By Andrew Fort
One of the great mysteries of my adolescence involves a book. Not a musty, leather-bound book hidden away in some cloistered library, but a cheap, mass-produced hardback. It was one of these so-called “Adult Books” referenced by John Doe and Exene Cervenka on their album Wild Gift. The song itself was not the instigator of the mystery, but rather an artifact around which all of the other mysteries of adolescence began to coalesce, and a confirmation that if you wanted to, you could categorize the things of the world into Child and Adult.
Never mind the fact that adults often behaved like children, and children very often behaved like adults. Never mind the fact that most movies labeled “adult” were in actuality the most emotionally immature movies in existence–though I had no direct experience of this at the time, I did know, based on a free adult newspaper that a female friend brought to school one day when we were much too young to be looking at such things, that naked women seemed to enjoy lollipops every bit as much as my friends and I did. And I don’t mean that as a double entendre. This was clearly part of photographic procedure for this particular newspaper.
I don’t think my experiences in first learning about sex were any different from anybody else’s of my era. We were clearly moving out of the sweet, innocent phase of notes tossed across the classroom when the teacher wasn’t looking: DO YOU LIKE ME? CHECK ONE. YES. NO.
But we were clearly not adults. And what did adult mean? And why were all the adults so secretive about it? The only straight answers I got were from other adolescents, and these sounded patently ridiculous: You put WHAT WHERE?
Due to the uniform silence of the adults, things began to take on a sinister sheen, like in a sci-fi movie where the protagonist suddenly uncovers a vast conspiracy. Where aliens have taken over the world and everyone is complicit, and every child is doomed to be indoctrinated into the conspiracy and there’s no going back, ever.
This song came out when I was about eleven years old. My sister, who was then seventeen, played it all the time and ran around the house singing the lyrics:
They’re all in a line, like
I don’t understand Jackie Susann…
What did it all mean? I didn’t understand it either. Even more puzzling, my grandmother had a copy of a Jacqueline Susann book–DOLORES–on her book shelf. My Grandmother, who lived by herself in a little house in Long Beach and only rarely dated. (When she did, it was usually a guy named Dick Tracy. If ever there was a reason to believe that adults were just putting us on, that name had to be one of them.)
So when John and Exene sing Clifford shackles Jane, throws her on the floor she says no, no, yes, what was my eleven-year-old mind supposed to make of it? And was my seventeen-year-old sister now an adult, or what? Did she “go for Tomata?” Whatever that was supposed to mean? Did my grandmother? Did Dick Tracy?
I never really received satisfactory answers to these questions. And now that I’m older and have children of my own, at about the same ages, I really have to wonder if it all seems like a vast conspiracy to them. That sometimes, at night, adults slink around in the darkness and pull off their masks and do depraved things to and with one another.
And even if they asked me point blank whether or not this was the case, I’m unsure whether my answer would be YES or NO.