I doubt there’s anything more sentimental than music. A quick snippet of a song can evoke far more memories than an old film clip or some sort of preserved artifact.
The funny thing I’ve discovered — songs that you didn’t even like when you first encountered them can trigger a strong reaction, even if that reaction is just making you realize how old you’ve become.
The song in question today is John Cougar Mellencamp’s Cherry Bomb, to which I was always rather indifferent. Mention Mellencamp to me, and my first memory is usually my high school locker room, where a guy in my P.E. class (who later went to Mellencamp’s beloved Indiana, only to transfer) imitated the “I’m a real good dancer” line from Crumblin’ Down. By the time Cherry Bomb came out, Mellencamp was no longer in heavy MTV rotation — besides, I was headed to college and wouldn’t be watching much MTV again until Beavis and Butthead gave me a reason to act like a middle-schooler.
It’s not that I didn’t respect Mellencamp — even in my young and foolish days, I knew Rain on the Scarecrow was one of the strongest protest songs recorded. (This’ll hit sacred cow status in some quarters, but I think The Clash never quite managed anything like this, despite their reputation.) But Cherry Bomb, like a lot of Mellencamp’s work, just wasn’t my style, and it never occurred to me that the song had any deeper meaning.
Over the years, I heard that Mellencamp fans looooove this song. Fine, I thought. Now I hear some of the sentimentality in it, so I can see why some people appreciate it.
Today, thanks to the artist facts and other info on the cable music channels, I caught the year Cherry Bomb was recorded — 1987.
“No WAY,” I thought. “Isn’t that song from far later in Mellencamp’s career?”
Nope. I’m just that old.
In fact, I’ve now made the journey in age described in the song — “Seventeen has turned thirty-five.” (Full lyrics at Mellencamp’s excellent site.) So this song is now about me, even though I was several degrees more nerdy than Mellencamp at age 17.
And so I appreciate the song a little bit more now. But not as much as I appreciate the fact that Mellencamp has gone on to produce solid material — building on his roots but also growing — through his 40s and now into his 50s. I don’t mind looking back once in a while, but I need something to look forward to.