24 January 2013

Music Lessons

There’s not enough time. It is racing by. But every once in a while, for a few minutes or so, things slow down. Everything disappears. You have no worries, no concerns. You are experiencing pure enjoyment. I’ve been lucky enough to find this lately. In something really simple.

Listening to music with my kids.

When was the last time you just listened to music, for the sake of listening to music? Not as a means to kill time on the drive to work or to get you through your workout. You just listen to music. Not since college? High school? Even earlier? For me, I think it’s been a while.

But here we are, working our way through the iTunes, listening to music for the sake of listening to it. And for the wonder of discovery. And re-discovery. Just hanging out. And it’s awesome.

There’s nothing quite like seeing your kid dance like a maniac to old Elvis Costello tunes. Shaking his booty to that weird song from the beginning of Ghost World. Or trying to mimic Tom Waits’ growly voice. Memorizing the names of all the Beatles. Banging our heads to Kinks-ian British Invasion stuff and 90s alt rock. Marveling at all the Ms in the name Marcus Mumford. Hearing the kid sing his lungs out. Sure, he doesn’t always get all the lyrics right, but his passion is undeniable. 

I get to do this, I keep thinking. It’s like when you had a crush on a girl when you were younger and you spent hours crafting the perfect mix tape to not only show that you are interesting and sensitive, but thoughtful and generous and worldly and sophisticated and worthy of possibly kissing. That mix tape had to say a lot. And so I get to do that again, crafting the perfect mix tape for my children. To fill them with the pure enjoyment of all these sounds.

And it’s not just music. That mix tape can be full of everything, all kinds of pop culture. He’s already into Star Wars. And Legos. The Muppet Show. And as he gets older, there’s even more stuff we can nerd out to. Mel Brooks movies and Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

How young is too young to listen to Wu-Tang?

There’s a great essay titled “The Amateur Family” in Michael Chabon’s Manhood For Amateurs (seriously, my new parenting bible) in which he talks about his dad getting him into Star Trek when he was a kid and the line he can draw from that to now watching Dr. Who with his kids. (Which is only the 9,723rd endorsement of this thing that I’ve heard—apparently I’m really missing something there.) His kids have embraced fandom and he realizes he’s given them a gift they can all share. And although I’m not sure about the whole four kids thing he’s got going on, I like how that experience sounds.

I wonder what my own kids will like down the road. Any of this stuff? Will it stick? Will it stay with them? Will we keep spending time like this? And will they share this stuff with each other?

There are still certain songs—or certain types of songs—that can immediately transport me back to summer days and evenings, riding in the car with my dad, off on some boys-only excursion to the hardware store, or seeing a game at Tiger Stadium. They’re oldies now, and then, too, I suppose. And though I couldn’t tell you the difference between the Coasters and the Platters, I can tell you what it feels like whenever I hear Motown and doo-wop and surf music and girl pop and Brill Building classics. Like summer breezes and fresh-cut grass and spending time with my dad.

And so I wonder if someday the Doozer will hear something by Elvis Costello or Tom Waits or the Decemberists or Ryan Adams and think back to cold winter evenings spent in the living room, dancing with abandon to the sounds coming out of our laptop. It might not have the same trappings of nostalgia as the AM radio in an old Chevette, but perhaps he will think of these moments and smile. 

The way I’m smiling now just thinking about it.

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