Turn the Page

Whenever we are driving in the car and Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” comes on the radio, I crank up the volume as loud as I can. While “Turn the Page” is not played everyday on our local classic rock stations, it is likely played every other day. I hear it so often, it has become a regular habit to listen to it as loud as possible while driving around Lexington.

I hate “Turn the Page.” Among the songs we might include in the rock and roll genre “it’s tough to be famous,” “Turn the Page” is the worst. Other songs in this genre might include Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero,” David Bowie’s “Fame,” and Bad Company’s “Shooting Star.” These songs I either like or can stand enough to not turn the song up all the way in the car at full volume. “Turn the Page,” however, is the most pretentious rock song in the genre. To appreciate that pretentious attitude, the song has to be played loud.

In some ways, I am trolling my family when I crank up “Turn the Page” in the car. No one likes this song, including me. Turning it up loud is my way of making clear my distaste for this song. I hate it so much, I can’t be quiet. I have to let everyone in the car, yet again, know how much I hate “Turn the Page.” Given our long, recent trip to Nebraska to see my father in law who has inoperable stage four cancer, I can identify with the opening image Seger paints of a “long and lonesome highway/east of Omaha.” This imagery I experienced riding the long stretch of I-29 and NE-2, is also the image of the lonely rock star who makes his living on the road, when “you are riding sixteen hours and there’s nothing much to do.” When Seger wrote this lyric, the iPad had yet to be invented. With the iPad, he may have been able to occupy his time with reading or video games. Still, my identification stops there. Car trips can be lonely. But Seger’s complaint is largely obnoxious. This memorial to the pain of being a star asks for sympathy, but cannot adequately explain why we should be sympathetic.

For a song about the hardship of being famous, its complaints fall short. At one point, Seger is tired from the road, so he walks into a restaurant where, because of his long hair, “it’s the same old cliché/is that a woman or a man.” This moment of gender recognition — locals unsure of who is walking through the door to eat a burger or scrambled eggs — angers Seger intensely. This moment offers the “how dare you” moment all public outrage expresses when we can’t believe how insensitive the other is. At the same time we share our outrage with the other, the other questions our reactions or accuses us of being too sensitive. In this case, Seger knows that he “always feels outnumbered/you don’t dare take a stand.” One might ask in response: take a stand about what? That you have long hair? That locals couldn’t tell who you were when you walked through the door? I doubt Seger is worried about gender equality; he seems more concerned with being called a girl. And what if the patrons in the diner Seger enters have no idea why he is angry in the first place? Maybe they merely looked up from a cup of coffee and saw a long haired man walk through the door. Then they returned to their meal.

Lately, many of my friends and colleagues have taken a distinct and important stand regarding statues. After the horror of Charlottesville, those calls escalated, with college campuses and cities questioning the legitimacy of honoring Confederate soldiers in public spaces. Sensitivity surrounds much of the debate: a feeling that one side is insensitive to history; another feeling that one side is insensitive that other Americans were once enslaved. That escalation seems to have faded somewhat in the last week or two. My Google News feed still features statue stories — though I have to search for “statue” to see them. My Facebook feed has moved on.

Opponents might have realized that, in some cases, the statues have stood for 50–100 years without any public recognition they even existed. Or opponents might have realized that tearing down statues does not change racial inequality — whether in housing, the public school system, or employment opportunities — nor does it educate police officers to not kill people over traffic violations. Or it might just be that the opponents have moved on to other newsworthy matters such as a fight between a boxer and an MMA star or whether or not Taylor Swift is depressed.

The volume, though, on the statue debate was very loud, almost as loud as the volume is when I crank “Turn the Page.” I am sympathetic to the statue issue. In general, though, I also know that many people are celebrated who I find distasteful or guilty of racist or violent acts toward others. I don’t, for instance, understand how anyone can still listen to Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters — whose anti-Semitism rivals that of the neo-Nazis we are supposed to be against — or read Heidegger who sympathized and sided with the Nazis. In graduate school, I studied rhetoric within a critical theory perspective; and Heidegger is widely read among leftist intellectuals. When I voice my own complaints about these two figures (or others), my academic friends and colleagues are not sympathetic.

Do Europeans walk among their endless parade of statues — in parks, in town squares, on top of fountains, in pedestrian areas — without breaking down the wars, expulsions of minorities, Nazi sympathies, greed, or other despicable acts the honored are guilty of? Why aren’t Europeans mad at their statues too? European café society, as one academic friend once honored it, participated in the Holocaust. Are Europeans as outraged? People like to turn up the volume on their own voices for all kinds of reason: anger, distrust, persuasion, and even, to be heard. In the fifteen minutes of outrage we daily experience, we want our particular outrage to be heard. Of course, I really shouldn’t critique the critique of taking down statues. Like Seger’s long hair, I could easily be misunderstood. In fact, I support taking down statues honoring people who fought to preserve slavery. By even raising the volume of this critique a bit, however, I will likely be accused of supporting the statues, or of just trolling. I don’t dare take a stand.

Online, we are always taking public stands. Facebook fame, outlined as public and loud outrage in many cases, seems to make people happy. In his ode to being famous, Randy Newman sings:

You’d think I’d be happy
But I’m not
Everybody knows my name
But it’s just a crazy game
Oh, it’s lonely at the top

It’s lonely to be famous, or outraged, or heard, or to be the only one in the car willing to crank up the volume on a crappy song like “Turn the Page.” I feel that loneliness when I troll my family in the car, and they offer no recognition of what is occurring. They barely recognize my trolling. In the first stanza of “Watching the Wheels,” John Lennon offers his own take on the “it’s tough to be famous” genre. Unlike these other songs, Lennon does not lament being misunderstood or the fatigue of stardom. Instead, he cites what others say about him, now that he is not recording as much as he once did or even being as socially outspoken as he once was. “Surely you’re not happy now,” he hears people tell him, “you no longer play the game.”

The game, in this case, is outrage. Being loud. Yelling for fifteen minutes about an issue so important that it will fade from our public outcry within a week. Because of this outcry, however, I finally started paying attention to one of our local statues. Just on the edge of the downtown farmer’s market we visit every Saturday so that I can stock up on Amish lettuce, kale, tomatoes, peppers, and, when I’m lucky, lamb bellies, is a statue. I still don’t remember who the statue is honoring, but the mayor has promised to move it, and neo-Nazis have promised to march in protest. Sometimes, my kids sit on that statue and eat chocolate croissants we bought in the market. I think birds poop on it. Those points of banal interaction with memorials don’t diminish the need to remove problematic symbolism. But they might also speak to the brief loudness that was heard throughout city council meetings, online comments, and newspaper headlines. We complained. We complained loudly. Football season starts next week. The banal returns.

“I can’t complain,” Joe Walsh sings in “Life’s Been Good,” “but sometimes I still do.” I would never call on friends and colleagues — nor myself — to stop complaining. Even if we don’t want to complain, even if we don’t need to complain, we still will. When the city finally removes that downtown farmer’s market statue whose name I have already forgotten, we’ll be angry at something else, I’m sure. Such is our habit. If not everyday, every other day we have a complaint. I hate complaining. But sometimes I still do.

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