After graduating from college I took a hardcover copy of The Secret History — stolen by careful will, not mistake– and rode North in a passenger’s seat until all I could see was woods. The first thing I did in Vermont was drop my cell phone on the pavement outside the state visitors center, and the second was wait in line to pee. Then I slept like a little death, just a quick one. It was cooler up by the water under all the green so I didn’t even sweat in that wood paneled room like summer sleepers should, and in the morning I rode a bike a long, long way on a skinny gravel path, two feet three feet, one way, the other, and the lake, the lake. The size of it, the expansive body of this forest bathtub, this destination, not the sea, these waters for my old dog to paddle in were so large that I could go and go and go and still I could see only the shore that was behind me, where I’d started, never the one that was ahead. I am not a cyclist and I had nowhere to go. The end of college came in the least romantic way, suddenly in spite of all the time it took to reach it, and with theatrics that felt tiresome, that required much labor, much whiskey in the sun. And, the sun. It was so hot on the day it was finally over. There are prizes for the kids who trip over the last hurtle in the 200mm race and I think some articles on the Internet say that’s why everyone born after John Belushi died sucks. I went to Vermont before my diploma came in the mail and I pedaled hard enough to know I’d be sorry in the morning. I looked at the water when my back ached. When I got to what felt like it must be the middle, but wasn’t, I turned around and felt the sun on new parts of me until I rolled onto the grass again and stopped with both sneakers down.
I am getting old enough to know that I was right all along to think that Nelly is a national treasure. Do you know, did you, the boys, some of them, in my middle school that the state has taken over now, used to put a bandage on their cheeks, too? I like to talk about this but it always comes up at parties where someone played “Hot In Herre” as a joke and you cannot speak about anything to a white boy without their assuming you are talking about other white boys, more and more of them, all over. They don’t get what I mean. They won’t know how to receive what I am trying to say and I don’t trust myself to teach them so I just go and change bikinis. The Tim McGraw duet is a decade-defining classic, I say, and walk somewhere else fast. The fire in the firepit wouldn’t go which was fine because I like to watch TV. One day I drank a whole bottle of pink wine. Between two afternoons I moved through a case of mixed flavored Mike’s Hards. The best thing to be when it is hot and your are nobody, really, is half-drunk and sticky sweet. I have never been wise or vigilant about a single thing but sunblock and I get freckled anyway. Are you ever, quite frankly, sick to your stomach about the way that life has turned out so little like you imagined it would and yet almost exactly like “White Houses” by Vanessa Carlton said it would? He’s so funny in his bright red shirt we were all in love and we all got hurt. The first time (s) at least is (are) interesting (that distinctive taste of new hurt that is like rust, which is like blood, and, oh, you say, I have known this since the playground, oh), but it is disheartening how coltish your legs stay after all of it. Like, what was the point?
I like The Voice and so does my mom. I think it might be our best example of post post modern television. There came the time when the primal hunger of the public for stories to watch through the lens of themselves was not quenched by actors performing fictional roles on television anymore and so we birthed the Kardashians and they got many many millions for our trouble– as is right– and Kelly Clarkson won American Idol, and every time she has a new hit song everybody gets to feel that they picked her out and made her real. Reality TV is so weird. Somebody somewhere is writing a doctoral thesis on Bravo shows and I hope they think it is an honor. The idea of real is dumb and weird and we watched so many people win and lose, for real, for “real,” on television we don’t care anymore. I like The Voice because in a number of years and a greater number of television seasons it has not produced a single star. We like when Blake Shelton and Adam Levine touch each other and fight. It is funny to see Carson Daly and I am glad that he is well. Christina Aguilera doesn’t really like to coach these singers so much as she likes to remind them and us that she better and this warms me, it does. The ruling executives at NBC appear content to rotate the famous black man and famous blond woman seated between Blake and Adam at their leisure, sticking in whoever will agree to show up. It is so, so strange. It goes down, though, easy, sweet tasting and comfortingly viscous, like taking somebody elses insides, like the cherry cough syrup I used to want a second capful of. We are past pretending that we care for the finding of a victor or the making of a star, a “””star”””, and I am fascinated. I thought about all of that in Vermont on a night that needed a sweatshirt when my shoulders were pink, which made me ashamed, another wrong, and at my best game. I excel at fearing the sun. Hyper-vigilant