Anyone who's old, or getting there, doesn't need a reminder. And most of us music fans see or hear enough great music throughout the year — made by both 18- and 80-year olds — to know that it's not the years that suck both the musician and the audience dry; it's cynicism, soullessness and, well, crappy songs.
Personally, I don't feel that old. But if there's one thing that is a stark reminder of where I am now, compared to where I used to be 20 years ago, it's listening to songs that reference a specific age.
The first song to ever make me aware of who and what I was in relation to adulthood was John Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane." "Hold onto 16 as long as you can," my 8-year-old self would sing, imagining a future of sucking on chili dogs and sitting on my boyfriend's lap. Then, before I knew it, I was 16, and the Tastee Freeze and my James Dean-esque beau were nowhere to be found. But, like all the years leading up to it, my 16th passed quickly; in fact, it was fleeting. And soon, and then forever, Jack and Diane were younger than me.
Really, 16 is a very common — even iconic — age to be referenced in song. As far as I'm concerned, we can skip over a whole slough of tunes that reference that eventful year in a young person's life. Most of them are sung by a man celebrating the fact that some girl, often a kid he's known since she was just a wee child, is finally of age; is finally a woman.
Yet there's another "16" song I do want to mention; it's one that I discovered for the first time when I happened to be that very age: The Replacements' "Sixteen Blue."
Drive yourself right up the wall
No one hears and no one calls
It's a boring state
It's a useless wait, I know
Your age is the hardest age
Everything drags and drags
You ain't laughing, are you?
This (along with a lot of other Mats tunes) summed up most everything for me during my high-school years. Yet, inevitably, it happened again; I was past it. "Sixteen Blue" became someone else's story, some other kid's security blanket for his or her teenage years.
Up next? Well, there was The Stray Cats' "Sexy and 17." But with my J. Crew rugby shirt and braces on my teeth for the second time in a decade, I wasn't really feeling that one. Nor could I get behind Winger's "Seventeen," with lyrics like, "Daddy says she's too young / but she's old enough for me." Thankfully for Kip Winger and company, there were plenty of other girls in my high school (and around the nation) for whom this was a sad-but-true anthem; I'm now friends with most of them on Facebook, where I enjoy looking at pictures of them with their 17-year old kids.
(Perhaps better song options would have been "At 17" by Janis Ian or "Edge of Seventeen" by Stevie Nicks. Unfortunately, I missed out on those until my 20s and could only experience their sentiment via hindsight.)
In 10th grade, Sinead O'Connor's "Emperor's New Clothes" was another song that made me excited about hitting a certain age while filling me with trepidation: "How could I possibly know what I want when I was only 21?" she sings. At 17, being 21 felt light years away. And O'Connor made the early 20s sound like a time of innocence and confusion, which only left my younger self feeling nonplussed. I'd been certain I would know all the answers by then.
In each instance described above, my own self caught up with these songs, these stories. And, for a strange moment, I could posit myself within the song's narrative, knowing all the ways the lyrics had turned out both to be true and untrue; it was like finally meeting my future self, the one created for me and for the other young believers, all of whom hoped that lyrics were merely scripts we would be able to follow throughout our complex lives.
Sinead O'Connor - The Emperor's New Clothes
Todd | MySpace Video
Please share the songs that you most related to as you neared or were or wanted to be a specific age. ("18 and Life" by Skid Row." Anyone?) Additionally, share any songs that you wish you'd known about when you hit a certain age (for me, it's The Adverts' "No Time to Be 21"). Finally, what songs are you most looking forward to being able to embrace as "yours"? (Or should we all just say "When I'm 64" by The Beatles?) Thanks!