There’s a Top 40 pop song from the 1980s called Jack & Diane. It’s a classic from a famous musician named John Mellencamp and if you heard it you might know it immediately.
The song is about “Two American kids growin’ up in the Heartland…”. And Mellencamp knows about the subject. Because despite his celebrity he still maintains his primary residence in rural Indiana where he was born in the small town of Seymour.
But Jack & Diane is ultimately disturbing. Because the refrain is “Oh yeah, life goes on. Long after the thrill of livin’ is gone…”
In short a renowned performer is singing condescendingly about what he perceives as the pointlessness of life for many small-town people in America whose lives must go on after their big dreams of youth dissipate.
This is pure arrogance. Because we “common folks” do not think of ourselves as lesser people by dint of the fact that we do not have superstar status.
In fact Mellencamp now has been married and divorced three times. Should I write a song about famous people who don’t seem to be able to find happiness in their married lives?
No, I haven’t done that. And I won’t. I do not wish to throw stones or cast aspersions like some people in the Media Left do continuously. But I sure could because everyone knows that these celebrities, for all their wealth and fame, often live very dubious lives with questionable morals, behaviors and outcomes.
Mellencamp is a big-time Democrat. He once wrote a song critical of Ronald Reagan and obviously Jack & Diane refers to white people in small towns in Middle America. It is not supposed to be interpreted as being critical of liberals like blacks, gays, feminists, rich urban socialists or famous New York artists all of whom may spend an hour a week or maybe much more on a psychiatrist’s couch trying to figure out their ambiguous lives.
In contrast, think about our US military. It is generally made up of fairly or very conservative people who never seek the spotlight or any fame or notoriety. They just do what they do to serve their fellow citizens and protect the nation and they are proud of it even if they never have killed an international terrorist in a legendary raid.
They are often humble small-town men and women who have found an honorable and fulfilling calling in life. And sometimes they are badly injured in combat but they never complain. And when they are killed you do not see their families objecting.
Amazing. Absolutely amazing.
In fact our top-drawer Navy SEALs and Army Rangers and special-ops guys and jet-fighter pilots are the military equivalent of rock stars. But we don’t even know who they are and we don’t think of them that way. Because they are modest people who do not need adulation and cannot have it anyway. They are secure in themselves and serve us proudly and quietly.
In contrast needy pop performers like Mellencamp always seek the spotlight. Always. Because without it they are empty and lost. Think Bill Clinton. Think Obama. Think of Oprah Winfrey, perhaps the most overexposed celebrity in American history, who has a magazine that features on its cover every single month a picture of… Oprah Winfrey.
So obviously there is a huge chasm in how we perceive our lives between liberals and conservatives, and in what we think about ourselves.
We conservatives know who we are and we are at peace with ourselves. That is what makes us conservative. We know that we may never be famous pop stars but we also accept that we are doing our darnedest to be the best people that we can. We take responsibility for our failures and take solace in our achievements knowing that nobody can be perfect except God.
In fact people like us in small towns often have very high standards of living. They indeed are ‘rich’ in many ways. No, not wealth-wise or fame-wise but they have their families, their friends, their homes, their clubs, their churches, their productive jobs, their children, their nieces and nephews, their grandchildren. And this all gives them the simple and essential inner peace and happiness in life that “money can’t buy”. Nor fame.
This is the inner peace that so many celebrities lack. Just look at their frequent alcoholism and drug addiction and suicide and depression.
But to some of these entertainers us “little folks” are nothing but mindless drones who need to hear famous pop songs in order to feel whole.
Nonsense. And certainly many “little folks” revere performers like Mellencamp and I hold no grudge for him making a song like Jack & Diane. He is a good musician and there is some truth in the song.
But his music is not what we live for and it should never be taken seriously. Because that music is just entertainment. And entertainment can never build up our souls from within. We can only enjoy that music when we ourselves have fulfillment such that a little entertainment on top is OK. Otherwise Jack & Diane is just a track blaring in the background while we drown in our own uncertainties.
We conservatives are realists not idealists. We understand realistically our capabilities and our limits and do not reach for an ideal self. We live day to day with a smile on our faces but we also take the long view. And while there certainly are many small-town people like us who live less-than-wonderful lives there are many who are living fruitfully.
There was a TV documentary recently about a railroad in the mountains of Virginia. They interviewed one of the track workers, a foreman who came from a small town in Appalachia. He said that the railroad had given him a good life because he had raised five children on the ample salary that the railroad had paid him.
But according to Mellencamp’s song that is not much of an existence. Yet the railroad worker was expressing his vision of a wonderful life – hard work and family and a sense of self-worth in a safe small town where he feels secure and happy. Perhaps he is a hunter for whom a day in the Autumn woods with his sons is as uplifting as any globe-trotting trip on a celebrity’s jet.
From what the railroad worker said you could imagine that he has most of the things that a person could ever want in life without ever leaving the home of his childhood. Indeed he and his wife may be Jack & Diane. And indeed their life goes on “long after the thrill of livin’ is gone”. Because that life goes on for everyone, no exceptions.
And how you handle that life determines the worth of your time here on this earth. After all there’s no guarantee that wealth and fame result from good fortune or produce it. Famous actors and rock stars may find themselves unstable and sick in their prime or they may fade in their glory and find themselves miserable in old age.
Meanwhile our friend the railroad track foreman has been and will be surrounded by his wife, children and now his grandchildren on snowy Christmas mornings for many years to come and in those treasured moments will have everything that a man could possibly desire.
Because this is what most Americans are like – people living their lives in their own ways, finding happiness wherever they can in the best nation ever. They are just trying to do their best and if happiness ensues, well then that is icing on the cake.
But happiness is just an emotion. Thus if you are looking just to be “happy” you can just as easily end up sad. And you can just as easily find yourself in a world in which you are unable to complete the puzzle of life because it has become an endless search for some nebulous and idealized gratification that can never be found.
No, the point of life is not to be “happy”. The point is to find some inner peace and to be content with who you are no matter what level you operate on. Because that is what will give your life form and will give you a shield against the uncertainties and vagaries that we all confront.
Indeed all the money and fame in the world will never make you a whole person; it must come from within. Just ask poor Lindsey Lohan or any of the other troubled figures in Follywood. We don’t even know who they really are. Many of them don’t either.
And we conservatives will have to be content knowing them through the myths expressed in their songs, popular tunes that stay with us like Jack & Diane, a song about two American kids growin’ up in the Heartland.