America Starts Here by Donelle Dreese

My mother is an extremely tolerant person, but God help the human being who insults Jon Bon Jovi in her presence.  It is an odd experience to witness a typically very rational and levelheaded parent completely lose her wig over a rock star, but that’s what happened one evening when my friend Nick and I called Bon Jovi “an over the hill, washed up, has-been relic of a rock band with a lead singer who pronounces his words funny.”  We were watching the band on television as they performed some song that sounded like you’d have to be well over 40 to like it, when mom walked into the room right when we dropped our verbal Bon Jovi bomb. Oh, did we get schooled on all things JBJ!  We learned that Jon Bon Jovi is an unpretentious philanthropist and a photogenic family man who likes football.  He’s written a lot of songs, recorded a lot of albums, and sold plenty of them.

Okay… so maybe this Jon Bon Jovi guy wrote some hit songs back in the 80s and apparently he cares about poverty and homelessness in Philadelphia.  I told mom that maybe I judged the band too quickly, and I promptly and formally apologized.  I even walked around for a while singing, I’m wanteddead or alive.  But, this wasn’t over yet.  The next day, mom uttered a sinister laugh as she dropped two concert tickets on my lap while I was trying to read Emily Dickinson poetry for English class.  High culture and pop culture converged right then and there on my lap and had nothing to say to each other.

“I can’t go.”  I stated.

“Why not?” She asked in a tone that indicated to me that I was not going to win this one.

“Because… I’m allergic to the smell of BenGay,”  I said.  She didn’t even blink an eye.

“Not only are we going to this concert,” she said quite matter-of-factly, “we are going to this concert on the Jersey boy’s home turf at the Meadowlands.  We are going to make a trip out of it, so you’ll need a swimsuit, and maybe we’ll go to Atlantic City and play a few slot machines.”

“New Jersey!”  I protested.  “We can’t go to New Jersey.  Haven’t you seen that sign when you are driving from New Jersey into Pennsylvania?  As soon as you cross the border, it says: America starts here.  So, New Jersey is considered a foreign country.  We’ll need passports to go there.”

“That’s a nice try, Francesca, but the concert isn’t until the end of July so you have some time to get used to the idea.”

Okay, so I figured I had three choices.  One, I could burn the tickets, but that wouldn’t do any good because I knew mom had electronic copies.  Two, I could run away (ooooh she’s a little runaway), but that would be stupid and it would break mom’s heart.  Or three, I could just go to New Jersey and make the most of the geriatric jam session, and then load up on sunshine and crabcakes. Yes! We have a winner.

If there is one thing that I have learned in the short time that I’ve been on this planet, it would have to be that nothing blows by faster than a beautiful summer day, so July arrived quickly and before I knew it, I was sitting in the new Meadowlands stadium listening to Jon Bon Jovi sing a relatively righteous rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”  Lighters swayed in the air while the whole crowd sang along as if they were all having a religious experience.  Clearly this band had an impact on people.  Maybe some of it was nostalgia, the way music can take you back to a time you want to remember.  Maybe some of it was that a lot of the women in the audience thought Jon was pretty hot for a guy with a gently receding hairline.

I learned a lot of new songs that night, but much to my surprise, I learned something about getting older.  Maybe our bodies age, but inside, a part of us stays as young as the day we turned 17.  I may have been surrounded by a gaggle of middle-aged people, but I was the one acting like the old fogey until I stood up at my seat and started to rock the house like everyone else.  But here’s the best part.  This concert was the catalyst for what became a year-long exploration of “old” rock bands, including Styx, Boston, Chicago, Journey, Led Zeppelin, and Def Leppard.  Mom had a great collection, and we sat around in the evenings and listened to the music, and she would tell me stories about when she was younger and what the songs meant to her.  What was old to someone else became brand-new for me, and now I’m a geezer music junky addicted to Steve Perry.


Donelle Dreese is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Northern Kentucky University where she teaches multicultural and environmental literatures, creative writing, and composition.  Her most recent publications include short fiction published in Sunsets and Silencers and Postcard Shorts, and her book of environmental writing, America’s Natural Places: East and Northeast, published by Greenwood Press in 2010.  Finally, her second chapbook of poetry titled Looking for a Sunday Afternoon was published in 2010 by Pudding House Publications.


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