Friday, June 19, 2015

Father to son

My father taught me a lot of things—of course. Riding a bike. Throwing a baseball. Realizing that I had absolutely no aptitude for household repairs. That’s what fathers do. In many ways, he and I are very different people. He went to business school. I got a history degree. He votes Conservative. I vote anything but. He almost exclusively reads James Patterson novels. We agree on Elmore Leonard and Michael Lewis, but otherwise our literary tastes diverge completely.

It’s what my father taught me about music that, culturally, registers the most. I’ve lived my whole life in music: as a fan, as a creator, as a critic, as an insufferable addict who needs to discover five new things a week. My father is nowhere near as crazy as I am. But he is, according to his friends, the guy at a bridge party or hunting lodge who always has the CDs or the playlist, the guy with the tunes everyone admires. Many of the staple artists of his life are also staples of mine: I was raised on ’50s and ’60s pop and rock; the sound of Duane Eddy’s twangy guitar instantly feels like a hug from my dear old dad.

My father isn’t a rock snob. He also loves classical music, the more bombastic, the better. I still can’t hear Tchaikovsky’s War of 1812 without picturing my dad conducting an imaginary orchestra in our living room. He has a soft spot for country music. He loves the Bee Gees, embracing the swagger of those neutered men without ever compromising his old-school masculinity. (This is perhaps why I love Prince.) More than anything, though, my dad loved the ladies. The big-throated belters: Janis Joplin, Bonnie Tyler, Grace Slick, Ronnie Spector. Later on in life, whenever I’d be playing Lone Justice or Concrete Blonde or k.d. lang or Neko Case, he would always excitedly ask me, “Who is that?!”

I have a distinct childhood memory of asking my dad, “Why does all your music sound so different? Don’t most people just like either rock or country or classical?” “Good music is good music, son,” he said, more than likely ruffling my hair for loving emphasis.

The first time I ever felt I’d made an impact on my father was when I started making mix tapes taken from the radio. I had one in particular that had UB40 and Men Without Hats and Eurythmics and Culture Club and other 1982 favourites; it was in constant rotation in our family car. As a typically vain child, I thought I felt my dad’s pride in my curatorial vision every time we put it on and he sang endearingly off-key to every track. You can’t fake that, right?

My son’s love of music is pure and enthusiastic. He responded to Polmo Polpo and Brian Eno records as an infant (or at least I like to think he did). As soon as he could move his body, he’d wiggle to Grimes. At seven months old, we took him to see the TSO perform the "War of 1812 Overture" at Luminato; he wasn’t bored for a second. He obsessed over Raffi so much that he once, at age two, started singing a Raffi song before stopping and saying, “Oh wait, I forgot the guitar part”—and proceeded to sing the one-bar guitar intro before the vocal line. Out of all the music we play constantly in the house, he’s latched onto Chuck Berry. Now three, the boy pointed out that “in both ‘Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller’ and ‘Rock’n’Roll Music,’ Chuck Berry sings about melody.”

Other than plundering my way through percussion and ukulele and piano, my son doesn’t see me play much music. One day I asked my son what instruments he’d like to play when he grows up. “Accordion and saxophone,” he replied. He had no idea I played both in bands for years. Not sure where he got that from.

I can’t wait to hear his first mix tape.

(This was originally published on iVillage in 2014. Thanks to Adina Goldman for soliciting it.)

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