Before there was an Arnel Pineda (Steve Perry soundalike, currently fronting Journey), or a Benoit David (Jon Anderson soundalike, currently fronting Yes), or even a Chris Chan (Barry Manilow impersonator, currently playing casinos and corporate gigs), there was John Elefante, whose uncanny vocal resemblance to Steve Walsh landed him the lead singer gig in Kansas after Walsh flew the coop for a “solo career” (like when McLean Stevenson left M*A*S*H for “other roles”). Elefante’s run with the group was modest enoughÁ¢€”one mediocre album each in ’82 and ’83Á¢€”but yielded two awesome singles in “Play the Game Tonight” and “Fight Fire with Fire,” both of which remain in Kansas’ setlist to this day.
Somewhere between leaving Kansas in ’84 and beginning an extensive producing and performing career as a Contemporary Christian artist, John and his brother Dino contributed a track, “Young and Innocent,” to the David Foster-helmed soundtrack of the Brat Pack movie St. Elmo’s Fire. It’s a shame, really, that a song that so majestically exemplifies the best of the power ballad arts was wasted on such a whiny, execrable piece of celluloid mush. That’s how it goes sometimes, though. Booga-booga-booga-ah-ah-ah!
For a moment, let’s accept “Young and Innocent” as a separate entity from the movie. A simple yet stately piano figure opens the song as Elefante glances around the ether:
There’s an echo in the wind.
Makes me wonder where I’ve been
All the years I’ve left behind
Faded pictures in my mind
Not a bad way to explain the apparitions that pass for memories as one gets older. The vision focuses on the singer and those closest to him. “We were young, without a care,” he notes wistfully, the barest hint of sentimentality seeping into the thought.
The Big, Bad World intrudes, though, as it must, and a gust of synth and guitar suddenly swirls around him. “Now it’s hard for me to see / It’s not as easy as it used to be,” he explains, his voice swelling with drama, echoed in the guitar line that now runs parallel to the melody, portending some sort of defiant declaration. We get it in the next line: “Though maybe yesterday is gone,” Elefante insists, unchallenged, “The things we shared were never wrong.”
The churning tension gives way to the magnificent bridge, a plea for a return to the vigor of youth and the never-wrong sharing of Á¢€¦ things, which he’d just mentioned:
Come back, then, I need you now.
And I know if you’re out there
I’ll find you somehow.
We’re not certain who or what he’s addressingÁ¢€”the then could be the manifestation of his memory, or a specific person or group of people. He’s given wholly to the task of finding this person/group/thing, for one reason and one reason only: he wants that feeling back again. That feelingÁ¢€”be it first love, second love, loss of virginity, a really good Stroh’s buzz back in the woods, whateverÁ¢€”is part and parcel of being “young and innocent.”
He knows, though, that it’s unattainable. “Let’s shut our eyes and pretend,” he sings, “and maybe once again / We can be young and innocent.” Them days is over, boys, but if we concentrate real hard, we can get it back in our heads. And who hasn’t experienced that? A whiff of a passerby’s perfume reminds you of an old girlfriend; a song you haven’t heard in ten years puts you back on the beach after graduation; vomiting up those six Bacardi and Cokes you had an hour ago sends you right back to the mess you made in the bushes outside your dorm. Youth and innocence can have the smell of lilacs, the sound of an acoustic guitar, and the taste of bile and rum, and you love it all now like you loved it then, even if it’s just the memory of it. We don’t like to admit it, go out of our way to dismiss it, and yet still, in our most private moments, it’s there, that moment of time, frozen forever in our heads, sweeter for the reflection. Shut your eyes and pretend you’re there, just for a moment.
Of course, “Young and Innocent” wound up on a David Foster soundtrack for a movie in which Demi Moore’s character laments “I never thought I’d be so tired at 22” (and if you don’t howl with derisive laughter at that scene, I don’t know what’s wrong with you). A bunch of world-weary recent college graduates are not worthy of the glory of this power ballad. Nosiree. No, it belongs to balding, grumpy, almost-fortysomethings like me.
As a performer, John Elefante went on to form Mastedon (not the band that just released the fiercest, coolest record about time travel ever recorded, but the one that pranced in front of Jesus-lovin’ fans at Christian rock festivals in the 90’s) and make a number of warmly received Contemporary Christian records. He has new music on the way, and has posted a demo file on ilike.com.
Oh, by the way: “Young and Innocent” is 24 years old. As is St. Elmo’s Fire.
Shut your eyes and pretend you didn’t just read that.