The proto-rock ‘n’ roll shout. The pure chunk of three-chord adolescent nonsense. The primevalest of the primeval garage rock riffs. The teenage attempt at grunting and singing what can’t be said (and, judging from this song, can’t really be sung, either). Pinsky takes his title from the Kingsmen’s two minutes of supposed obscenity, two minutes onto which you can project whatever lyrics, whatever interpretation, whatever meaning you want.
Listening to the song becomes a sort of act of willful fantasy: I declare that he’s saying these lines, these lines and no others. What I hear is the reality of what he sings. What I want to hear is the reality of what he sings.
And, in the same way, I think the poem is a fantasy. A fantasy of a different world, a world that you get to create. A fantasy of ignorance, an impossible ignorance in which you can never have heard of Buck Rogers or Will Rogers. A fantasy of a world in which you were never forced to know, to hear of, Pearl Buck. An impossible world in which an individual can manage to never hear of George W. Bush, which can only mean that he never became noteworthy, that he – in this world – never became President, never became anything more than another failed businessman with a lot of family money keeping him safe.
But, as read it again, I’m not so sure. On a sixth, or seventh, or seventeenth reading, other aspects of it start to stand out, making me question that reading. In the end, while it makes sense that the speaker (of a poem) would have heard of “I Hear America Singing,” why can he not fully remember? If this is fantasy, why not know Whitman better than that? Why erase Whitman along with someone like Bush? Why put Whitman in terms of a book read sometime in high school – or a book simply possessed, simply “had in high school”?
For that matter, I assume that he’s being critical of Pearl Buck, lumping her in the “never heard of” category with the Beastie Boys and Bush, but that assumption, I’ll admit, may be based more in my unpleasant high school memories of The Good Earth than in the text of the poem itself.
Maybe anytime we start to substitute an imagined reality, an illusion, for the world itself, we risk that same tension, that same pulling apart that’s rooted in to being able to have truth cut two ways. That friction, that rubbing where the illusion joins the reality, will wear and wear, erode and flake, while we keep covering it over with temporary patches and band-aids, unwilling to look too closely at the fracture that’s truly there.