it makes me think of my parents who more than likely heard us singing that song in the car, to and from little league practices and band shows, and it makes me think about youth, 5th - 12th grade, and what my parents must have thought while raising kids when music on the radio was as it was and before Courtney Cox looked like a Pez dispenser.
Gonna let it rock
Let it roll
Let the Bible belt come down
And save my soul....

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