Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dialing Cool

Tom Petty has power over this household of five women, ages 15 to 46. If one of my daughters wants to change the estrogen-fueled mood around here, she uses the power of the CD player and it works, buddy:  you've got five of us deeply engaged in karaoke, an episode of "So You Think You Can Dance" and a phantom drug trip, all at the same time. Somehow dinner gets slopped together. I can only imagine what my more bookish, introverted husband sees through the kitchen window at night, from somewhere between the detached Model T garage that is his reading retreat and the kitchen door. Most people try to keep our kind of dancing behavior below-the-belt in the car, so strangers don't stare, and the police don't consider the possibility of a seizure behind the wheel.

I feel a little sheepish admitting to a love of Tom Petty, something to do with a 1970s understanding of what "cool" means. The word was thrown around just as much then, but its true, awe-inspiring expression was, I believe, more carefully dialed and harder to achieve. Before we all parted ways with high school and the decade, the elusive "cool" meant showing off a deep working knowledge of two extremes  --  rock's founding artists and the more obscure bands of the period. It included a disdain for anything too Top 40; "well-known" could be cool but no test of a person's coolness. In a roomful of the coolest people, you didn't gush about a band any old classmate could discover on the radio.

I've since teased out what makes me love a musician or a band, vs. just appreciate one. I've gotten over the "cool" litmus test. A little. On my list of must-haves in personal favorites is, first, the artist has to be able to dance. (Watching Phil Collins on MTV taught me this. Don't ask me how it is that he's a great drummer and can't dance, but he's Judy-textbook for explaining the difference between appreciate, and love.) Second is, give me a song that tells a story.

So look again at Tom Petty, a master of the short story, a longtime magician with what has more recently been termed flash fiction:

"Me and Del were singing, Little Runaway ..."

"He met a girl out there with a tattoo too ..."

"You be the girl, at the high-school dance, I'll be the boy, in the corduroy pants ..."

Here at last  --  in the way that can only be found in blogs without benefit of editorial direction  --  we come to the point of this one. Which is, the girl at the high-school dance. Who is  --  in the way that all literary characters are to their readers  --  me.

And we come to my burning question.

What the hell happened to her?

(To be continued.)