A few Sundays back, as my girlfriend and I drove to breakfast, we heard a song on the Head Trip program on Indie 103.1. At some point into the song she commented how it sounded like Alphaville's "Forever Young"; I replied that it was that song, apparently being covered by a band called Youth Group. I followed that with a quip about how that's what the original needed: more of a beat.
My recollection of "Forever Young" is colored by the memory from high school, where one of my friends turned in the lyrics to the song as a poetry assignment in English class. It was abject plagiarism, but because the teacher was not familiar with contemporary music of the time, my friend not only got away with it, but got an A. Likely it was the only such grade he received the entire semester.
That is utter digression, but it is what first comes to mind when I hear that song (in any incarnation). It's probably why I recall the lyrics as well as I do.
When hearing the Youth Group cover in the car that day, I thought of the line at the end of the opening verse (or stanza, if we're sticking with the poetry theme) asking "Are you gonna drop the bomb or not?" and how it seemed so archaic in this era of targeted terrorist attacks. The song seemed essentially a wistful rumination on dying at a young age in a nuclear explosion—which, in the early '80s, was still a significant concern for the youth of the world.
There was something more easily romanticized about the possibility of mutually assured destruction. It's not that death was any more glamorous back then; the way we thought of such tragic death was different. Since the '50s the Cold War made for wonderfully dichotomous notions regarding how the possibility of wiping our species off the planet—the literal end of the world—was more likely than ever, which were combined with the strange comfort of knowing that because both sides had ICBMs pointed at each other, if they launched their missiles at us, we would do the same in kind, and thus our demise would be theirs as well, thus making it less likely to actually happen.
Now, we have the constant but indistinct dread from a small but significant number of us could be killed by terrorists. Not only is there no comfort to be gained from retaliation (lacking a convenient target to strike back against), there's no comfort to be found in what was ultimately the comforting aspect of all of us being destroyed in a climactic unleashing of the atom: Some of us have to survive.
Nuclear annihilation carries with it the implication of no survivors. Bear in mind, we're speaking in terms of romanticizing the event; this is not the same as what would actually happen, where some would die quickly and some would die much slower. This is the scenario where the missiles launch and we all have 30 minutes to lose our virginity with the nearest available person, and any actions taken have no consequences. Best of all, we all die together, so no one has to stay around and mourn, nor feel guilty for having survived.
This post-9/11 world hold less potential for "the bomb" to take us all out in one fell swoop. It's less tragic, on that ostensible front, but really it's worse, because there's nothing to romanticize about less than 1% of us dying together. There's only mourning.
Who can write a decent pop song about that? Especially one that'll be covered 25 years from now?