1986: Serenades, Sandwich Hotties, and Schoolhouse Rock!


It was brought to my attention during his rounds for Mission: Impossible—Rogue Whatsitcalled that Tom Cruise is 53 years old. Looking at the man, I don’t think I can tell you how old I thought he was, but I do know 53 wasn’t the answer. In many ways, he is ageless; a plastic, couch-jumping creature that I try to remember before having seen the fascinating HBO documentary on Scientology, Going Clear. In my mind, he is forever Jerry Maguire.

For many of my friends , the ideal version of Cruise goes back a little further to his days as Maverick in Top Gun.  The love for Top Gun was so strong, I felt like I was obligated to like it even if I didn’t love the movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things about Top Gun I love, most  notably the Meg Ryan/Anthony Edwards relationship, Val Kilmer’s perfectly executed d-bag character, and the soundtrack.

Take My Breath Away is a great song, and I love Kenny Loggins, but the song I will always remember most is “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. If you don’t know the movie, you don’t know that this song is part of a grand gesture/flirting schtick of Maverick and his co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards). Flowers and jewelry are fine I guess, but there is nothing quite as romantic as a guy publicly shaming himself in an attempt to get a girl to smile. It was a lesson many guys in Kentucky competitive speech learned when I was in high school. At least once a tournament during a period of downtime, they would pick a girl to serenade Top Gun style.  When I got picked, I don’t think I have ever smiled as hard or felt so flattered.

Like Cruise, it lives in a little bubble in my memory as a perfect romantic moment, even though I never dated any of those guys. Sometimes the unknown is better than trying to make something happen. In college, I spent my summers working at Blockbuster. Every day during lunch, I would trek to the sandwich shop a couple of doors down and grab lunch. The store manager, who knew I thought one of the sandwich employees was cute constantly urged me to ask the guy out. I refused, explaining “Every day, I get to take a break from customers and alphabetizing. I get to be alone in my thoughts and stare at a cute guy without having to hide the fact I am for a couple of minutes. And when it is over, he hands me a sandwich. This is perfect as it is. Let’s not mess with it.”

That is kind of how I feel about Top Gun, and I have to warn
you that spoilers are coming.  You see, I’ve actually only seen Top Gun all the way through from beginning to end once, but I have seen pieces of the movie dozens of times. The reason for this is because I purposefully avoid the third act of the film. Once Goose dies in a naval piloting accident, I stick around long enough to watch Meg Ryan cry and then I turn it off. Yes, Maverick gets redemption, gets his confidence back, and gets the girl, but that part doesn’t interest me. I would much rather just imagine a world without Goose than actually live through it, so I compartmentalize the first half of Top Gun in a timeless bubble, never to be complete, like the Sandwich Hottie.

When it comes to most parts of pop culture, I often lament how a concept outstays its welcome or we do way too much reviving, but there is one thing I certainly wish stuck around longer and that is Schoolhouse Rock!, which shut down its operation for a couple of decades in 1986. More generally, the lack of Saturday morning cartoons in contemporary culture makes me sad, but in reality most kids probably spend their Saturday mornings watching whatever they want on their tablets anyways, achieving the same effect. More specifically though, I miss the open, unabashed love of learning that Schoolhouse Rock championed. I have never been shy about being a gigantic nerd, and thankfully nerd culture is king these days, but I haven’t heard of many grammar raps or rock songs about the Revolutionary War.

I watched a little of Schoolhouse Rock on Saturdays as a kid, but I really embraced the series when I was in middle school and they released an album of contemporary artists covering classic Schoolhouse Rock songs entitled Schoolhouse Rocks! Rocks. I discovered the album during the height of my alternative phase, where I wore nothing but baggy corduroy pants and retro t-shirts (yes, I was that kid).

Even as an adult though, I constantly think of the old songs. As a copy editor, I frequently ask myself, “Has no one heard of Conjunction Junction?” My three and 12 times tables are lightning fast thanks to Three Is a Magic Number and Little Twelvetoes. While putting together sentences is rather second nature these days, I know it is because of repeat listens to these songs that helped me understand how language works that I don’t have to think too hard about it.

Part of the reason Schoolhouse Rock resonated so much with me is because I have always been the type to absorb song lyrics like a sponge. The other day I was in the car with my mom listening to oldies and, despite not having heard these songs in several years, I knew so many words to so many of them my mom had to ask if I knew what was coming on the radio next. I wish I
could understand and harness this ability to use for more productive ventures than a future appearance on Name That Tune, but it is a skill I don’t understand the mechanics behind.

Some songs I can’t help but sing along to, like Eddie Money’s Take Me Home Tonight. In an ode to the power of youthful compartmentalization, I was out of college before it really dawned on me that this is a song about sex. As a kid, I just memorized the words without thinking much about the meaning behind them. While the songs in the car with my mom weren’t odes to sex, the same concept applies, which is that the words come tumbling out of my mouth with virtually no cognitive grasp on what it is I am singing. The only thing my brain seems aware of is what word the next line needs to rhyme with, so I suppose on some level this is pattern recognition.

It’s an important life skill, recognizing patterns, but it is also important to comprehend and interpret the words put before you. Sometimes they won’t quite fit in the puzzle the way they are supposed to, but in these moments of cognitive dissonance, be it Tom Cruise’s agelessness, a comma that feels out of place, or a song that makes you feel one thing but think something entirely different, remember that you don’t have to jam the piece in whole to make it work. Sometimes, just a piece of it belongs in a bubble, perfect just the way it is.

Scoring My Life Archive


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