Steve O’Connor shares an essay about how rock n roll created a bond between father and son:
My son, being fifteen, doesn’t talk to me much anymore. He discovered recently that I don’t know anything. He has also realized that anything I say will be fun will in fact be painfully tedious. And of course he understands that picking up wet towels off of the floor, putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and closing bags containing bread or muffins so that the contents don’t go stale can all be set down under the general category of “sweating the small stuff.” When I attempt to make these points in what I think is the most civil way, I usually get the reply, “OK, OK. Calm down.” The ironic thing is that I’m always perfectly calm until he tells me to calm down. Then I get upset. Ah, gone are the days when Dad was a veritable oracle of wisdom, and the best at everything.
My ten year old daughter still sees me as one step below God, and I am relishing my status while it lasts. During the World Cup she asked me, “Could your soccer team beat one of those teams?”
“Well, Molly I play on a team of over-fifty amateurs. They are 25 year old professionals. Not only that but they are the best of the professionals.”
“But could you beat them? You said your team won the championship.”
“Yeah. Division Three Over Fifty.”
“So you couldn’t beat them?” she asks looking disillusioned.
“Well, wait a minute I didn’t say we couldn’t beat them. The gamblers in Las Vegas would probably bet on them, but you know – it would be a tough game, I’ll tell you that.” I’m not lying to my daughter by the way. It would be a tough game. Particularly for us. It’s always tough to get beat 275 to nothing.
My son doesn’t ask questions like that anymore, because he knows that I’m imperfect, flawed, and generally un-godlike. So I have been pleasantly surprised to find lately that my son has developed a new found respect for my opinion, not on politics, religion, history, civic duty, literature, cinema, culture, the constitution, the Middle East, nuclear war or anything else so irrelevant to a fifteen-year-old, but on the vital and suddenly relevant issue of Rock and Roll.
For a while, my son was listening to rap music. Call me an old fart, but I confess I don’t get it. It was painful to hear this, what a bad dog I am drivel when I passed by his room, but I said to myself, this must be my punishment for having driven my parents crazy with Led Zeppelin. The wheel has come around, not instant, but delayed karma has got me, and now I’m gonna have to listen to people in with pants down to their knees and fifty pounds of gold chains and worst of all, Yankees caps, ranting endlessly about how tough they are, and how much money they have, and how all the shorties are in love with them. Whatever.
Then, one day, passing by his room, I heard other sounds. I froze. Could it be?
Well she’s walkin’ through the clouds
Jimi Hendrix. My son had discovered Jimi Hendrix; that legendary guitar was talking to him, and he understood it in the same way that my generation had so many years ago. How strange, I thought. When I hear this music, I associate it with certain people and times in my life, and with what was happening in the world at the time. I remember when the music was new, and when we and the world were transformed by it.
The karmic wheel spun furiously backward, and I felt as I imagine my father would have felt if he had passed by my room one day in 1970 and heard not Procul Harum or Led Zeppelin, but Tommy Dorsey or Glen Miller.
For the first time since he was five and my son and I sang “See the little puffer bellies all in a row” together, my son and I were on the same page musically. He doesn’t like all the music I like. That might almost be scary.
But it sure is great to have rock and roll in common, and reggae. He went to the beach a few days ago, and came back with two posters which are now on his bedroom wall: Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. Solid members of my pantheon. I had been disappointed when he gave up the piano, but he’s taken up the guitar with a vengeance, and I can’t complain when I hear him playing along with Jimi on Little Wing. He asks me to recommend bands, and I hardly know where to begin The Beatles of course, Cream, Procul Harum, The Band, Traffic, Derek and the Dominoes, Neil Young; it’s an embarrassment of riches, and I’m having a second rock and roll childhood.
At the same time, I can’t escape the fatherly instinct, and looking up at Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix I tell him, “They were geniuses-and they’d probably both still be around if they didn’t get into drugs.”
“I know dad.”
“I hope you do. Hey, crank up that Voodoo Child.”
I guess Neil Young was right: rock and roll will never die.
Post Script: I wrote this five years ago. The guitar is idle, but the posters of Hendrix and Bob Marley are still hanging on my son’s wall.