John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow” was something I owned on a cassette back in the 80s. I haven’t had any cassettes for years now, and I’ll probably never own them again, with CDs and iTunes and now the Cloud rendering tapes obsolete. But the music that was on that tape still sounds as good as it ever did, as I learned earlier today.
It was getting on toward sunset on a summer’s day in Chicago. It’s not early or even mid-summer any longer, but the kids aren’t yet back in school, either. There’s still a few good days left before autumn starts closing in, as Bob Seger once said.
It had rained earlier in the afternoon, and the sunshine that follows such a storm seems to be a bit more vibrant. and so it was on this afternoon, as I was driving across the North side to pick up my family in our Prius. This meant that I had a CD player at my disposal, and I felt like a bit of nostalgia as I put in Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow.”
Some of the songs on the CD were radio hits back in the day, and they still get lots of airplay as a result: Small Town, Lonely Ol’ Night, and ROCK in the USA are the best-known examples of these. But the music sounded so good on the cassette that I often played it all the way through, since skipping around from one song to another was not an option before CDs came along. And this was how I knew about a number called “Justice and Independence ’85” which is buried somewhere in the middle of the album’s tracks.
After Small Town and Lonely Ol’ Night and some of the other songs had played, I came to the Justice song. By this time, I was heading south on Ravenswood Avenue, where the traffic is lighter and stoplights are few and far between. As the song progressed, I turned onto a street running behind Rosehill cemtery, and was able to open the car up a little bit. As I approached a turn in the road, the drums part was just kicking in. The final minute of the song–the na-na-na-na-na-na-na part, for anyone who knows the song–was an example of music and visuals and motion all coming together. It didn’t last long, but it was something special while it did.
At the end of the song, I came to a stop sign, looked to my left, and saw a house displaying the American flag. At the end of the song–which is an allegorical tale about America and how it seems to lose its way sometimes–the flag visual is just what I needed to see. It was “Ain’t that America” all over again, but with drums and a faster beat.
It’s just another example–as if I ever needed one–of how powerful music is. It’s a song that I hadn’t heard for ten years or more, but it was in my consciousness enough that I could jam out to it all these years later. And I also wanted to recapture the moment here, lest it vanish into thin air like the first 40-some years of my life have done.
So take this from me, anyone who happens upon this for whatever reason: Music doesn’t have to be just the aural backdrop for movies and video games. It can, and hopefully it will, bubble up through the years one day and reveal itself in fleeting and unexpected ways. And when it does, don’t be shy about enjoying it, either. It can’t last as long as you want it to, but even a little bit of it can go a very long way.