In time and space
WXRT, Chicago’s Finest Rock, has been celebrating its 40th anniversary of bringing us awesome music for the better part of this year. As the year draws to a close, the schedule of events brings us “40 years in 40 days” — which sends listeners to a different year each weekday. I’ve been loving this feature (though 1975 was apparently a terrible year for music); loving the time warp Michael Chabon describes in Manhood for Amateurs that is listening to an “oldies station.” I am sent to my high school cafeteria, my first date, the concert Josh and I attended, the trip home from Rockford after delivering my ordination papers by hand, where I cranked the Talking Heads all the way down I-90.
One of my favorite (of all of my favorite) Nick Hornby books is his collection of essays about pop music, Songbook. He looks at the different ways songs get under our skin — how they stay with us, how their meanign for us changes over time, and remains the same. That 2009 trip wasn’t the first time I’d really listened to the Talking Heads, but it’s the one that’s embedded in my memory.
The closing credits for Honey I Shrunk the Kids are running in the living room; the girls are watching it for the second time in 15 hours. In the story, Rick Moranis invents a machine that collapses the empty space in objects, shrinking them. Josh thought the girls would like it (we’re always on the look-out for family movies that they’ll like and that won’t cause us to gouge our eyes out. Strawberry Shortcake’s various incarnations, for example, fail to meet the latter criterion), and so we borrowed it from the library on our most recent Saturday trek. It’s due today, so last night was our last shot. He was right (as ever, Beloved Husband) — the girls were engrossed. Fee giggled like a mad woman at all the silly parts; Cal spoke endlessly of the “spider” (the ant) the miniature kids befriend. Fee also has a new movie star boyfriend, and has been talking endlessly on her pink Sleeping Beauty cell phone to Russ (the shy older brother who, spoiler alert!, wins the affection of the popular neighbor girl).
There’s an irony in that. Though I recall responding similarly when the movie came our when I was 10 — scared by the scorpion, laughing manically — in 1989 there were no pink cell phones. There were really no cell phones at all. We found ourselves having to explain the pay phone one of the characters uses.
The thing that blew me away though was Fee’s response to the anxious, pseudo-macho father, who keeps sneaking cigarettes to quell his fear over the absence of his sons. When she sees people smoking, she is first concerned — Oh no! That’s bad for him! — and has to be talked down. But what I’d never heard before was her confusion over what, exactly, one does with a cigarette. My oldest child, who’s been speaking in nearly perfect sentences and paragraphs (we make chatty kids at our house) for close to three years, doesn’t know the verb that pairs with “cigarettes.”
She tried “blow”: Why is he blowing the cigarette?
Neither Josh nor I made any particular attempt to correct her. We were bemused, maybe. Or hopeful. It reminded me of those wonderful lines of MLK:
Youngsters will learn words they will not understand,
Children from India will ask: “What is hunger?”
Children from Alabama will ask: “What is racial segregation?”
Children from Hiroshima will ask: “What is the atomic bomb?”
Children at school will ask: “What is war?”
You will answer them, you will tell them: “Those are words not used any more,
Like ‘stage-coaches’, ‘galleys’ or ‘slavery’,
Words no longer meaningful,
That is why they have been removed from dictionaries.”
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