Flashback: 1971 – I’m eight years old. We’re at our cousins’ house, a 250 year old half cape in a small Massachusetts town. My sister and I are upstairs with our girl cousins in the bedroom the three of them share. “Bye Bye Miss American Pie” has come out on record and we have the forty-five. It takes up the A side and the B side- the longest song we’ve ever heard. We love it. We listen to it over and over. We don’t know what a levee is, and what’s that he’s saying? Rye? We do know what whiskey is (“If the Ocean Were Whiskey and I Were a Duck”; Camp Farley, circa the same time). And the fact that the three men Don McLean admires most are the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost really earns him our respect.
Flash Forward: 2009 – I’m forty-six. My youngest child, Joel, is fifteen. We’re in the car. He’s driving with his new learner’s permit. I’m in charge of the radio. We’re singing along together, both of us thinking we’re cool for knowing every word. The song is “American Pie.”
When my kids were little, I taught them classic rock. We played “Name That Band” in the car everywhere we went as we listened to the local classic rock station. Maybe we should have been memorizing world capitals or solving equations in our heads. No, they never would have gone for it. This was way more fun.
Kent and I were never big on the whole allowance thing. Once in a while we’d pay a child to do a special job around the house or yard, but our basic philosophy was that, as a member of the family, you help out because you are a member of the family.
But I did pay a nickel for every classic rock band they could identify as we drove in the car. I had a tab running with each one of them. They made out pretty well for little kids. When they got really good and were bankrupting me, I had to quit paying.
Flashback: 2001 – My son Kurt is a sixth grader. The music teacher is covering for the core teacher’s prep period. He’s giving a spelling test. Number seven: contemporary. “Who can name a band that was contemporary with me when I was young?” asks the really cool music teacher. Kurt immediately starts calling out names: The Eagles, Blue Oyster Cult, C.C.R., Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Lynard Skynard, Rush,…” Really cool music teacher nearly falls on the floor. Kurt misses contemporary but earns bonus points for life with this guy.
Why did I do it? I had a purely selfish motive. I didn’t like the new music that was coming out. Do I really think my kids benefited from it? Sure. It’s given them something to talk about with their friends’ parents.
Flashback: 2006 – My son Jeff needs physical therapy for a sports injury. I go with him to the first appointment. At one point, while the therapist is manipulating Jeff’s arm, Jeff turns to me and says, “Norman Greenbaum.” The therapist looks at us kind of funny. I explain. Jeff has bi-weekly appointments for the next month. While Jeff goes through his prescribed treatment, the therapist seeks him out when he thinks he can stump him.
“I usually get it right, but sometimes they play this easy listening junk. Soft hits of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.”
Not the same thing.
My kids are almost all grown up now. We still play when we’re in the car together. I reluctantly admit that they’re better than me. They listen to newer music, too, but each one will tell you that the new stuff can’t touch the old stuff.
Flashback: last spring- I’m substitute teaching in fourth grade. A tiny girl with dark hair in a pixie cut and a rather bohemian fashion sense is first in line to come in from recess. While we’re waiting for the rest of the class, she tells me “At home I listen to The Beatles and Pink Floyd. And I really like Baba O’Riley. That’s by The Who.” Really cool substitute teacher nearly falls on the floor. I give that girl’s parents an A+.