(My) Pop Rocks

This article was originally published in online magazine Pointless Banter on April 16, 2006.

My Dad was pretty integral in shaping my musical tastes. Most people if you ask them about their musical tastes, whatever they enjoy has a good deal to do with rebelling against whatever their parents hated. Not so mine. My musical tastes have a pretty solid foundation in what my Dad listened to. And he’s still pretty hip and progressive for his age. I’ll get to that. I at least certainly have my father to thank for my profound love of music. It’s a rare person who loves music as much as my father does.

As a kid, I remember being able to sing before I could talk. My dad played the guitar, and I remember him setting my two-year-old self in his lap, and he’d put the guitar in front of both of us and reach around me to play. The Beatles, Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Rolling Stones, Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Company….you name it. “Our” song was the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” To this day, I can still hear my dad singing me to sleep with that song. He’d wink at me as he sang “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.” I remember singing all of those old songs by memory long before I knew the words, or what they meant.

One of my earliest childhood memories as a kid was when my parents would stay up late, long after my brother and I had gone to bed, and they’d drink wine and play music together. Both of them sing. My mother plays piano. My room was upstairs, and the piano was in the basement. We had central air, so the air registers in the basement were in the ceiling, and the ones in the upstairs were in the floor. I used to have nightmares as a kid, and didn’t sleep well. I was getting to an age (around six or so) where it wasn’t cool to sleep with mommy and daddy anymore, so I’d lie awake and try to go back to sleep. When they stayed up to play music, I could hear them through the heat register, and I would drag my blanket over to the vent and fall asleep on the floor, my ear pressed to the vent. I could hear the two of them fumble a hundred times through “Leaving On A Jet Plane”, and laugh their heads off when one of them made a mistake.

My first (major) concert was Metallica, on the black tour in ‘91. I desperately wanted to go to Metallica (I was eleven years old), and my parents agreed. In the interim period before the concert, my parents had read up on Metallica and the evils of heavy metal. I was to have gone with a friend of mine; my parents dutifully waiting outside the concert to pick me up. They changed their minds about letting me go to the concert. I said “You’re not letting me go?” Dad said “I agreed to let you go, and I’m not going back on a promise I made to you. But I’m going with you.” He put on the obligatory black T-shirt and ripped jeans (somehow on my father, this works. He doesn’t come off like a dad trying to look hip. That’s just his wardrobe) and off we went. He exchanged my friend’s and my two tickets at the door for three together. We ended up in the front row of the first tier; way better seats than I had to begin with. Dad really enjoyed the show, and it was great to be able to do that with him. Since then, going to concerts together has always been something that Dad and I have been able to do together. Last year when he was sick, I bought him Metallica’s “black” album on CD to cheer him up. (He only had the cassette.)

It’s not just a factor of being a Daddy’s girl – I’ve just always been able to hang with my pop. We have similar senses of humor, and he’s never treated me like a kid – more like a pal. When I was a teenager, it almost felt like Dad and me vs. Mom – she never got our jokes. And it was always stupid stuff. We’d all be watching TV, and Dad and I would crack up at something no one else did. Once I looked at him and said “Party on, Dad.” Without missing a beat, he said “Party on, Em.”

His favorite band of all time is the Dire Straits. He’s always been amused by my choices in music, and my bands. He hasn’t always agreed, but he has always been interested. When I was 11 and bought the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”, he popped it in and listened to it and read the lyric sheet. I was mortified. Most of my friends’ parents censored a good deal of what they listened to, and I was convinced he would take it from me. He said “Don’t you think these lyrics are a little…adult?” I said “I just like the music.” He said “Hmmph.” I said “You aren’t going to take it away, are you?” He said “When I was a kid and my parents wouldn’t let me listen to Elvis or the Beatles, I swore to myself that I would never tell my kids what they could and couldn’t listen to. So no. But mind you, this is a far cry from the Beatles.” I said “Thanks!” He said “Do you have any questions about what any of these words mean?” I think he may have been referring to “Sir Psycho Sexy.” I said “Um….no.” I never heard another word about it.

When I was in my first band at age 15, it was the peak of the popularity of Seattle grunge, and we were flannel-wearing, acne-ridden teens who couldn’t play for shit. Dad came to see one of our shows. While he hated the music (I believe the phrase he used was “you guys suck”,) I was just proud that he was the only one of our parents who ever bothered to show up and see us. He even liked my last band; the punk band. The only band I was in that he never saw was 23Skidoo. I’m glad of that, in retrospect. We were a deliberately offensive political punk band. Somehow I don’t think he would have appreciated some of our music. We were the proud writers of such titles as “The Muttonchop Tango”, “Celine Dion Can Kiss My Ass”, “You’ll Be Sorry When I’m A God”, and “I Got Anal Warts From Chris Farley”, to name a few. We were only appreciated by a very limited group. And by “very limited group”, I mean ourselves.

When I was with my last band, in the not-so-distant past, we were given the opportunity to play at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, in Los Angeles, opening for Fishbone. Yes, THAT Whisky. At this point, my mother disliked that I had dropped out of college to play music and was wishing that I would grow up. She made no bones about what she called my “lifestyle choice.” Dad seemed to understand. When we pulled into Hollywood, I made exactly one phone call. “Dad, guess what I’m looking at?” “What?” “My name on the marquee of the Whisky.” It was my dream. I was in tears. He got it. It was the best show we ever played.

I could go on and on about my Dad. My mom is on vacation right now so I hung out with Dad last night. As an adult, which selections of “modern” music that appeal to him never fail to amuse me. He asked if I had any reggae on my laptop. I replied that I did. He asked if he could burn himself a mix CD. I said sure. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen your 58-year old father sing all the words to “Buffalo Soldier.” I don’t have a ton of Marley on there, so the CD had to be filled up somehow. He put together one of the most inexplicable mix CDs I have ever heard. His goal was to put on music that he’s heard and likes, but hasn’t bought. Oddly enough, it flowed okay.

His picks were The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under The Bridge”, five Marley songs – “Buffalo Soldier”, “Redemption Song (live)”, “Jammin’”, “No Woman No Cry (live)”, “Get Up Stand Up”; James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain”, Five For Fighting’s “Superman” and “100 Years”, Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle”, Blind Melon’s “No Rain”, R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, Jimmy Vaughan’s “Boom Bapa Boom”, “Hey Yeah”, “Don’t Cha Know”, Shemekia Copeland’s “Wild Wild Women”, Fishbone’s “Shakey Ground”, “The Suffering”, and the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong.”

We drank scotch and listened to the entire thing after it was burned. Loud. At the end, he said “The James Taylor song is out of place. I should have left that one off.”

My pop rocks.

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