Fireflies on the Brain
The other morning, I breezed into work humming a pleasant little pop tune that caused my young co-worker, Ashley, to stare at me in mild disbelief.
"Oh my gosh," she declared. "I can't believe what you're humming."
I asked what she meant. I was merely humming a song I'd heard by accident on a late-night radio station I found while driving home through the country after taking my -college boy son and his new roommate out to supper.
The catchy tune, something about fireflies and not being able to fall asleep - which I'd only heard one time, mind you - had lodged in my brain and had basically been there like a case of musical dengue fever ever since.
"It's called 'Fireflies,'" she explained with a gentle laugh, "by a group called Owl City."
"What's wrong with them - or, for that matter, fireflies?" I asked, pointing out that the song had a felicitous little melody and some peppy electronic keyboard work, not to mention a coy little message about wishing the world could just turn a little slower.
I often wished this very thing myself, thank you very much, yearning for a slower world in which I had more time to do things such as read a book, -putter in my garden or just learn the sounds of songbirds.
In such a world, eating ice cream would take twice as long as it does, and dogs would age much slower than they do.
There would be no instant messaging - only thoughtful handwritten notes and Sunday night phone calls home to chat with the folks.
Porch swings would make a dramatic comeback. Road rage, leaf blowers and Wall Street derivatives would be unheard of. Nobody would be learning to make a bomb on the Internet because there wouldn't be one yet.
Fireflies would make a big comeback. And so would catching them in a jar.
Best of all, the news would only come on television for two hours a day, once in the morning and once in the evening - that's it, that's all. It would be delivered by a smart, avuncular fellow with a gray mustache, a veteran newsman - meaning, by the law of Pythagorean transitivity, or at least Cronkitean relativity, news itself would slow down considerably instead of rushing at us like a loud drunk in a bar with an exploding bladder.
"Just look at the past 10 days," I essayed to young Ashley. "You've had several volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and the collapsing Greek economy - all caused, according to an im-portant Iranian cleric, by women displaying too much cleavage. Meanwhile, we've got the largest man-made disaster in American history unfolding by the hour in the Gulf of Mexico and a terrorist attack in Times Square.
"I tell you, we need to slow down this world - bring back the fireflies! That's why I absolutely love this song. It's my new favorite song. Viva le fireflies!"
At this revelation, Ashley, who is just 23, but generally wise beyond her years, blushed and smiled the way she might if an elderly uncle had arrived to take her to his big Rotary Club luncheon dressed only in, say, a top hat and Speedo. In other words, she wavered somewhere between polite amusement and utter mortification.
"Well, I'm not sure what that song means," she allowed, "but I'll grant you it's kind of catchy. I actually liked it myself the first few hundred times I heard it on the radio. Unfortunately, they play it all the time. I guess it's also the hottest music video among preteen girls. Someone said there are some hilarious music parodies of it on You-Tube."
What was I to make of this? In a world spinning much too fast, where I'd simply taken an -innocent shine to a modest little ditty about fireflies, was I to -suffer being mocked by Indie rock snobs and video nerds across the Internet?
My Kids' Influence
Under other circumstances, I might have been embarrassed to admit I was musically smitten with a silly little song that throws preteen girls into a blushing swoon.
But not in this case, and here's why:
During my high school years, I taught guitar at a music shop in Greensboro to young kids who wanted to learn how to play some of the silliest "bubblegum" songs on the radio. If it wasn't Herman Hermits' "I'm Henry the Eighth" it was Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe." Dopey songs by The Archies and The Partridge Family were also high on the list.
That was OK, however, because the late '60s and '70s were a golden age for popular music, a glorious musical era that produced the greatest rock bands and R&B artists and more or less stretched from the debut of the Beatles to the evening Elton John slipped on sequined eyeglasses and a feathered boa.
That sadly marked the arrival of disco music - louder, faster, pointless, the musical equivalent of an 8.2 magnitude earthquake, possibly caused by women showing a little too much cleavage.
Gas shortages suddenly occurred, terrorism began and television news went 24-hours and a thin Al Gore dreamed up the Internet. Coincidence, Bunky? I think not. Scientists say fireflies began to disappear about that time, too.
In short, disco ruined modern life and caused me to swear off pop music entirely. I listened to country and classical music for the next 15 years, with Sinatra "Live at the Sands" thrown in for seasoning.
