When it comes to music, pick your lovers carefully, because the artists you fall in love with at 15, are on your Iphone at 50.
This recurring note—that genres of music take hold of your heart early on—has been ringing in my ears as I observe my son’s budding interest in The Beatles. Blimey, it’s the British Invasion in his fourth grade class! Add to this the tugs of classical and pop on his tweenage heartstrings: week after week he plods through Minuet in G Minor for a piano teacher of limitless patience. I know I should have light classical streaming at home, but instead, my little Troublemaker is moving to Olly Murs on the Wii World Dance Floor 2014, and his diva classmates are by his side, teaching him he has hips.
My reaction? My boy is ten. I’ve got 5 years to work with. I better get in there and help him pick his musical life partners. But what an “awesome” responsibility, to help him pick his type! (By the way, that tired adjective, “awesome,” should be reserved for describing encounters with natural wonders or child-rearing, nothing else.)
It was 1981, 10th grade. We had our own riff on the British Invasion and I rode the New Wave with those cute surfers from Britain: Haircut One Hundred, A Flock of Seagulls, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, The Fine Young Cannibals. I’m still listening to them—The Cure, The Smiths, The Talking Heads—this week, through one working ear bud. There was also the friend from Flatlands into The Police, the frenemy from Brooklyn Heights into Dylan, and all of suburban Westchester into Meatloaf. Then there was my big brother, coolest of the cool, into The Sex Pistols. God Save the Queen! I was definitely in the minority though, because Evelyn “Champagne” King made my Love Come Down just as well as David Byrne. I dug the smart lyrics of early hip-hop trio De La Soul and damn if Janet Jackson wasn’t In Control. And yes, I got Into the Groove with Madonna, still do. Two years ago, along with 111.3 million other viewers of the Super Bowl half-time show, I passed my panties into the end zone to my enduring material girl.
So I’m sure I’ll be in the minority when I tell my son: “All music is good.” If you look at music-making as an individual’s divine calling, his creative expression, her bliss, then there really is no mis-struck chord. Behind every atonal musician is a mother, shaking a tambourine and baking brownies for the band. If a song was born out of passion, no matter how insipid the lyrics, who am I to say it stinks? I just don’t have to listen to it, and keep my lips zipped. There were those ‘80s singers who didn’t make my cut then, and still don’t: no Hall and Oates, no Robert Palmer, no Cover Girls nor Debbie Gibson, and no Wham! (or anything smelling of George Michael.) But hey, if you want to Shake your Love with Miss Gibson, who the hell am I to tell you to shut it down?
Both my sons spent an entire semester of first grade learning the difference between “fact” and “opinion.” So why, as adults, do we blur this line, insisting that our view—“John Denver sucks”—is God’s truth? I grew up sampling the 31 flavors of Baskin Robbins on dainty pink plastic spoons and there are even more Snapple options today. We embrace this range of choice; so why are we so selective in what we allow to enter through the holes in the sides of our head? Music shouldn’t have to “crossover.” If we could just tumble in love with what touches us, not because it’s hip, or popular, or prestigious, not because it’s appropriate to our class, race, gender, demographics, or age, but just because it turns us on, wouldn’t that be something? Nana could get down with Rihanna’s Where Have You Been. After all, Nana does appreciate a beautiful alto.
So who will take responsibility for my son’s musical love affairs? He will, with a few tips from mom, who cares about the girl groups he brings home:
Dare to like what you like
Be prepared to be unpopular
Don’t judge what others like
Lyrics matter (but stupid lyrics, in moderation, do no real harm)
Never be afraid to dance with girls
Take musical advice from your uncle, still the coolest of the cool
Check out Akala and The Gorillaz
Start Mondays with The Clash
and get into The Cure