Youth Culture Killed My Dog
Youth Culture Killed My Blog was a contender for the name of this newsletter but I don't like the song nearly as much as the one I went with.
This is the first song I’ve started writing about and then deleted the first sentences and waited to come back the next day - four different times. If you begin a project like Kiss Me, Son of Blog, where you set off to write about every single They Might Be Giants song, you are bound to run into this situation.
The unspellable soundtrack of nostalgia
Here’s what I know: I like this song. There’s a part that sounds sort of like an 8-bit video game character laughing that goes something like “Eeow eeow eeow.” Impossible to spell or mimic. That little something is ear candy to me. Just a weird little sound and it’s the first thing I think of when I think about Youth Culture Killed My Dog.
Another thing that I think about when I listen to this song are my own memories and loss of my childhood dog, Aja. My parents named him after a Steeley Dan album that I’ve never been interested in listening to. It was your typical Christmas morning; snow on the ground, Willow Nelson’s Pretty Paper Christmas album playing on Dad’s record player, and a golden cocker spaniel puppy with a present bow around its collar needed to go outside to pee.
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A Golden Cocker-spaniel, Christmas memories, and a tale of two tails.
Aja was intended to be a Christmas gift to my mom. As he grew both larger and fonder of me versus my mom, and after many pee-related accidents in the house, Mom decided it was time for Aja to live outside. Dad built him a large doggy shelter with a big fence around it and installed a heat lamp inside for the cold weather times. It was filled with blankets and a big dog pillow - the works. But I was sad.
We grew up together playing in the surrounding woods, and going on adventures. When mom tried to get a new dog, this time a small Shar Pei that ended up having Cujo levels of aggression, Aja would protect me and my little sister. This new dog would bite the front bumpers of cars that slowly made their way down our rocky dirty road leading to the house and would insist on greeting all humans with an attempt on their lives. Even still, my superior dog would play with this new animal member of our family, often running off together into the woods and returning sometime at the end of the day. A much-needed break from that little demon dog.
Finally, Aja had enough of this aggressor. The two of them ran off into the woods together and only Aja returned later that night. My dad would come home from work that night and reveal the “heartbreaking” news to my mom; he had found her dog on the side of the road peacefully no longer living. The reign of terror was over. Aja had led this dog through the woods and to the busy road. He straight-up murdered that other dog. I’ll never forget the way Aja seemed to be grinning with joy and deceit when he returned from his forested journey of vengeance.
Lingering guilt and unequal love
When we moved away 6 years later, my Grandma moved in and my dog stayed with her. Newer suburban homes in cul-de-sacs were not suited in any way for an “outside dog” according to my mom. Her new black Cocker Spaniel who also had accidents in the house was welcome to continue living inside and to move with us, however. Could it be because this dog appeared to prefer her company to anyone else’s, unlike Aja? Certainly seems that way.
I would get to visit with Aja whenever I saw my Grandma, which was fairly often, and spend time with him in our spot; under a large cedar tree on a thick patch of mossy grass, rubbing his belly and watching him smile. One day, my Grandma said Aja stopped coming back home in the evenings. I can’t remember what my last encounter was with him but I do know that I wasn’t with him at the end. I think about that sometimes and the guilt wells up inside. Then the anger toward my mom for arbitrarily allowing her own dog to come with us, and later getting my younger sister several pets over the years in that new house.
When music bites back: the Flansburgh canine conundrum
I read a brief interview a while back where John Flansburgh shared the origins of Youth Culture Killed My Dog. The very shortened summary is that he had a dog that he loved and this dog hated a particular song by a particular rock artist. Whenever the dog heard this one song, he would get snarly and aggressive. One day, in public, Flansy was with his dog and the song came on. His dog bit someone as a result and his dog had to be put down. Youth Culture killed his dog and he didn’t think it was fair.
Childhood pets leave lasting imprints on our memories and lives. Sometimes we think of them when we visit other people’s pets, watch kids with animals on TV, or when we listen to the 12th song on They Might Be Giants’ self-titled album.
Share in the comments a memory you have of a childhood pet that you miss. Or a pet that you have now and can’t wait to miss like me and cat Fosse who is trying to destroy every square inch of the carpet in my home.
Thank you for reading Kiss Me, Son of Blog! If you enjoy this, you may also enjoy my other free publication, Succulents and Cactuses - a newsletter about the art of anxiety and overthinking. It’s a meta-narrative of my life that I am working at turning into a book at some point.