The supermarket where I shop plays music of a certain vintage (which, as we've recently discussed, could be anything from last year's Billboard Top 40 to ditties from the War of 1812). The other day it happened to be Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop". As I browsed the selection of veggie sushi, I thought of how appropriate this particular song is for the commencement season (forget about Clinton campaigning to it back in the 90s), especially a commencement season in which there isn't exactly a lot of cockeyed optimism being dished out for the class of 2010.
Of course, my brain started whirring and I tried to think of other oldies radio staples and bona fide pop classics (very loosely defined as songs at least as old as the kids I'd dedicate them to) that would suit the occasion. I came up with the following mental mix tape that I'd offer up to the country's newest crop of college grads. Feel free to chime in in the comments section with your own (more current/eclectic) selections.
In no particular order and with full apologies to the songwriters for twisting their original lyrical intent to suit my own tongue-in-cheek purposes:
"Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" – Billy Joel
I was going to go with "Pressure", but it's pretty mean in a finger-wagging/gloating kinda way. I think "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" conveys the poignancy of transitioning from being the big fish in a small pond to the realities of a quotidian life the likes of which you cavalierly assumed would never befall you (poor Brenda and Eddie).
Plus, starter marriages! Living beyond your means! And the part about engineer boots and tight blue jeans is perfect for mocking hipster fashion.
"Mercedes Benz" – Janis Joplin
True, Millennials are less religious than their generational predecessors, but as an all-purpose warning against entitlement and playing the comparison game, this will do nicely.
"Landslide" – Fleetwood Mac
Steve Nicks wrote this about her own quarter-life crisis. Enough said.
"16 Tons" – Tennessee Ernie Ford
Replace "the company store" with "Fannie Mae" and that about sums up student debt load. And to make up for such capriciousness, proceed directly to watching Harlan County, USA.
"Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road" – Elton John
And "there's plenty like me to be found." Indeed. And by "back to the plough," he clearly means his parents' couch.
"Rockin' in the Free World" – Neil Young
This came out just as the class of 2010 was born, so I'm counting it. 20+ years later and it still has currency as a snapshot of our times. The talk of "fuel to burn" in this era of peak oil is particularly apropos. You could even make a case for Green Day's "21st Century Breakdown" or "Holiday" as "Rockin' in the Free World's" spiritual successor.
"First, We Take Manhattan" – Leonard Cohen (but the Jennifer Warnes cover came first)
An ode to the ambitious, would-be iconoclasts in the crowd, wherein "weapons" = extensive knowledge of personal branding precepts and the ability to organize protests via Facebook groups.
"She Works Hard for the Money" – Donna Summer
This one goes out to all the Starbucks baristas, Applebee's servers and any members of the class of 2010 (regardless of sex) starting out in the service industry.
"If You Want To Sing Out" – Cat Stevens
This is advice to live by. And I'll keep preaching that to anyone who'll listen.
And for the idealists in the crowd, Peter Paul and Mary's cover of "If I Had a Hammer"
I'm still convinced that I can be Mary Travers when I grow up. No one before or since tosses her hair with such fierce righteousness. But seriously kids, get out there and hammer the crap out of something (like, mebbe the status quo), okay?