We’re the Kids in America

I was going to post this a few days ago, in honor of the 4th of July, but there are a ton of songs about the good ol’ U S of A and about the 4th of July in particular. I couldn’t decide on just one and retreated into my shell of inaction. I considered writing about this sad song by Sufjan Stevens, but, first of all, it isn’t a song that is remotely an ear worm for me, and secondly, a more iconic stars-and-stripes tune seems more appropriate as a commentary on this nationalistic holiday where we blow up things and act even more stupid than usual.

Though there is something creepily fitting about celebrating a song called “Fourth of July” that repeats the line, We’re all gonna die, over and over at the end. Unfortunately the song lacks a lasting hook.

Alas, I decided on a classic from the 80s, 1981 in particular, Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.” This one definitely pops into regular brain rotation uninvited, and sometimes I catch myself mid white-man’s-overbite dancing, occasionally in public.

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There’s something about the beginning of this song, the iconic single repeating keyboard note, that feels like a warning, a signal to GET READY TO BE PART OF SOMETHING FUN! Not in a Cyndi Lauper “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” way, which, though amazing in its own right, really only addresses half of the young population. This song, though, includes everyone: We’re the kids of America! Whoa Oh! Everybody live for the music, go round! It doesn’t matter who you are, black-white-blue-green-straight-gay-everything-in-between, just get up and dance! But don’t expect to take this girl (I’m assuming these lines are from Kim’s perspective) home anytime soon because she’s not going anywhere.

Bright lights the music get faster.
Look boy, don’t check on your watch, not another glance.
I’m not leaving now, honey not a chance.

Ironically, Kim Wilde is British; doubly ironic, this song was a much bigger hit in Britain, hitting #2 on the charts 35 years ago (vs only reaching 25 in US). So, a non-American wrote a song about America that was more popular outside of America than stateside. To me, this simple fact is another reason why this song is the perfect choice to represent USA nationalism in 2016.

I hadn’t bothered to look more closely at the lyrics before today, and had assumed the message to be, essentially, “We are the new generation, don’t underestimate us, we like to party and dance and we aren’t going anywhere, you old farts!” But there are a couple lines that imbue the song with more depth than I had remembered.

Kind hearts don’t make a new story..
Kind hearts don’t grab any glory!

So, in other words, nice folks are forgotten and will never get any credit. That’s pretty friggin’ dark. I guess if you exchange the word “kind” with “passive” one can see the message as, “Get out and make your own history!” “No one’s gonna hand you success on a platter!” But it can also be seen as, “Sometimes you have to crush a few skulls with your jackboots on the way to glory!” Or to quote another female-fronted band’s iconic song from that same year, you better harden your heart.

OK, clearly I was just looking for a way to add Quarterflash to this post. But the comparison sorta works. Side note: For about a year or two so back when this song came out (and I was 14, so cut me some slack), I thought that Patti Smith, the iconic NY punk-rock poet and Patty Smyth, lead vocalist of Quarterflash were one and the same. I figured she used one spelling for her edgy-poet persona and another for her pop-songstress persona. Clearly I didn’t own the album Horses at the time.

Now that I think about it, I do see parallels between Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” and Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.” Both songs express clear beliefs that the night belongs to, in Wilde’s hit, “Kids in America” and in Smith’s song, “Lovers.” One is a more global view, a generational expression; the other a more intimate view–a bedroom view you might say–a sexual expression. Maybe “Because The Night” is “Kids in America” a few years later, when (we) the protagonist in the story have matured a bit, have decided that, sure, it’s fun to sleep around, but now we crave something deeper, realer, more primal.

But a couple months later, we get dumped by this (surely much older) lover and, not wanting to feel that sort of pain again, have to harden our heart.Then the next thing we know it’s 4th of July all over again and we fall into existential despair, realizing that we are all gonna die.

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