Thursday, October 07, 2010
It was on this day in 2007 - John Mellencamp's birthday - I first posted the video he made to accompany a new song he'd written called Jena, which appears on his 20th album, 2008's Life, Death, Love and Freedom; the song decried a particularly loathsome example of racism being committed by high school students - known as the Jena Six - in the Louisiana town of that name. Both the song and its video perfectly encapsulate those qualities which have made Mellencamp the social conscience of the American heartland.
The following year to mark the occasion I decided to go back a quarter of a century, back to what I had always taken to be the beginning of his incredible career, to the first song of his I ever heard, anyway, Jack and Diane. Although it was the second single - I believe Hurts So Good was actually released later in Canada - both of these (plus a third, Hand To Hold On To) were all issued from his 1982 album American Fool. Unbelievably, American Fool was the sixth album from the man then known as John Cougar, whose first album was the no longer in print Chestnut Street Incident from 1976.
My awareness of the pop charts dates from about this time; although I'd always been aware of music through myriad sources, August 1982 was the first month I found myself living in a city with a Top 40 radio station. As a result, just about every song I heard for the next four years is indelibly etched onto my brain, seeing as I spent every spare moment I could in that intense period with a transistor radio* at my side. Throughout that time Jack and Diane was played extensively.
The song, of course, is about the novelty of youth - 'hold on to sixteen as long as you can' it exhorts - and describes its title characters looking back at their halcyon youth through a bittersweet haze of present-day apathy and regret over missed opportunities.
Now, of course, it's played on the Oldies station or - just as frequently - on my iPod; whenever it comes on I'll stop what I'm doing for a minute and, if I close my eyes, I'll just be able to see and feel and taste that time as surely as if I were still there. That's when I'll make a wish... Of course, my eyes will open and I'll still be here, not 12 years old again with the brain of a 38-year-old determined to relive it all without the mistakes I made the first time around. For just a second I'll be disappointed, until it occurs to me that without all those mistakes I wouldn't be me, and that if I did it all again I'd probably just make different (possibly worse) ones.
Still, it's nice to have that feeling of unlimited possibility back, if only for a moment...
*You see, kids, in the bad old days (circa 1982) we didn't have MP3 players, we had transistor radios, which were about the size of an old-school Game Boy; back then if we wanted to steal music we recorded it off the radio - or made cassettes from our friends' records - but the Walkman was still a couple of years off, and CDs weren't widely available for some years even after that.
share on: facebook