June 29, 2009
Summer--It Turns Me Upside Down
Whenever I finally escape, I'm pretty sure it will be to the 80s.
Last summer I attended my high school reunion; this summer I've scheduled two playdates with childhood friends and commandeered my brother-in-law's Rock Band game for Beastie Boy and Duran Duran jams.
I'm not alone in doing the time warp again this summer. We've seen reboots of retro classic film franchises such as Star Trek and The Terminator. Captain America, one of the industry's oldest comic book superheroes, who successfully leaped generations from the 1940s to the 1960s for an impressive 45-year run but died earlier this millennium as a martyr for an ideological conflict, is once again alive and kicking. Zac Efron played Matthew Perry's midlife crisis in 17 Again, and Chace Crawford is gonna cut loose as middle-age darling Kevin Bacon in the remake of Footloose. The Beatles are changing the game of Rock Band with their special edition release later this year, and Barack Obama is the most energizing president since John F. Kennedy--if you ask Kennedy's family. And speaking of John F. Kennedy and the Beatles, even the generation gap--the perceived worldview difference between older and young Americans--is reaching levels not seen since the 1960s.
The past always beckons, it's fair to say. We doctor our wrinkles and nurse our grudges. We archive photographs and unearth old relationships online. We collect kitzch and commendables from our formative years, and we complain about the present as a pale imitation of the past. Summer kindles this longing, I think, in each sideways glance out any window. We're reminded that in days of old we used to run freely through the sprinklers, roam freely through the woods, laze freely throughout the day. When I was a kid I would ride my bike from one end of Des Moines to the other on the off chance that I might find a comic book to add to my collection for a good price. I'm reminded of John Mayer's wistful nostalgia: "These days I wish I was six again . . . if only my life were more like 1983."
In 1983, of course, I was worried about the end of the world as we know it, that intercontinental ballistic missles (ICBMs for short, which is pretty funny to say out loud, now that I think about it) would be launched either by accident (a la War Games) or on purpose (a la The Day After). And in 1983, of course, I was dreaming of being an adult--fully autonomous, dream girl at my side, conquering this world and others. Even my post-apocalyptic scenarios were hopeful, with me sprouting angelic wings and rescuing people from danger.
There's something euphoric about imagining ourselves from one time period to another. It's the ultimate escape: once you indulge your mind in the impossible, anything becomes possible. Anything, of course, except fully engaging the present. To the degree that we imagine ourselves into other eras, to the degree that we indulge the notion that some time other than these times are the best of times, to the degree that we're living in dreamtime--to that degree we are living only half-awake.
Meanwhile, wildly interesting--exciting and even daunting--things are happening in our midst. My toddler nephew is singing a song by the Ramones ("Hey! Ho! Let's Go!") while putting together floor puzzles of the universe. The earth is heating up. People are losing their jobs and their homes. People are writing new books and making new art. These and other things are happening not in dream time but in real time, and they alternately demand and reward our attention. Elvis Costello put it nicely in his song The Other Side of Summer: "There's malice and there's magic in every season." In other words, every season merits our full attention.
I count ten veiled references to old songs in this post. I invite/challenge you to sniff them out. I'll send a free copy of my book the first person to get them all.