Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pink Houses - Songs As Chapter Titles

Pink Houses is a quintessential Midwest song, in my opinion, and was a must for at least one chapter title. 

Back when he was John Cougar Mellencamp, with shaggy hair, and a skinny physique, clapping on MTV, this artist captured something so Midwestern, he seemed like its voice--both critical and affectionate. The affection is subtle, though, and that is part of the essence I love. It's middle class praise via a brief shoulder clasp--small actions that speak volumes. It's the physical manifestation of "don't tread on me" combined with, "I've got your back," if you will! 

The song choice is also about the setting as a character.  It imbues the chapter with the an indentity of place by conjuring images of tiny homes in a row depreciated by an interstate streaming through, oblvious to the the lives around it. 

Despite much debate on the internet over the meaning of this song, what the conflicting comments prove is that Mellencamp managed to elevate the lyrics to speak to multiple points-of-view. This is importantt. This very fact helps raise the question: does the song embody a criticism that Sadi, Leah, Marc, or Todd feel? Or could it be a love song to a town they're each devoted to for different reasons? No matter which way the song flows to the receiver, there's no sugar covered rhetoric in a Mellencamp song.

This is also about three college friends reuniting with past expectations--who they once were colors everything. Pink Houses is a description of Midwest in the 80's, an uglier era as the nation recovered from the 70's (gas lines, high unemployment, inner strife). This decripit vision was how Sundown seemed when they were in college with big dreams. And how much do these impressions cling and form each of their perspectives? 

For years, I blatantly borrowed from Springfield, MO with every intention of transforming the setting into an original location. Finally I admitted that I was writing this as a tribute to a place that, when I was in high school and college, I saw as full of Jack and Dianes. As I've said, when I returned here to finish Strong Enough, something happened and I got to know Springfield on a mature level.

I purposely gave Sundown a dueling history to emphasize downtown as the link between past and present, inserting the very location into the theme of the novel: change, adaptability, roots, and loyalty. So, why rename Springfield, Sundown? Partly for the town's legacy and because I wanted to have complete control over layout to benefit my story. But people who live here will recognize many elements.

As a writer, you continue to learn about process and technique, but you also learn about art, influence, self, and truth. One thing I learned was that like Springfield, I didn't fully appreciate John Mellencamp as an artist. I don't love every album but I only know the songs played on early MTV or the radio. He's a fascinating artist and one I've barely begun to enjoy. There was a reason he epitomized my Midwest view. I wanted to show a greater story than the one told on the coasts. JC has been doing that in music for years, critical of stereotypes based in truth as well as revealing an inner strength. It's hard honesty.

It's time to buy some good old rock and roll. 

Thank you, DJ Whit. I wouldn't have discovered this without you.