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My friend and colleague Sweet Baby Jesus is roughly the same age as my younger brother, and I am chagrined to say that something about SBJ brings out the bitchy big sister in me. A fairly common sequence of events is this: a bunch of us go out for beers; mocking SBJ occupies a good portion of the evening; I go home, think about how I teased him, and feel bad; I stop by his office the next day, and apologize for tormenting him so, saying it seems out of character for me, since I don't treat my other friends that way; he says he doesn't mind at all--in fact, he insists, he enjoys being the center of attention and finds it all good clean fun as long as it's a gentle mocking rather than malicious bullying; I go away reassured, but full of resolve not to tease him so very much next time.

I'm still working to identify the reasons why this happens. So far I've come up with two: 1) he's telling the truth about enjoying it; he plays along and laughs good-naturedly, and even after the conversation has moved on to something other than his most charming foibles, he provides us with information that almost seems designed to provoke more teasing, which means that 2) he deserves it.

In some ways, Sweet Baby Jesus is one of the oddest people I know. Don't get me wrong; I like him, quite a lot, actually. But he has some of the strangest ideas, opinions and behaviors.

Last December a dozen of us went out on the last day of classes to celebrate having survived the semester. At one point, apropos of nothing, SBJ asked, "Do you ever play that game where you take two things that are basically equal, and make people choose which one they like better? For instance, like with Bruce Springsteen on one hand, and John Cougar Mellencamp on the other."

We were in the middle of a crowded bar and the din was terrific, but at that moment it was like the entire world went silent. Everyone looked around the table. "You're kidding, right?" someone asked.

"Of course not," SBJ said. "Mellencamp is like the Midwestern Springsteen."

We stared at each other again. "You're really saying that John Cougar Mellencamp is ‘basically equal' with Bruce Springsteen?" someone asked.


"You're saying that ‘Hurts So Good' is on a par with ‘Thunder Road' or ‘Blinded by the Light,'" I began.

"Or ‘Jack and Diane' is the same as ‘Born to Run' or anything off Nebraska," someone else said.

"Yeah," SBJ said. Everyone looked around the table again, and burst out laughing.

"You're forgetting songs like ‘Little Pink Houses' and ‘Blood on the Plow,'" he cried.

"That's ‘cause they're forgettable," someone said.

"Mellencamp is an authentic voice of middle America,"SBJ said, his voice rising even more. "You're all just a bunch of east coast snobs."

THAT pissed me off. "I am not going to let some guy who grew up in Connecticut and went to school in New York call ME an east coast snob," I said, jabbing at him with my forefinger. "I'm from Arizona, remember?"

"Yeah, but I lived in Indiana for six years, and I really grew to appreciate how Mellencamp speaks for the Midwest," he said.

"I lived in Iowa for eight years, and I'm sure that even in that bastion of Midwesterness, people have the sense to prefer the Boss to a guy who named himself after a mountain cat," I said.

"And let's not forget cover art," some said. "Mellencamp looks pretty stupid on his album covers."

"Or hair," I said. "John Cougar Mellencamp's hair was so poufy and feathered, he could have been one of the girls in a White Snake video."

SBJ seemed genuinely astonished that no one--not a single person there--thought Mellencamp was the artistic equal of the Boss. You'd think he'd learn that this is not a question designed to arouse a lot of respect for his taste in music. But no, months later, he still brings it up when someone new comes along, so he still gets to hear people guffaw in disbelief as they finally realize he is serious about the comparison.

The game–-which we now call Mellencamp--can make for fun bar banter when you play it with things that are actually comparable. Coke or Pepsi? East Coast or West Coast? Cats or dogs? Window or aisle? Mac or PC? Q or A? T or A? Ginger or Mary Ann? Aiden or Mr. Big?

And I'm probably going to have to apologize to him for posting this--or maybe delete it, if it really hurts his feelings--but I want to say this: SBJ, let it go. You can like John Cougar Mellencamp as much as you want, but you can compare apples to oranges more easily than you can compare Mellencamp to the Boss.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on August 16, 2005 12:16 AM.

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