Listen to Your Parents
Matt McMahon | Thursday, October 9, 2014
My parents met because my dad, 17 at the time, noticed that my mom, at an unimaginable 14 years old, knew valuable information regarding the band Buffalo Springfield. She attributes her musical knowledge to her gaining the attention of my dad, perhaps impossibly against the odds of her admittedly “prettier” (read: more buxom) friend, who also was present. That may seem rather trivial, but it does help explain a telling amount about the two of them. That meeting definitely informs my own life and upbringing as well, especially in terms of cultural tastes.
During family vacations growing up, long car rides were made more manageable by my family’s mostly fair splitting of radio time. My mom would play stereotypically “mom” songs, and this description is by no means a devaluation of her choices; they were all beautiful songs. I would fight for airtime with hip-hop and pop gathered from the popular radio stations and “Now” compilations, interspersed with old-timey radio shows on cassette. And my sister commanded ‘50s and ‘60s pop rock and the same era’s radio commercial jingles and TV show themes. Not to be outdone by what now understandably reads like the most annoying driving experience ever faced by a dad, my dad would expose us to unappreciated bouts of Pink Floyd, Crosby, Stills and Nash and — worst of all — Neil Young.
As young kids, my sister and I grew to loathe Neil Young as a result of my dad’s championing of him. His strained, off-kilter voice, only matched by his sometimes-shrieking, persistent guitar tones, became the sort of joke between the two of us that managed only to bring about our hearing it more. It didn’t help that at home my dad also would constantly play and sing Neil’s songs on his own — something we saw as added torture but now recognize as an important hobby to him.
Still, Dad always would have the last laugh on those long car trips. With the “last song warning,” usually given by my mom as a way to ensure equal radio control, he would — without fail — turn on Neil Young’s ten-minute jam “Down By The River.” As he milked his turn for all it could be worth, we grew to expect this and complained the entire duration of the song, ostensibly harmonizing with the affected crooner. Our dad was lame because he liked this old, weird music, and we wouldn’t dare consider its importance to him or even its importance on a cultural level because parents’ tastes can’t possibly be current or cool.
Luckily, my parents exposed me while growing up to a wide variety of popular cultural elements from their own time — many to which my sister and I were much more receptive and agreeing. Nevertheless, Neil Yong remained a point of contention for a majority of our childhoods. The grandfather of grunge was forced in my brain through my ears, and even as I discovered Nirvana, shared Soundgardern’s “Superunknown” with my mom on subsequent car rides and taught my parents about Temple of the Dog, I could not appreciate the icon these artists idolized and from which they derived their own sound — until a slight but pivotal moment during a family vacation when I was a teenager.
On this trip, we went to a Rolling Stones cover-band concert (Who knew they had so many hits that all sound the same before they were all compiled together and played by other people?) that was somewhat enjoyable and, in the moment, made me susceptible to examining classic folk rock. A visit to the venue’s acoustically-endowed restroom struck me with the heartbreaking Neil Young track “Heart of Gold” playing over the speakers. Maybe it wasn’t the most appropriate place to connect with a song, but something about my combined predisposition for music from the concert and my growth as a musical appreciator brought about a higher understanding of Neil Young — one my dad had been trying to get across, or at least that he himself had since his childhood.
Over the rest of the trip, I consistently listened to Neil Young’s greatest hits, ever at the ready in my dad’s car, and Crosby, Stills & Nash, which I — reasonably — closely related to Neil Young because of my dad. It seemed as though I was listening to something completely different. It was still the music I had been known as a child but in a newly transparent light. I don’t know if it was because of the dissociation of the music from my dad — my previous stubbornness barred me from really listening to it — or if it was a result of my musical “coming-to,” but everything my dad had described this music as finally revealed itself and made sense.
It’s a tragedy to discount the taste of your parents or of anyone from a distant generation, especially based solely on the fact that they like it. These people were immersed in their own generational music, movies, television and art. They have a connection to it that, although it may not translate to your own experiences, has a certain lasting significance, and they can justify them through pathos as well as logos. There will come a time when I will slow down or stagnate in my cultural leanings, a time when my children may view my interests as lame, old or uncool. I hope they will be open to my delirious enthusiasm for my own tastes, and I hope that they will reciprocate by sharing their own tastes with me. After all, I would not have the awareness or taste for early Soul and R&B without the genre CDs my dad used to put together, and one of my mom’s favorite songs and favorite television shows would not be “Hunger Strike” and “Louie,” respectively, without my persistent advocating.