I was listening to All Songs Considered the other day and heard mention that Mary Chapin Carpenterwas out with a new album. I was reminded that back in the day, I had a Mary Chapin Carpenter album on cassette. I searched Spotify. Sure enough, Come On Come On, released June 20, 1992. I would have been 6, three days from 7. I was not expecting much as I started the first track, but honestly, the minute I heard that twangy guitar, so iconic of 90’s “modern” country, I was transported to my family’s station wagon, primed for a road trip. I thought about Sugar Babies, a candy I favored that my parents would buy when we stopped for gas. I am sure I haven’t thought about Sugar Babies in decades. They were sweet and texturally unremarkable. I can’t fathom the tastes of a 7-year-old Lauren, but I digress.
More than any holiday, any Christmas or Halloween, I am nostalgic for summers. My childhood summers feel idyllic as paintings, as memory ages them. I often feel the most cut off from my childhood and my family in the summer because I live in Seattle, where the air carries no oppressive humidity and temperatures stay around 70 most days. It’s a weird thing to mourn: I’m sure if I still lived in the middle of the country I would be cursing the heat like everyone else. As it is, I indulge in the heat and music memories of my 7 and 8-year-old summers.
I’m not going to pretend this music is objectively good. I’ve never claimed my tastes are particularly high-brow, Sugar Babies being the prime example. However, I will say that Mary has a lovely voice, and a range that I can sing in, which is not usually the case for pop stars. But also, her songwriting is, if not the most original, really empowering. I recall “Passionate Kisses”, the song that I adored on the radio and the reason I asked for the cassette in the first place. I believe I asked my mother what passionate kisses were, and I think her answer was satisfactory: enough information to tamp my curiosity. Also, apparently, enough information that I didn’t feel like asking any follow-ups.) The whole point of the song: MCC wants things. She says, “Is it too much to ask, I want a comfortable bed that won’t hurt my back?” She says, “Is it too much to demand, I want a full house and a rock and roll band
Pens that won’t run out of ink, and cool quiet and time to think.”
She says, “Shouldn’t I have this, shouldn’t I have this, shouldn’t I have all of this and … passionate kisses from you.” Let’s not forget the bridge: “I shouted out to the night, give me what I deserve, cause it’s my right!” And, all I can think as I’m listening to this song, nearly three decades later, “Damn right, it is your right! You should have everything!” And so should I. You could do worse as a 7-year-old little girl-person than to listen to this song. Assertive, uncompromising, clear-headed. Qualities that will serve you, little girl-person, very well.
As I listened through each song, I was awash with nostalgia. It was an unexpected salve to this really wretched year. But the best song, I think, the one that would have influenced me the most if I believed in subliminalism, would be “I Take my Chances.” The hook, “I take my chances every chance I get.” Again, a somewhat cheesy line. Again, a line that might as well have embedded itself into my subconscious, because it is how I have chosen to live a lot of my life. I’m not a daredevil, exactly, but I have intentionally tried to live in a way that feels authentic and in accordance with my values. Once I figured out what society expects a life trajectory to be, and realized that is not how I want MY life trajectory to be, I have worked to define my own path. Thanks Mary!
“Now some people say I shouldn’t tempt fate and for them I can’t disagree. But I never learned nothin from playing it safe, I say Fate should not tempt me.”
Happy summer to you. Sending you love and light and hopes for some fun, low-stake chance-taking in the months to come.