Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Strange New Sound That Makes Boys Explore

A year ago, my wife and I had a little girl. It has changed our lives in all of the predictable ways.

The experience has been joyful and scary and frustrating and exhausting. But it’s also been fairly typical; this is what all first-time parents experience. To suggest otherwise seems awfully close to the definition of hubris.

That’s a big part of why I won’t be blogging about my child. This is a special time in my life, but I’m not going to demand that it has to be a special time for everyone else.

That said, I'm making an exception for the event of her first birthday. Because it’s been a year, and I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I want for this child in her life.

I grew up in what you’d call a musical household. There was a ton of music in our house….lots of folk and Celtic music. Tons of show tunes. Country music. Church hymns. Some jazz. 

We were exposed to all sorts of stuff at an early age. We didn’t love all of it (…fucking show tunes. Hate em), but the good stuff stuck, and I feel like it gave me and my brothers a foundation for identifying “good music” and articulating exactly what about it made it “good.”

(I take a lot of pride in this. Possibly too much.)

We were all encouraged to take up music and play in the school band, and all of us played through high school. I played through college, and never really stopped. 

Music became a refuge for me – perhaps for my brothers as well, but definitely for me. Some kids find that safe place playing sports or hanging out with their friends. Some kids find it by being out in nature. For some it’s found buried in a book.

For me, it was music. Listening to music. Studying music. Reading (and re-reading) books about music. Practicing. Writing. Recording. Performing. Discerning. Music was always a safe, healthy space, no matter what else was happening around me.

I'd like for my child to have a similar experience. But I also want to know my place as her dad first and a music snob second.   

I don't want to over-step my bounds....insisting that she listens to the same music as I do, or (far more annoying) insisting to my friends and family that she likes the same music as I. (This is one of the biggest lines of bullshit any parent will ever try to serve you: your kid does NOT like punk rock. Your kid likes you. She likes what you like. Don't lie to yourself).

(And, really, do you need or want for your tastes to be formally endorsed by someone who can't read?)

With all of that said, I offer the following advice to my daughter on the occasion on her first birthday:

  • You are young and you are female, and as such, I accept that you will like pop music for a substantial portion of the next several years. In fact, I encourage it. Pop is the only musical genre that exists exclusively in the present moment. As such, I can think of no more worthwhile genre for a young person to become immersed.

  • You will likely obsess over attractive young men with great hair, who dance better than they sing and who can neither play musical instruments nor write music. They will do idiotic things in public and often get in trouble. I accept all of this. Sometimes it will annoy me, but trust me, I do get it.

  • At some point in your youth, you may become fascinated with nostalgia. This is normal and healthy. Have fun with it. Get to know those bygone eras. But resist the urge to indulge this at the expense of what contemporary artists are doing. The minute you hear yourself saying that "music was so much better in [add era here]" is the moment you must realize that you are certainly missing something great happening right in front of you.

  • That said, know the classics. If it turns out that pop is your thing, your old man can point you towards mountains of albums by the likes of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Madonna. You should give them all a listen.

  • I hope that you'll be a good dancer. Your father is not, and it makes him sad. Sometimes, you will just want to dance, and that's not something one should be afraid to do.

  • Stay away from boys who dance too well. They will bring you nothing but heartache. (Beware of singers while you're at it). 

  • Your dad has an open mind and an enormous appetite for music. That means sooner or later, he will intrude upon your musical interests. Try not to be mortified if I sing along to crappy pop radio in front of your friends. Mock me if you must, but secretly take it as a compliment.

  • It is inevitable that you will listen to music that I don't understand. At some point I will definitely bang on your bedroom door and demand that you "TURN THAT NOISE DOWN!" This is a ritual that marks your burgeoning independence, and you should relish it. 

  • You can rummage through my mp3s any time you like. Please.

  • Some day, we will have a proper house, with a basement and lots of acoustic tiles. My drums will be set up, and I'll buy a new amp for the crappy guitar I stole from your Uncle Kevin, and maybe we'll even create  makeshift PA system. Your mom and I will sometimes jam down there (believe it or not, she's a pretty good drummer!) You are welcome to join us any time that you like. I won't pressure you, but please know that it would make me very, very happy.

Happy birthday, kid.