Wednesday, January 14, 2015

There Is Only One of Everything

Last fall, I decided that all of the super hero theme songs were in my iTunes collection. They had been there all along. I was sick of toggling over to YouTube at red lights and in parking lots, only to burn through cellular data searching for the anthems of Spider-Man (vintage 60s), Green Lantern (cheap CGI reboot), Wonder Woman (poorly aging 70s show of my youth). And then, always: was the Bluetooth synched, were we in range, was the song so popular it had some ad click-through that terrified Baby and brother with some decibel-busting plywood pitch. Already, the pantheon was expanding faster than I could keep ahead of it. Our home celebrated bit player crossovers at Marvel and DC Comics, off-market Tinker Bells, the green fish on roller-skates with the British accent. And I didn’t really know. Did Ice Man even have a theme song? No, Daddy, one with words. It's not a theme song if it doesn't have words. So, now, Ice Man has a theme song. Performed by Kenny Loggins, of that oh-so-permanent-making flash of nostalgia by which the back catalogue slowly fills with Cyndi Lauper (FireStar!), Paul Simon live at the iTunes Festival (Falcon!), and Mr. Caddy Shack himself.

What are the Danger Zows? Walt asked yesterday on the way to preschool.

I turned down the Loggins. 

Well, I said, it's where you go when you fly in a really fast airplane.

He thought about this for a moment.

You mean Florida?

My parents live in Florida. I could see where this might end up.

Not Florida, exactly, I said. It's more like where army planes go.

He liked that answer.

To fight bad guys? 

Sure, I said, they used to. There aren't a lot of bad guys left who fly planes as fast as ours.

What about Lex Luthor? he asked, or maybe Wonder Woman. Her jet is invisible.

What about Elsa? I asked. Walt hates Elsa. He loves Elsa. I’m pretty sure Elsa keeps Walt awake late at night, wondering about her freezing power and pretty hair.

No, not Elsa! Walt said. Then, after a few seconds. Can we listen to “Let It Go”?

I've tried mixing in a few non-tights, semi-animated options. "I Thought I Saw Your Face Today" was a hit for a while, then the Mary Poppins soundtrack, "Everything is Awesome," "Nice To Be With You." A couple of weekends ago, Cait asked me to download "Midnight Train to Georgia." The one by the old blues guy, she said, and there was something like 300 versions on iTunes, mostly vintage and adult contemporary and karaoke versions, even a live cover by the Indigo Girls cover, but none by an old blues guy. Did she mean the Indigo Girls cover? Because I had my own, complicated, Elsa-like feelings about the Indigo Girls. So, we settled on the Gladys Knight version, and after a few listens, Walt started getting the "Woo Hoo!" in time with the chorus, and then he started asking questions.

Are they going to buy a minivan when they get to Georgia? 

Are they going to drive a car to the train station? 

Why is the mommy singing the song and the daddy isn't?

Are one of them your friends?

There’s a great Tom Hanks interview from a couple of years ago over at The Nerdist. At one point, talking about Busom Bodies, he joking refers to the 1980s as, “you know, that time in America when nothing good happened.” It’s funny how much has aged poorly since that seeming golden age of my synth-rock, anti-Communist, pro-aerosol youth. Not just Kenny Loggins, with the hoop, hair gel, and white T. I had forgotten until a friend reminded me recently that there was a stretch of years where Randy Macho Man Savage’s whole gimmick was to threaten to beat his wife.  I tried to put on He-Man for the boys, as an alternative to the snake-fighting Lego ninjas, and we didn’t make it much past the credits.

Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews have aged marvelously. Walt and Sammy don't deny it. We sit on the sofa and clap along to “Step in Time,” while the boys bounce on the cushions and kick furiously:

Of course, I’m always waiting for one of them to fall, and fall into the other, or splay and bonk head-first into the table, floor, wall, hutch. Who am I to deny them the manic pleasures of childhood? The guy who will take them to the ER, I guess, though so far (knock on wood), we're all intact.

Chuck Klosterman had a nice thought recently about “Boyhood,” that, in scene after scene, it plays against our movie-going expectation that dangerous situations will always end in violence. Year after year, Mason’s friends make skateboard ramps, careen in cars, handle guns, intoxicate themselves, and everyone is fine. Time passes. Before you know it, Mason is off to college. I have a year still before Walt is as old as Mason in the first shot of the movie, and since I watched it, I’ve had a kind of helpless wonder at how exceptionally hard it is to acknowledge happiness and trust it. There is a great poem from Margaret Atwood’s 1974 collection, You Are Happy, that I’ll paste below. I remember reading it first as an undergraduate and loving it as a love poem, though now it inflects all these great secondary readings about stability, pleasure, and of course, bittersweet loneliness. There is only one of everything, of course, and if you’re a super-hero, then you’re lucky to get a theme song at all.

There Is Only One of Everything (Margaret Atwood)

Not a tree but the tree
we saw, it will never exist, split by the wind and bending down
like that again. What will push out of the earth

later, making it summer, will not be
grass, leaves, repetition, there will
have to be other words. When my

eyes close language vanishes. The cat
with the divided face, half black half orange
nests in my scruffy fur coat, I drink tea,

fingers curved around the cup, impossible
to duplicate these flavours. The table
and freak plates glow softly, consuming themselves,

I look out at you and you occur
in this winter kitchen, random as trees or sentences,
entering me, fading like them, in time you will disappear

but the way you dance by yourself
on the tile floor to a worn song, flat and mournful,
so delighted, spoon waved in one hand, wisps of roughened hair

sticking up from your head, it's your surprised
body, pleasure I like. I can even say it,
though only once and it won't

last: I want this. I want

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