The chorus of the song goes like this:
Tonight, we are young,
So we'll set the world on fire
We can burn brighter
Than the sun!
Here's the music video, if you are young enough to want to watch such things. If you're not, I'll recap: a bunch of young people have a slow-motion bar fight, at one point a guy is punched and sprays what looks like milk at the camera, a girl licks something, possibly a smashed watermelon? off a guy's face, and the lead singer looks like he's in pain the whole time.
Now, I will admit that when I was in high school, I would have freely adopted this song as my personal anthem. There is something appealing about the idea that us young people can go out and change the world. We will leave a blaze of glory in our wake! When we are done, the world isn't going to know what hit it!
Here's the problem: I'm not actually all that young anymore. I wouldn't say that I'm old necessarily, but thirty-five is solidly middle-aged in my book. And besides, when the hipsters in the band were sitting at the bar writing song lyrics over their Pabst Blue Ribbon and they got to the part about being young, were they picturing a woman in a minivan with four kids listening to NPR? No, they were not. So regardless of my actual age, I am not what they meant by "young." Also, when I think of young people setting the world on fire, the picture in my mind is less "world-changing" and more "anarchic riot." (If you're wondering if you're young or not-so-young, watch the music video. If you're going, what the heck was that about? then welcome to my club.)
Despite being not-young, though, I still want to set the world on fire. I mean, I want to do something that changes the world. I want to blaze trails of glory! I want my name to be remembered, possibly in the form of a Final Jeopardy answer! And I want to do all of this and save for retirement, make it to all of my kids' Little League games, and still get to bed by 10:30! That's the problem with not-young people, we've got all this real-life stuff that gets in the way of our world-burning. Unless we get hired specifically to incinerate the planet, we've got to find spare time to get it done, and that is a challenge. And in this economy, jobs like that are nearly impossible to find.
I wonder if songs like this contribute to the disappointment of middle-aged life. I'm happy with my life, I'm working on achieving things and pushing myself to personal growth, but I'm not naive like I was at eighteen, when anything was possible. Part of the reason why young people can throw themselves into a risk-filled life (a garage start-up or a band or whatever) is because the cost for failing is so much smaller than it is once you've got a mortgage and a family and a kid that needs braces. Responsibility is so much more work than wanton combustion. Does the typical mid-life crisis come when we realize that those big dreams we had at eighteen have turned into 40-hour work weeks and health benefits? Are we setting up our children to be massively disappointed when the world consistently refuses to even smolder?
You know why else it's so hard to set the world on fire when we're not-young? Because we don't have an anthem, that's why. No one writes songs about middle-aged people achieving work-home balance and funding their IRA's and still finding time to write the Great American Novel on the weekends. No, we get Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire": don't look at us, we were standing over here when the fire started.
Someone needs to write us an anthem. A fight song for the law-abiding, riot-avoiding, middle-aged middle class that obeys the speed limit and provides the stability for this country so that young'uns can go out there and wield their metaphorical flame-throwers at society! Maybe something like this:
Tonight, we aren't young
But we'll pay all of our taxes
We'll send faxes
To our accountants!
See, I told you, it just doesn't work for us. But this was quite therapeutic. Next week, an exegesis of Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" - a song celebrating that great night of the week when somehow it's okay to drink to excess, drive around town, have sex with (multiple) strangers, wake up bruised in a trashed house...and plan to do it all again next week! Music these days is great!