Then along came my kids, bless their little musical hearts. We sang mindless Barney songs and Sesame Street tunes till one of us - usually me - mercifully dozed off. When my daughter, Maggie, was 10, I even endured the Spice Girls until their musical goo leaked from my ears. I didn't complain one bit, though. The day my daughter graduated from the Spice Girls to the Dixie Chicks was a day I still celebrate with a frosty six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Then came rap, which made disco seem like actual music. I once heard the great Stevie Wonder lament that the popularity of gangsta rap created a lost generation of musical illiterates.
Something wonderful happened, however, when my kids hit their late teens. They became serious music buffs and - knowing their old man's somewhat antiquated musical tastes - began to introduce me to some of the emerging independent music groups they thought I might like.
Maggie dragged me to a John Mayer concert, for example, a year or two before he burst onto the national music scene. Ditto Guster, a great New England band that recalls the Beatles and Blood, Sweat and Tears at their best. Son Jack introduced me to Iron and Wine, Edward Sharpe, the Magnetic Zeros and several other great musical acts.
'You're Not Serious'
So naturally, I called up my musical prodigies at their separate overpriced colleges to seek their informed opinions of Owl City's catchy "Fireflies."
I tracked down Jack first. He was at his desk at his college newspaper, actually writing a music review.
"Hey, buddy boy," I said with fraternal bonhomie. "Have you heard this great new tune called 'Fireflies'? I just thought I'd ask what you think of it."
I was greeted with a long silence. For a moment, I thought perhaps we'd lost the connection.
All he finally said was, and I quote: "Dad. Please. You're not serious.'"
So I tried his big sister. We're a little closer, I oftentimes think, musically speaking - probably owing to the effects of Spice goo lodged in our ears since way back when.
Maggie happened to be food shopping at her favorite organic market in Burlington, Vt., -checking out gourmet lettuce for her new food blog in the local alternative newspaper.
"Hi, Mugs," I began cheerfully. "Got a second? Want to ask your opinion of a great little song I heard the other night on the radio. Please be honest. It's called 'Fireflies' by a group called Owl City. What do you think of it?"
I heard laughter all the way from Vermont, probably not because of the price of Belgian arugula.
All she said, and I quote again, was: "Oh my God. Dad, seriously, you do not like that song. Please tell me you're joking."
Safely Back in Present
What was a lonely 'Fireflies' fan to do? I went home to work in the quiet of my terrace garden for the entire weekend. Be-fore that, though, I turned on my computer and dialed up the Internet to watch the video that supposedly has preteens across America in such a swoon - and one's own colleagues and heirs so disgusted.
The video seemed pretty harmless to me - even, dare I say, kind of sweet in a way any parent of a former Barney fan or Sesame Streeter would instantly appreciate. There was this young mop-haired kid in his bedroom plunking on his electric piano and singing about fireflies, wishing he could make the earth turn slower. As he sings, childhood toys begin to light up and come to life. A monkey bangs his cymbals. A dinosaur advances, boxers exchange punches. My own kids had these same toys, for goodness sake! As captured fireflies glow and dance in a jar, the kid wistfully croons:
You would not believe your eyes, if ten million fireflies,
Lit up the world as I fell sleep.
Cause they'd fill the open air, and leave teardrops everywhere
You'd think me rude, but I would just stand and - stare.
I'd like to make myself be-lieve,
That planet Earth turns slow-ly.
It's hard to say that I'd rather stay awake when I'm asleep,
'Cause everything is never as it seems...
Frankly, after watching the video half a dozen times, I realized young Ashley was right. I had no idea what the words to this silly song really meant. Was it a tender teen anthem mourning lost childhood? Or possibly - since the video ends with all the power blinking out, the toys going berserk, even the lightning bugs vanishing - a cautionary swan song for a world spinning out of control?
Even worse, I worked all weekend in my garden, planting hostas and peonies and humming the durn sweet song. Even the dogs got sick of it.
By the end of this past week, I realized "Fireflies" was stuck in my head a little like a chigger bite on the brain.
"I warned you," said Ashley, only a tad superiorly. "You'll probably need something really dramatic to make it go away."
Fortunately, that same day Nashville was cleaning up after a terrible flood and the stock market suffered its largest one-day drop in recorded history.
For a little while, I didn't think about the vanishing fireflies or wish for a slower turning world to come again. It was nice to be back safe and sound in the present, thinking about how too much cleavage is responsible for the mess we're in.
Best-selling author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist for The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be contacted at email@example.com.
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