“Lonely Ol’ Night”

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John Mellencamp gets dismissed as a poor man’s Springsteen a lot, but that’s not exactly fair.  To be sure, there are more than a few similarities between the two artists.  But using the fame and brilliance of one as a way to diminish any talents the other might have is the wrong way to look at it.  If you don’t like Mellencamp, just say so.  Don’t use Bruce Springsteen to do your dirty work (something the Boss most definitely would not approve of).

They got lumped together in the 80s, when Springsteen ruled the world with his blockbuster Born in the U.S.A.  Mellencamp had a monster hit of his own around the same time, 1985’s Scarecrow.  Both albums took on the causes and lives of ordinary Americans, and used roots based Rock & Roll to do it.  But there’s something more real about Mellencamp.  I don’t know how else to say it.  For all his charm and charisma, Springsteen is less approachable than Mellencamp.  There’s a sense that Springsteen constructed himself–through his music, his persona.  (That’s not a bad thing, just an observation.)  John Mellencamp just seems to show up and be himself.  Now, who he is isn’t always going to be nice or pleasant.  But he won’t hide any part of himself to please anyone.  Personally, I think Mellencamp is kind of an ass.  But I sure do like his music.

I like the melancholy of this song.  It feels lonely.  And the video, for all the carnival lights and bustle, feels lonely, too.  There’s a line near the end that kind of sums it up: “She calls me ‘baby.’  She calls everybody ‘baby.'”  Maybe people come and go so often, she just can’t be bothered to use their names.  Maybe she forgets his name because she’s been drinking a little too much.  Maybe she just wants the connection, giving people nicknames to feel closer to them.  But they’re all just ‘baby.’  Who was the first one she called that?  What happened to him.  Why doesn’t she just let go?  The story of this nameless woman and the guy in the song isn’t elaborated, but it doesn’t have to be.  It’s as old as time.  “It’s a lonely old night.  Can I put my arms around you?  It’s a lonely old night, custom-made for two lonely people like me and you.”

“Crumblin’ Down”

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Change is coming.  Faster than I’d even hoped for.

State bans on same-sex marriage are being struck down by federal courts, left and right (I mean that both politically and geographically).  Virginia is just the latest.  This morning, there was news that the adorable and talented Ellen Page has come out; she’s just the latest public figure to strike another blow at the wall of ignorance that has surrounded so many for so long.  I think that within the next five years, legal same-sex marriage will come to every state.  

There will also be federal anti-discrimination laws protecting the GLBTQ community.  Kansas is helping pave the way for this, even though they don’t seem to know it yet.  Kansas, in a terrible throwback to Jim Crow, is about to pass a sweeping law that will basically make gay couples an oppressed underclass.  Now, a law that makes it okay for government officials to deny services to a same-sex couple (or anyone who might be associated with a same-sex couple, read: all gay people) is destined to be struck down by the Supreme Court.  By any Supreme Court.  Possibly even the Supreme Court that made the Dred Scott decision.  You can’t allow people in government, or anywhere really, to refuse to provide a legal service to anyone because that person offends their religious beliefs.  I tutor students every day that espouse opinions that offend every fiber of my being, but I don’t treat them any differently than any other student.  I’m not allowed to.  If a clerk at the DMV refused to assist a Muslim woman because she was wearing a hijab, everyone would be up in arms.  It’s the same thing if you discriminate against gay people.  Worse, in some ways, because how you pray is a choice; your sexuality isn’t.  Kansas is trying to pretend that this isn’t a straight Jim Crow law, but it is.  And it will fall.

All of this hatred and bigotry and discrimination will fall.  You can hear the rumbling and the cracking of the wall.

Repost: “Your Life is Now”

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Note: I know I’m doing a lot of reposts lately, but this one seemed appropriate for today.  I didn’t use any video or audio clips early on in the jukebox, relying only on my skills as a writer and trained reader of texts to analyze the songs.  I’m glad I added the audio/visual component.  Happy New Year to everyone, and remember, your life is now.  Go out and live it.

 

When I think about music I find inspiring, I don’t generally think about John Mellencamp.  But “Your Life is Now” has always struck a chord with me.  It’s from the eponymous disc he released in 1998, sort of mid-career, I guess.  He’s feeling his age a little bit on this one, but still not taking it any easier.  This particular song is pretty average for him, with nice country rock playing (including a fine fiddle) and the same kind of “it’s my world and y’all are just livin’ in it” attitude that Mellencamp excels at.  Although for him, this is positively mellow.  The general message is like John Hiatt’s “Slow Turning”: This is the only life you’ve got.  Live it.

