We finally got MTV that summer. We were in like VIPs. We were in on everything happening. We were like the older kids, the cool kids.

We’d known something was going on, but Pop never let us in on the secret. He was afraid we’d get wild ideas and set the house and more on fire, maybe even get mohawks and take hostages. Until the summer he gave in, inexplicably, stunningly, and without a formal announcement.

He finally gave us MTV.

We were excited but coolly pretended not to be: we were mature, sophisticated now. We were domines of music, art, and culture. We learned about life from whiny twentysomethings who shared apartments in the big city. We snorted in disgust when heavy metal royalty wussed out and cut their hair. We laughed uproariously at raunchy cartoons and jokes at award shows we pretended to understand.

We were grown-ups now, in all our grown-up glory and enlightened ecstasy.

Then, you came along and killed our buzz.

You had to go and die that summer. You were all MTV could talk about. We didn’t come here for this. We didn’t beg Pop to give us this sleek and shiny stepping stone to adulthood so we could watch you die every day on MTV News.

You died and our summer died with you. And we never even knew you, we’d never so much as heard your name before. We resented you, even, for the simple act of dying — you cast a shadow over our perfect MTV summer, and we couldn’t get rid of you.

Maybe Pop knew what he was doing. He knew sooner or later some rock ’n’ roller would come along and die (he still called it rock ’n’ roll — the proper term was alternative, but he wasn’t as cultured as we were), and then we’d learn about life and death and mortality and sex and drugs and he’d never have to give us the dreaded Talk.

Maybe Pop finally gave us MTV and let us see you die every day for weeks and weeks so we wouldn’t be left bewildered when he died the last day of summer. So that seeing his body all done up in a white shirt and tie, motionless and still as our little world wouldn’t give us some kind of brain damage — he always said we’d caught enough of that already from those stupid cartoon boys who kicked each other in the ’nads.

By the onset of winter, when they stopped talking about you, when the neighbors stopped bringing covered dishes to tell us how sorry they were about Pop, we still had MTV. But we felt tired now, we felt alone. Those talking heads with the latest dirt and death weren’t talking to us anymore. They were talking to somebody else, some new batch of kids entering the age of enlightenment. The buzz was gone. We weren’t sophisticated anymore. We didn’t feel cool when we watched MTV. Not even MTV News. 

We watched the President get caught being bad. We watched boy bands rise and fall and rise and fall. We watched kings and queens of the career capsize. We watched ginger starlets and pale, stone-faced bass players fade away, slowly as every summer since, until the process was complete and we were withered and dry at thirteen.

A few of us discovered huffing glue. A few of us discovered the internet. We learned there wasn’t a single dreamer among us. Only legals and illegals, only the Right and the Left, and lefts and rights, rights and lefts and knees.

We don’t blame anyone. We hold no grudges — we’re grown-ups now. Old and fully grown, no growing left to do. Our frontal lobes are perfected like the Milo de Venus. We’re unsophisticated and unenlightened again. But we know rock ’n’ roll will die someday. Therefore, we know everything.

Image credit: Matthew T. Radar