My 14-year-old son sides with my wife when it comes to matters of artistic taste.
Books, movies, television, music…if she likes it, so does he. And stuff I like, save for a few Christian rock bands, is sometimes tolerated when not completely dismissed as “80’s crap.”
He’s had the rebellion thing working, although in a rather safe way. I’m conditioned to refrain from expressing appreciation for a new shirt or hair cut. Because saying I like something would bring swift rejection.
But one day last month I was playing Rush’s R-30 DVD – I had nearly gone an unacceptable 24 hours without listening to a Rush song – and the unthinkable happened.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Rush. It’s a song called “Roll the Bones,” I said, waiting for the mockery.
“Pretty cool,” he responded. “Can you put it on my iPod?”
This caught me completely off guard. I wanted to jump for joy, but knew better.
“Sure, I can do that. I can make you a whole Rush playlist.”
Turns out that was a first step into a totally unexpected foray into classic rock for the freshman. I’d like to say I’m the influence, but truth is that he was getting into songs on the “Supernatural” DVDs – one of the shows my wife likes – and the neighbor’s PlayStation 2 “Guitar Heros II” game.
He requested an entire classic rock playlist, and I considered this a tremendous responsibility. I want him to develop a proper appreciation for important music, but feared that going overboard would send him running to Clay Aiken.
Well, probably not that bad. But I had this slim opportunity to be cool and didn’t want to blow it.
I figured to give him a basic primer into the glorious world of power chords. I probably have about 1,000 songs in this category on my own iPod, and I figured he’d need about 50 or so to get a good foundation.
My first idea was to eliminate any song that mentioned drugs, violence, sex or tongue-in-cheek devil worship. But that wiped out all but 38 of the 1,000 songs. So I had to relax those guidelines somewhat – but only somewhat.
Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and AC/DC’s “Back in Black” make the cut, “Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath” and “Highway to Hell” from those same bands are did not.
And I figured I would not be keen on answering questions like, “Why is Robert Plant is making those sounds in the middle of ‘Whole Lotta Love?’”
And I had to take into account that this was all new to him, and some of it is an acquired taste. As much as I can appreciate a 26-minute live version of “Dazed and Confused,” it might freak out a 14-year-old. Heck, I still get freaked out by “The End” from the Doors. And I decided to pass on the entire Pink Floyd catalog – for now.
I settled on what I thought were the best songs from the best groups, and music that carried special memories for me.
So he got some obvious choices. You need some accessible Zep, so he got “Rock and Roll,” “Communication Breakdown” and “Stairway.” Of course some Clapton is there, starting with “Layla.”
A little tribute to his birth city was in order, so there are a couple Grand Funk Railroad cuts.
A kid’s gotta know more about Hendrix than the Spinal Tap-esque “choaked on his own vomit” stuff, so “Purple Haze” and “All Along the Watchtower” shall suffice.
And then you’ve got the ultimate freshman anthem, Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.”
I don’t think he was too sure about “Gimmie Shelter” – “It’s like her voice is cracking” -- until my wife proclaimed it one of the best songs ever.
And, of course, he needed some Who, a little Bowie, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and some safe Steve Miller, Boston and Kansas.
Each song I added to his playlist brought back memories of high school successes and failures, summers at Brady Park and Jones Beach and even raking leaves in the front yard with my little red Panasonic tape player fired up to full blast. My neighbors must have been so thrilled when the last leaves were finally raked up.
Angus Young of AC/DC -- we don't look to him for logic in lyrics.
While every note was memory for me, it seems to be a mystery for my boy. We were listening to an AC/DC song in the car and he said, “I don’t get these lyrics. What is he trying to say?”
“Son,” I replied, “He’s looking for two words that rhyme. Any words. Don’t look too deeply here. Pump your fist, bang your head and don’t think too hard about it.”
Of course, assembling a playlist and him actually listening to it are two different things. I didn’t want to push. Then one day I walked past and heard Creedence Clearwater’s “Fortunate Son” bouncing off his walls.
Once in a while you get a ray of light showing you're doing something right. Maybe, just maybe, the Old Man knows some good stuff after all.
In other words...
I know you all read Faith and Fear in Flushing. But do you ever get to read about Faith and Fear? Here's a neat interview with Greg and Jason.