I’ve always had music around me, whether it was old Sun Record vinyls popping rockabilly, easily warped 8-tracks where the song faded out from one track and picked up in the other, mix tapes spliced together straight from the radio thanks to the built-in tape recorders on boom boxes, and the "futuristic world" of the five-CD changer deck.
Plus, there were the live shows. My family attended a lot of concerts, and sometimes when multiple generations go to shows it’s a great “bonding” experience. Other times, it can get weird.
My dad went with me to see ZZ Top once and Stevie Ray Vaughn twice. The later were perfect concert experiences, because Stevie Ray drew pretty much every demographic of concertgoer. Rednecks and bikers, punks and preppies, hippies and jocks, were just there for the music. ZZ Top was fun, but a little be weird to watch with my dad. They liked their women, and there were plenty of scantily clad leggy dancers in their "Recycler Tour." In one song there was a big laser outline of a “naked cowgirl” floating overhead. You could tell she was a cowgirl, because she had her boots on…and that was all. In case you didn't see her, never fear, my dad made sure to point it out to everyone around us. Hey, she’s naked! Look!
You would think a country concert with the family would be a little less embarrassing. Not when the concert is Willie Nelson circa 1978. When we went to see the Red Headed Stranger, we were up in the cheap seats. That’s where the people went to sample the “local agriculture.” My brother, ever the family’s conscience, yelled made sure we knew that.
"Dad, do you smell that," he said. "Those guys are smoking that stuff."
My dad wasn’t worried, as it “wasn’t hitting us.” Well, all except for Mom. She was getting a direct hit the entire show. She came floating out of the arena, raving about how much her asthma has cleared up. She was also weaving like she was on a wobbly unicycle, and sniggering uncontrollably. My mom passed away 10 years ago, but we kidded her about that for the rest of her life.
I’ve worked really hard to get my husband to catch the live music bug as much as I have it, and he’s now more open to the experience. I even managed to finally get him to take me on a “date night” to see punk band Social Distortion. I had wanted to see them live for the past 30 years, so we got tickets last year. We huddled to the near front and center of the venue, and when they took that stage, the slam dancing started full tilt. Not moshing where people pass dudes over their heads in what is sort of an organized fashion, but old school slam dancing. This is basically just shoving each other into oblivion and we were right on the edge of it. I was 48, and my husband 51, and we weren't by far the oldest ones at the pit. The guy who kept starting the slamming looked like every rickety old man with a long beard in a Disney cartoon, but he was bouncing back and fourth like a grizzled pin pong ball in a Rancid t-shirt.
This was, by the way, before singer Mike Ness had gone completely off the rails physically assaulting people who had the nerve to vote differently than him, but he did take way too much time from the set to preach politics. You could feel the angry energy from both sides rising in the crowd at one point, but thankfully by the end of the set the crowd had returned to good-natured beating the crap out of each other slam dancing. By the time the encore came around, I grabbed my husband by the arm and dragged him through the crowd to the side of the stage so I could hear “Story of My Life” and “Ring of Fire” without minimal jostling. Still it was a blast, even if my feet felt like they were being held over open flames by he end of the night.
Yet, one can be completely hip forever.
As I parent I am now fully aware of what my own parents may have felt like when I ventured off in my own musical directions. I always thought I’d be more open to all types of music because I am the “cool,” musically savvy person. Well, there comes a time in every parenting journey, you have to face the fact you’re just not the authority in hipness anymore.
My daughters, who have exceptionally diverse taste in music from 1940s Big Band to AC/DC, hit me with this a couple of days ago during an outing to a local amusement park. Every carnival and theme park has that one “cool” ride where a circle of cars go spinning and bumping around a big disco ball, with some quasi “dee jay” yelling “Do you want to go faster??” while rock music blares.
When we were standing in line for one of these, they were playing rock from Kiss, Jet, and Kings of Leon — all good stuff — and we got pumped for what they’d be playing when we rode.
When we boarded, everyone got their own car, my teen in front. The ride started, followed by the music: “BOOM-ba-BOOM-ba-BOOM-ba-BOOM…cause I’m an Albatroaz!”
What in the Sam Scratch is this? I thought, while my daughter tossed her hands up in the air…with a Woo-Hoo!!! I love this song!! I looked around the ride, and it was like a mini-rave with teens screaming and singing along. Well, everyone except my husband who was clutching his phone (in the spinny ride, no less) trying to read the “Shazam” app to see what the heck this song was. The song, it turns out, was released in 2014 by a performer named AronChupa, with his “Little Sister Nora” on vocals. I had never in my life heard it, but by Jove, everyone else had.
I was torn between joining in the mobile, spinning rave, and trying not to ruin the vibe by adding “mom dancing” to the mix. You know what? Screw it, let’s all be "albatraozes." Wheee!
Well, it did have a fun bouncy, beat. I can see why it was so popular,even if the mean is several layers of double entendres my kid shouldn't be singing along to. Yet, now every time I hear the song when I’m zipping through satellite radio, or pass it booming from an over-priced teen-centric clothing store in the mall, it will have an memory attached to it; one I shared with my daughter and a bunch of spinning strangers.
Today, I know why there were certain bands I know for sure my dad didn’t like that he feigned interest in. It was a way of connecting with me or my brother. It's a way of staying young, and creating good memories with your kids.
For some reason, my dad had fixated on “Oingo Boingo” (I’ve always loved Danny Elfman’s weirdness) and my dad used the phrase whenever he could. We went over bumps on a family drive…and he’d yell “Oingo Boingo!” If it was pizza night, he’d ask the pizza dude if they had “Oingo Boingo” pizzas, and, well, you get the drift. I found him an Oingo Boingo button at a music shop and he wore it on his old, greasy baseball cap, for about a week, before giving it back to me. I still have it on l my fridge.
He’s 79-years-old, and still has no clue what they sound like, but that doesn’t matter. He likes Oingo Boingo, because I liked them.
That’s the beauty of all music and musical experiences — good, bad, old, or new — it connects us in many ways.
Even when opinions differ, it will still bring a family bond, and this was another time my dad decided to find out about a certain artist….Morrissey.
I had gotten home from college for the summer right after the moody Smiths frontman came through town to perform. There was a condemned building in the area some superfans had graffitied “Viva Morrissey” on in massive red letters.
My dad asked why this guy was so popular, as he said the line to see him at the nearby entertainment center was mammoth. I told him I had some stuff by him and The Smiths — don’t judge me, “Panic” is a great song — and as luck would have it he was appearing on The Tonight Show that night.
My dad is an “early-to-bed, early-to rise” man, but he stayed up to watch Morrissey. Morrissey comes out with his pompadour, black lamé shirt, thrusting his hips and flippin’ his mike chord in full Morrissey fashion.
“You’re the one for me, Fatty…ah, ah, ah, ah…hey…”
My dad watched the entire thing without comment, then got up and switched off the channel.
“Well, Morrissey,” he said as he wandered to his room, “I’m glad you have a job.”
I bought the album the next day.
Image by Rick Tate of surf rockers Man or Astro-Man?, a band we who took the whole family to see.