By: Lane Siekman
You know how a particular song just seems to speak to you at a point in your life. The words evoke memories and feelings that fill you with thoughts and emotions. It tends to play constantly in your head and make you reflect on your life and where you are at in it.
In 1985, Indiana native John Mellencamp released an album called Scarecrow. I rushed to the record store to buy a copy and ended up getting it on a cassette tape to play in my car. I listened to that tape until it eventually wore out and broke. You can’t do that now with MP3’s or steaming in Spotify but again you don’t get to keep playing the tape over and over again. The tape wore out but the music didn’t.
One song on that album still pops up every now and then on my playlist. It is the song “Small Town”. The opening bars of the song always take me home. Mellencamp wrote the song about his experiences growing up in a small town in Indiana having been born in Seymour, Indiana, and living in Bloomington, Indiana, which, at the time of the release of the song, was much smaller.
I am a small town Indiana boy from a small town and grew up in Rising Sun which is smaller yet than Seymour. Mellencamp’s lyrics speak of the life of a small town where he grew up and still lives, where admits that he has little opportunity, learn about Jesus, and daydreamed as a hopeless romantic. In a recent interview in Salon Magazine, he attributed “his uncanny ability to capture the reality of America’s triumphant and tragic struggle to achieve the beauty of democratic and egalitarian promise in the midst of painful, even fatal failures to simply looking out his window.”
Maybe we all need to take the opportunity to look out our own windows to see if what we see is a happy or painful picture. Many small rural towns are hurting in this country. They suffer from a declining population where children grow up and leave for college or brighter pastures often never to return home. Those that are left behind often have to cope with stagnant wages, limited opportunities, difficult personal lives, and recently a devastating opioid crisis. We seem to no longer value community involvement as before, or join service organizations and clubs and our local churches are shrinking.
“I just looked out my window, and wrote what I saw,” said Mellencamp. But we stopped looking out the window and turned to the Internet and 24 hour news channels that tell us what to think and believe. Jobs, farms and local businesses are left to live and die on the decisions made by faceless bureaucrats in Indianapolis and Washington D.C. Our once prosperous heart of America now hangs on the edge of oblivion. We just don’t seem to matter that much to them anymore.
“Small Town” still stirs memories but now it also raises fears that a small towns are just words in a song and not real places that build families and lives. I still live in Rising Sun where generations of my family have lived and I am proud of my small town. Like the lyrics say “I cannot forget where it is that I come from … I cannot forget the people who love me.”
Because of those people, I want a bright future for my small town and all small towns like it across this great nation. Small town values do still exist and they matter.
Lane Siekman is an attorney and community activist from Rising Sun, Indiana. He also works in economic development and is an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech Community College. He is exploring running for Congress in Indiana 6th District in 2018.