and smelling like a pool party. I was twenty-one and finished with everything I had ever started. And, Nelly. I saw Nelly on television singing with Florida Georgia Line. Florida Georgia Line is goofy. Are goofy. It is two dudes. If I look at them too much I want, more than usual, to have all straight white men sterilized to give the world a chance, but there is every reason to go and assume they’re perfectly nice. They sing country music, kind of. When they were in high school I guess they probably liked rap and their dads did not. They had this song “Cruise” and they’ve had a bunch more since then, but, “Cruise.” “Cruise.” Cruise. And Cruuuuuise. “Cruise” has absolutely nothing to recommend it except that it feels amazing. Florida Georgia line is a band and “Cruise” is their song and it’s great, it’s great-great, it’s, like, porch beers, like nobody punching anybody in the driveway on Sunday because “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” was playing in a car that drove by, like real big ugly whole mouth kissing, gross, like the kind you didn’t dream about ever but need now, like running downhill, it’s like the opposite of an out of body experience, I can feel the way that my stomach and all the accompanying parts are shaped when this song is playing; I’m alive! “Cruise” is the right kind of lumbering, it is as much nothing as we need and not more or less, the exact blend of nonsense at just the right pace to touch your pillow lungs and old soccer injuries and both your grown feet, like, good pop is forever, good pop songs sound like you’ve known them all along, it’s “Cruise,” it makes my brain so quiet, and when it is remixed with the Nelly verse — they don’t play that version on country radio, an epistemic violence against something of great and true beauty, against a lot of things — it is transcendent.
There are few pleasures on par with watching a dog from the suburbs learn to swim in open water. Lemon in my hair when I was little did not make it any lighter. Magazine print melts off on naked thighs in backyards. “Cruise” is a summer song. Summer song’s have to be easy because everyone is a little fussy when they’re sweating and they have to be stupid, even if that stupidity was perfectly crafted, even if it is a kind of stupid that lifts those who experience it up from the doldrums of daily life to a higher plateau, even if it is a transformative type of stupid. I love good pop music like how I love girls; easy, on instinct, a want and trust and tendency toward treasuring that’s in my build. It’s more than just how the men you loved and the ones you have never looked at still always are trying to break your surface. Like a showy guitar line and the cold bed of a truck. I listened to Exile on Main Street five hundred before I heard Exile in Guyville, but the Liz Phair song that’s gonna keep the most people alive is “Why Can’t I” and, anyway, some rock music is pop music. The distinctions are madeup so you just toe-touch your way through. Pop is less a genre than it is a sentiment, and it pours from me unprompted; it was already there. “Baby you a so[ooo]n[nnn]g[ggg] you make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise” is only one of one million ways to say you want to taste some brightness, to be in your sunlight and someone elses swirled together, breathing. “Cruise” is two men singing, and when Nelly’s there it’s three, singing more like shouting after a girl the girl you with the long tan legs. Climb on up let’s go get this thing stuck, I don’t hear them asking, only the feeling of my wanting to go. Something, like, summer songs refract light like your great aunt’s kitschy crystal ball lawn ornament, it is, it’s all, for you.
When Florida Georgia Line and Nelly performed “Cruise” on The Voice, I was on a couch in Vermont half drunk and sorry, half-sorry, a soppy kind of melancholy for the wholly hollowed out. I am built neither for high heat or for endings, and that’s why I become such a a monster in the summers. I start swallowing oceans or blue swimming pools and knocking my bare knees into everything til I know I take up too much space. I prefer the cleanliness of cold weather, and knowing each night what I will be each morning. The sweet sweat seasons aren’t that way, but they have the songs. “Cruise” isn’t “Cruise” without the 4th of July in sight. The abyss gazes back and when the humidity is high that abyss sounds like Top 40. Atlanta or Charleston told me to give it up for their boy and then Nelly was on stage, and the stage was spitting sparks. Nelly has less neck than he did when I was in middle school and it is almost better this way. He arrives to tell us country girls that head to toe we all that and he’s all arms and vigor. They cut to Usher so that we see Usher is happy. I am so happy. The Florida Georgias and Nelly are jumping up and down. It is suddenly and truly so nice to have your presence desired on an unnamed back road you won’t really go on. If I am light because I am empty at least I am light. I really do love Nelly. I am a song. Gigantic and weightless, ecstatic soaring nothing. Nodding and nudging each other, all our needful gestures when it’s over ninety out, just come. I got my windows down and the radio up get your radio up. The fake fire is raining on us all and, hysterically, America endures.