Sunday, March 1, 2020

Americana: From "Jack and Diane" to "American Kids"

Very few people would qualify this as Americana and that is their loss for this is not only Americana, it's about as good as Americana gets. Sometimes "Americana" can feel like the genre for people who love country music but hate its fans.

Which brings me to John Mellencamp. If you were alive in the 1980s you will remember that he became the lightning rod for music fans who loved traditional American music but hated traditional America. Ironically, he was seen as an inauthentic Bruce Springsteen wannabee. Why is that ironic? This is why: “Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something about which he has had absolutely no personal experience,” Bruce Springsteen. Mellencamp, on the other hand, was the real thing and he wrote about a life he had real experience of such as, "A little ditty about Jack and Diane, two American kids growin' up in the heartland."

Later, Mellencamp would claim that the song was really about an inter-racial couple. That might be true but I don't believe it. I think that was what he said when he finally gained some respect from the cool kids who used to hate him. Ultimately, it doesn't matter because a song only succeeds to the extent that you can apply it to your life. That means both people in the interracial couple and the same race couple have to be able to imagine its about them.

Or, to be more accurate, that it is about the person they used to be because the whole thing is hindsight. It's about having grown up too fast.

Which brings me to Kenny Chesney, who was 14 years old the summer Jack and Diane was on top. You couldn't avoid it that summer. Chesney  didn't write "American Kids" but it speaks to that experience. It's a song that says, we were that generation and we turned out okay. Which generation exactly? It probably doesn't matter. Any generation from back then.

There are two John Mellencamp shout-outs in the song. There is the title and the line, "Growin' up in little pink houses, makin' out on living room couches." Kant famously said that he understood Plato better than Plato understood himself, Chesney can make the same claim about Mellencamp.

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