Sunday, February 21, 2010

181 days to Bar Mitzvah: turn down that racket!

Someday, when he is old enough for it not to seem like yet another example of The Man trying to keep him down, I will explain to my son my absolute loathing for the brand of popular music he likes. Until then, I will quietly gnash my teeth, complain in private to his mother, and curse myself for the thousandth time for insisting we move to San Francisco in 2000, where we would spend our lives sentenced to live in a tiny little house that we can barely afford.

Because I am a man who believes in democracy and two members of our three-person voting bloc are in favor of Lady Ga Ga, there's nothing I can do except offer a thin smile hiding barely concealed disgust. In doing so, I realize, I perpetuate what fathers have been doing to their offspring since the days of bobby soxers and Rudy Vallee. While I say nothing, what i mean to say is, "You call that noise music? Why, in my day, we had music."

But of course, like almost every other member of my generation and the one that preceded us, we are -- especially when it comes to music -- God forbid, not like our fathers, We are better. They were old fogeys. We're going to rock out until they put us in pine boxes. At our funeral, they will play the Clash.

This is the legacy handed to us by the Baby Boomers, whose support of Social Security-eligible rock bands is as unapologetic as it is confounding. You can't blame them, because theirs is the first generation forced to address the issue of elderly rockers. Or you can blame them, because theirs is the unwavering commitment to clinging to youth that drove filmmaker John Hughes, iconic for his depictions of teenage life in the 1980s to, in his thirties, decide to start wearing a suit every day. His rebellion was to act his age.

Why's it so important to be cooler than our dads? Who decided that modern parenthood would include a stubborn refusal to concede our grip on youth culture? Would that somehow make us larger in our children's eyes? Make us feel that as long as we could buy the right ironic tennis shoes, we were successfully holding off the irreversible slide of aging? The point was driven home to me several years ago, when, flush with the heady rush of living in a big city, I took my preschool-aged Jawa with me on BART to the Mission, where we got burgers. While waiting for our order, some other father heard the Jawa singing along to whatever classic rock song happened to be playing, turned to me, smiled and said, "That's so great. I have two kids, and they're both cool, too."

Ever since that time at a park in Seattle where I saw the dad who'd made his two sons into exact replicas of himself -- rattails and all -- I became wary of my natural inner impulse to culturally brainwash my child. While of course I would have loved it if he'd come of age thinking the Pixies were awesome, I realized early on that abusing the direct, unfiltered access I had to his brain would be bad. Schooling him on the superiority of the Replacements would make me no different than Hippie Dad teaching his son that nothing recorded since 1970 can hold a candle (or an upraised cigarette lighter) to the dynamic sounds of the 60s.

And it's not easy, because though I am not many things, I am a music guy. While my actual musicianship is limited to a few rudimentary chords on the guitar and a stint with the seminal late 1980s punk rock cover band The Stupid Americans, whose triumphant Bay Area tour of 1987 was limited to a single party on the campus of Santa Clara University, I did devote several early years of my writing "career" to music, and at one time was a sure bet to be on the guest list at a number of since-shuttered Seattle-area music venues.

I gave it up the year after the Jawa was born, in fact. Not because of pending fatherhood -- hats off to Sandra Bullock, whose participation as my sidekick at live music events ended abruptly three days before the Jawa's birth, when she realized that there was no place for a nine months-pregnant woman at a Helmet show -- but because it had started to feel like I was spinning my wheels. Even though they said that the major labels were circling, that local post-punk band working at Kinko's until they're signed was no more likely to get rich and famous than I was, and it made me sad and frustrated.

Besides, by then I'd started listening to country music almost exclusively. I couldn't see a job that involved making a case for the Goo Goo Dolls as important artists, and there is a limited number of paying outlets for writers pitching feature stories on Wayne "The Train" Hancock and North Carolina's own Thad Cockrell.

So forgive me both for puffing up my chest and expressing my music bonafides as I hide from the dulcet tones of the Black Eyed Peas, wishing my child would eagerly participate in Uncle Tupelo sing-alongs instead of sulking in the passenger's seat, blowing his ears out to the latest Rhiannon track-*. But still, I mean, I shielded him from Barney, from Raffi and from Radio Disney. Can't the kid show some gratitude with at least a nod toward the old man's tastes?


This is a major coming-of-age rite. Not for him, for me. It's the part where you realize you're not cooler than your dad was. I'm guessing that the old-timers who thought Sinatra was noise were every bit as vital and current in their day as I was in mine. Time comes that you have to open up the gate and let the next generation pass you by. Otherwise, you end up paying $250 for a seat in a stadium where the two living members of an important 1960s rock band, backed by an army of anonymous session players, mimic the moves that made them important several decades ago, leaving you obliged afterwards to spread the word that the musicians in question have cheated time and can without question rock much harder than not only any present-day popular act but also their younger selves. Which is kind of sad and transparent, though sometimes it seems I'm the only one who thinks that.

More so I should notice that, while his tastes are a 180 from mine, the Jawa's enthusiasm for music is every bit as intense as mine. I'd love to chalk that up to my efforts at surrounding him with music, but I know better. It's just the latest manifestation of the genetic soup his mother and I poured into him long ago.

On second thought, maybe I should go public and complain every time he cues up another of his R & B favorites, honoring the generations-long tradition practiced by dads before we decided we had to be cooler than our dad. You've got to figure the music would sound that much sweeter if the child knew it were also driving his dad crazy.

So next time I'll complain bitterly, not because it's loud and our house is so small that I'm starting to sweat "I Gotta Feeling" from all my pores, but because I simply don't like that newfangled music. It sounds like people banging pots and pans together and in my day, we listened to real music. Not this garbage.

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