Monday, March 27, 2006

Disco 2000

The other day in the gym, I was listening to the song “Disco 2000” by Pulp on my MP3 player. It’s about a working-class kid in the 1970s pining for the most beautiful girl in his neighborhood, while she treated him like a well-meaning eunuch. Fast forward to 2000, he meets her again, she now is divorced with a kid, with all the mystery and allure gone – in a good way. I did a quick Youtube search and found the video for “Disco 2000” in a flash – worth checking out if you have a cable connection.

I strongly relate to that song, and the Different Class and This Is Hardcore albums by Pulp – they’re about the only albums in my adulthood that thunderstruck me emotionally the way new music did when I was a teenager. This is because Jarvis Cocker is a great songwriter who handles British working-class issues in subtle, funny ways that escape American working-class songwriters like Springsteen, who often get too dramatic for their own good. Ray Davies once did the same – the British just seem better at this. They’re not trying to glorify their characters so we can all worship them – they’re just quietly noting what they see and letting us figure out how we want to feel about them.

“Disco 2000” reminds me of conversations I’d have with my own friends in high school circa the late 1970s, about what life would be like for all of us in the year 2000, which seemed impossibly far away, although we’d only be in our mid-30s. Kids don’t understand time and how it works. And it works by simply passing, without pause, regret or happiness. It’s not our friend or enemy. If we choose to stop and pity ourselves over our place in life, or feel good about it, it’s not so much irrelevant as gone in a very short while. I’m finding it best to move with time, not get attached to any age, or miss any part of life that has passed. This is hard to do in a culture that worships youth, where we’re all encouraged to look and act like teenagers, and keep craning our necks to look back.

Back then, we were looking forward, and pictured ourselves dressed like spacemen, driving hovercrafts to work. (Instead, we’re driving veritable tanks that get worse gas mileage than cars from the 70s … and surrounded by kids and hipsters dressing like we did back then.) At the last high-school class reunion, my 20th, one woman asked if I was still writing, I said yeah, and she seemed extremely happy to hear this. I told her, “I’m not all that over-joyed about it. It’s not like I thought it would be. I can’t make a living at it. There’s nothing romantic about it. I feel like an overgrown child even trying to do this stuff anymore.” It didn’t matter to her – she still thought this was great.

It occurred to me afterwards this is probably because she knew this is what I wanted to do back then, and I was still doing it in some sense. Whereas she had become a successful doctor, had two kids and another on the way. And I can guarantee the life she imagined for herself in 2000 back in 1979 bore no resemblance to the one she had now. It was probably better and worse in some respects, and much more crazy than she could have imagined as a kid. That’s the quality I notice most in our lives: absolute insanity. Not enough time. Or too much. Money issues. Work stress. These are things you don’t imagine when you’re a teenager – because you have yourself convinced it can’t get any worse than what you’re going through. You don’t see all the shit your parents go through just so you can have a relatively normal childhood with few real worries.

It’s strange how we attached so much to 2000, as if the world was going to end that year, which, if you remember correctly, was being predicted all 1999 long with the Y2K issues and various terrorist theories. Of course, a year later, serious shit did go down, but here we are, five years after that, and the world keeps turning. I think in that hopeful way kids have of looking at the world, we all pictured ourselves doing somehow better in 2000 – being better people, all grown up, mature, making our way in the world. These things may have happened in some sense, but I also have a sense of there being a straight unbroken line throughout my whole life, and all I’m doing is pulling my way along it. It’s not so much that I don’t believe in change as that I’ve met people I haven’t met in decades, and essentially our natures haven't changed all that much, whatever we’re doing, wherever we are in the world.

Strangely enough, I even had a situation much like in the song “Disco 2000.” Back in high school, A.J. was the one girl all the guys were afraid to approach because of her looks. Two of my friends (Tony and John) and I would longingly refer to her as some unobtainable icon of female beauty – we weren’t the only ones, all the guys we knew had that same reference point. Well, the 20th reunion rolled around, and A.J. was responsible for organizing it, getting in touch with everyone via email. And we hit it off really well in email, which left Tony and John flabbergasted – how could this happen, all these years later? Bill, who we both know is a dick, is talking to Venus, and he’s doing all right.

As it turned out, A.J. was divorced, had a teenage son, and was living with a guy who would eventually become her new husband. She was a pretty normal person. Been through a lot of ups and downs, was smarter as a result. When I told her about this aura of inapproachability all the guys in our school had built up around her, she just laughed. Back then, she was too shy and introverted, so she kept to herself. She had no idea we all felt this way. These days, when I go back to Pennsylvania, I’ll often have dinner with Tony and A.J., and we’ll laugh about shit like this, how strange we all were back then, and how little it means now. They’ll both probably read this, and I think they’ll know exactly what I’m writing about here. It’s a shame we didn’t have this sort of familiarity back then – it would have done wonders for Tony and my nonexistent teenage popularity.

My only qualm with "Disco 2000" is it sounds too much like Laura Brannigan's 80s dance hit "Gloria." But I somehow think Jarvis Cocker knew this when the band recorded the song and immediately recognized even the way it sounded played into his theme. Smart stuff from a guy who probably would have driven a Pacer if they'd had them in England back then.

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