I’m listening just now to a 1984 acoustic show performed by, of all people, John Mellencamp. It’s after his second popular album came out—which was something like his fifth or sixth album, but the first three pretty much tanked—and it’s really surprisingly enjoyable. Just him and his acoustic guitar and if he feels like breaking off a cover after a minute and a half—or if he screws up one of his own songs and has to ask the audience for the next line—well, then, he does. He’s not much of a guitarist but then he himself has said he never really wanted to be. I remember seeing an interview with him where he said something about how he "never wanted to make the guitar howl and scream; I just wanted to be able to play well enough to write my own songs." And from the evidence of this lowkey show, that’s pretty much what he did.
And in the middle of the last song, "Jack and Diane," he deviates from the recorded version of the song. I’m nowhere near enough of a fan to know if this was normal for him or not, but I was really struck by it. Over the normal chord changes—actually, I think he simplified them for his own convenience—he sings softly, in an almost intimate whisper, "Just a little secret between me and you."
And that’s one of the keys to rock and roll, innit? He’s singing that in front of a screaming crowd and yet it feels like he means it. That’s a conundrum that’s at the heart of rock and roll and one reason it’s so incredibly powerful. Because in the middle of twenty thousand people all screaming and dancing and clapping you’re caught up in the power of the moment, of the communal chaos…and yet at the same time it’s a personal communion between you and the singer. Just the two of you. And somehow that goes for every one of those twenty thousand people there. He’s speaking for you and for himself and to you and listening to you all at the same time and doing that with twenty thousand others simultaneously. I don’t understand it. And yet there it is.
And there aren’t many set-ups more powerful than "just a little secret between me and you…" It opens up a universe of possibilities and somehow at that moment all of them seem likely to be good. But the indictment handed down last week shows that that’s just not always the case. And yet hope springs eternal.
Maybe that's the promise of rock and roll. Eternal hope. Eternal youth. And nook, of course. But I guess that that's redundant.