Let’s Not Do It Again

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I’m listening to "Jack & Diane" by John “Used to Be Cougar” Mellencamp and thinking how glad I am that being 16 years old wasn't actually the high point of my life!

I remember a friend of mine in 10th grade who was lamenting no longer being in junior high. Even at the time, it seemed kind of pathetic to already be living in the past. He would be my age now—assuming he’s still with us—and I really hope 9th grade wasn’t the high point of his life.

What is it about popular singers—and entertainment in general—that so lionizes the teenage years? I get that the entertainment complex wants to appeal to that demographic because they often have disposable income and are—let’s face it—morons (when it comes to fiduciary responsibility). Still, you can’t make a sustained living off of only teenagers.

They must know that we adults are tuning in, too. So why this push to take us back?

One of the all-time great “looking back at my high school years” songs is “Glory Days” by Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen. I hear that song and I’m taken back to my own high school days … even though I was a lousy baseball player, never had a girlfriend—let alone one who married someone else, divorced, and now lives down the street—and I don’t drink (and didn’t then). But I can listen to that song—or play it for my sons—and say, “Man! That’s how it WAS!!”

[Full disclosure: my sons haven’t figured out the attraction of Springsteen’s music—to them he is, at best, The Shop Foreman—other than that my younger son likes the song “Darlington County” because it ends with the protagonist’s best friend getting hand-cuffed to a state trooper’s Ford.]

Now, on one level, it makes sense that hearing songs that were popular while we were in high school would evoke thoughts of high school. But why is there this pull to romanticize what wasn’t—for me, anyway—romantic?

It’s more than just high school and/or the teenage years in general, though. I like listening to the Beach Boys even though I’ve never surfed. I was playing some Jimmy Buffett music earlier today even though I’ve never tasted a margarita, robbed a filling station or gone very far on a boat without getting seasick. I adore Joe Walsh even though I have never (knowingly) trashed a hotel room.

This is what music does for us: it takes us some place we wouldn’t have otherwise gone. To a mountain peak, a sandy beach, or even to the very throne of God. I don’t want to go back to high school—even as a visitor—but I can enjoy a song that takes me there vicariously.

Much as you’re probably enjoying the thought of going somewhere that has a coherent ending to this column.