Zen Buddhism (how’s that for a segue?) holds the principle that time is an illusion.  There is no past, no future, only now.  Part of the point of this idea is to drag people away from meaningless suffering over a past they can’t change and future they have no control over.  Live in the now, because that is all that exists.  It is liberating to look at the universe this way.  That’s the feeling I get from this song.  “Your life is now.  In this undiscovered moment, lift your head up above the crowd.”  It is freeing in a way to “shake this world” and essentially re-create it.  Although that’s not quite it either.  Just shaking the world off implies leaving it and dumping everything for something new.  That’s not what he’s saying.

There are many people, some of whom I love dearly, who believe that life is just a series of compromises.  Compromised dreams, compromised principles, compromised relationships (okay, I’ll give them that one; you can’t have a healthy relationship without some give and take).  And to an extent, these people are correct.  But I think compromise might be the wrong word, because it implies a negative connotation.  “Do you believe you’re the victim of a great compromise?” Mellencamp asks, as if a compromise is something you make when you have no other choices, when you’ve been backed into a corner.  But that’s not the right way to look at it.  In the very next line, he sings “‘Cause I believe you change your mind and change our lives.”

It’s all in the attitude.  To look at you life as the disappointing results of previous actions is to be perpetually disappointed.  Even if you love how your life turned out, you’ll still always have that shadow of a doubt, that niggling feeling that somehow you didn’t live up to your potential.  But if you look at it as the opportunity to live a new life every single day, then there is no limit.

This is not always possible.  I have struggled with dreams and goals and a distinct lack of achievement all my life.  But I am finding that if I try to change my perspective just a little bit every day, then maybe I can change my life.  Maybe I can even change the world.

“This is your time here to do what you will do.”

“Your Life is Now”

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When I think about music I find inspiring, I don’t generally think about John Mellencamp.  But “Your Life is Now” has always struck a chord with me.  It’s from the eponymous disc he released in 1998, sort of mid-career, I guess.  He’s feeling his age a little bit on this one, but still not taking it any easier.  This particular song is pretty average for him, with nice country rock playing (including a fine fiddle) and the same kind of “it’s my world and y’all are just livin’ in it” attitude that Mellencamp excels at.  Although for him, this is positively mellow.  The general message is like John Hiatt’s “Slow Turning”: This is the only life you’ve got.  Live it.

Zen Buddhism (how’s that for a segue?) holds the principle that time is an illusion.  There is no past, no future, only now.  Part of the point of this idea is to drag people away from meaningless suffering over a past they can’t change and future they have no control over.  Live in the now, because that is all that exists.  It is liberating to look at the universe this way.  That’s the feeling I get from this song.  “Your life is now.  In this undiscovered moment, lift your head up above the crowd.”  It is freeing in a way to “shake this world” and essentially re-create it.  Although that’s not quite it either.  Just shaking the world off implies leaving it and dumping everything for something new.  That’s not what he’s saying.

There are many people, some of whom I love dearly, who believe that life is just a series of compromises.  Compromised dreams, compromised principles, compromised relationships (okay, I’ll give them that one; you can’t have a healthy relationship without some give and take).  And to an extent, these people are correct.  But I think compromise might be the wrong word, because it implies a negative connotation.  “Do you believe you’re the victim of a great compromise?” Mellencamp asks, as if a compromise is something you make when you have no other choices, when you’ve been backed into a corner.  But that’s not the right way to look at it.  In the very next line, he sings “‘Cause I believe you change your mind and change our lives.”

It’s all in the attitude.  To look at you life as the disappointing results of previous actions is to be perpetually disappointed.  Even if you love how your life turned out, you’ll still always have that shadow of a doubt, that niggling feeling that somehow you didn’t live up to your potential.  But if you look at it as the opportunity to live a new life every single day, then there is no limit.

This is not always possible.  I have struggled with dreams and goals and a distinct lack of achievement all my life.  But I am finding that if I try to change my perspective just a little bit every day, then maybe I can change my life.  Maybe I can even change the world.

“This is your time here to do what you will do.”