Saturday, July 2, 2016

"Jack and Dianne" by John (Cougar?) Mellencamp is Incomprehensible to a NYC Kid

Right around age 12, it started to dawn on me that music existed beyond whatever the shock jocks played on "Z-Morning Zoo," the obnoxious morning radio show on Z-100 (BROADCASTING FROM THE TOP OF THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING!) that served as my school alarm clock every weekday.

I knew my parents listened to music that wasn't Debbie Gibson, Cyndi Lauper, the Culture Club, or Tiffany, but I had no idea why anyone would ever want to do that. Until suddenly (I don't remember how), I started getting into all this junior varsity, cheesy classic rock like Steve Miller Band, John Cougar/No Longer Cougar Mellencamp, REO Speedwagon, and shit like that.

One of the songs in this genre that always confused me at this particular juncture in my life was "Jack and Dianne," simply because I had no frame of reference for the lyrics.

"Little ditty about Jack and Dianne, two American kids growing up in the heartland." The heartland. I'd heard of that. It's a place somewhere in the middle of the country, where everyone looks and acts as if it's a modern day Little House on the Prairie. It's shaped like a rectangle, is sometimes described as "hardscrabble" (whatever that means), and there are grain silos and vast fields of corn, like that Stephen King movie, Children of the Corn. They eat Jello for dinner, go to drive-in movies, and are scared of where we live.

"Sucking down a chili dog outside the Tasty Freeze." What's the Tasty Freeze? Is that like Baskin Robbins or Carvel? Chili dog. That's like a Kosher hot dog but with chili on TOP of it? Weird.

Then all that stuff about hands between knees and the backseat of a car and going behind a tree. I knew what THIS was all about. But the closest I'd ever come to any of it was playing "mechanic" with another 12 year-old boy who was the son of one of my parents' friends. We'd lie in his bed and just breathe into each other's faces with our eyes closed while the adults drank wine and talked about boring shit in the living room. (How this dovetailed with the car repair theme I can't recall, but somehow it all made sense).

Then there was the Bible Belt part. "Let it rock, let it roll, let the Bible Belt come and save your soul." 

Well THAT wasn't happening. My parents were secular Jewish atheists of the Bernie Sanders variety, and they refused to let me go to Hebrew school when I asked. (I only wanted to go because my friends did). "You can do that when you're 18 if you want," my mom said. "Your dad and I, we just don't really believe in organized religion. It's basically another destructive way of dividing up humanity."

So needless to say the Bible Belt was like the heartland. Totally foreign. In fact, I think they were the same thing maybe? In the same place? I knew it wasn't an actual belt for your pants. I knew that much. 

"Hold onto 16 as long as you can, changes come around real soon make us women and men." I knew enough to be depressed by this. I wanted to be 16 so I could look and act like the teenagers who used to babysit for me, but 3.5 years was FOREVER. 

Changes schmanges. All I wanted were boobs and my period so I could be like Margaret in "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret." But being a city child, I recognized intuitively that I was beyond God's reach. My period would just have to arrive without divine intervention.

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