According to Mama, I am not a grown up yet. I do not have a full appreciation of country music and until I do, I cannot be deemed a grown up.
I accept her declaration – I just can’t make myself like country music yet.
“That stuff you listen to is garbage,” has been her complaint since I can remember.
My uncle encouraged my garbage loving by getting me my first record player, a huge monstrosity of a cabinet with an 8-track player and a Kiss album. I was 6. Mama was furious.
“You need to try to listen to country,” she ordered. I tried, really, I did. I told her it was depressing and I didn’t care for it.
“Someone’s always leaving someone or someone’s drinking beer in their pickup truck. Just sad,” I said.
Mama said my head-banging metal or dreadful punk mess was far worse. “At least my singers look like humans instead of like they are permanently going trick or treating.”
I ignored her.
“Are you listening to classical music?” she asked me when I was pregnant with Cole. “Kind of,” was my answer. “Who are you listening to?” she asked next.
“Osbourne, Plant and Mercury,” I said. She said she had never heard of them, but she had. Oh, she had. She had complained about my Ozzy, Led and Queen being blared at great decibels for years, she just didn’t recognize the names of the offenders.
“Well, I hope you let him listen to a little bit of country when he gets bigger. Just because his mama doesn’t have any musical taste, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t.”
I had hopes and early signs that my child and I would share a common love for music. When he was younger, he loved “Barracuda” by Heart, singing along in the backseat. “Turn it up!” he would cry when I popped in Queen. AC/DC made him purse his tiny cherubic lips out, close his eyes and nod his head along to the guitar riffs. He even loved Johnny Cash – my closest foray into country music – singing “and it burns, burns, burns, this ring of fire” after eating jalapenos.
Then it happened.
One day, in the midst of the opening of “Sweet Child o’Mine” – you know, that awesome guitar wail that lets you know pure metal awesomeness is about to occur – my child covered his ears with his hands and screamed, “Turn that noise down!”
I glanced in the rearview mirror at my child who looked like he was in pain.
“Cole, you used to love Guns N’ Roses.”
“Ugh,” he said. “It’s too loud. It’s just noise. Why do you have to listen to it so loud?”
He never complained about how loud I had the music before. He loved it loud. Especially if it was something like Gangnam Style – which I can’t even begin to describe my loathing for. We sent Korea Dennis Rodman; Korea gave us Psy. No one won in that exchange.
“It’s GNR; you’ve gotta play it loud,” was my answer.
Music, something we had bonded on before, had become a bone of contention. Maybe it was a rite of passage; as you grow up, you cannot share musical tastes with your mama. Before, he was eager to hear the songs we listened to, telling me to play it again when he came across one he particularly liked. “Can’t we just ride without music on?” he now asked.
Where had I failed my child?
Did he not know that I loved music and it was one thing I loved sharing with him? That I had thought it would be one way we could bond? With his dad, he had everything outdoors – bugs, dirt, bikes and getting dirty. The most boy like thing I could offer him was a shared interest in gems and rocks with the occasional sci-fi movie or Marvel comic thrown in. He loved to read and loved to create but here was one thing I thought we would share a great love for, and he hated what I loved. Mama swore I wouldn’t have this problem if I listened to country music.
“What did you download?” Cole asked, eyeing his father’s phone.
“An album by U2,” I said.
Curious, Cole listened to it and then asked if I could download to his iPod as well. “You like U2?” I asked. “Sure, they sound OK.”
Maybe there was hope, I thought.
In the car one evening, “Bohemian Rhapsody” came on. “Hey, I know this song,” Cole said, excited.
“I remember this! I love this song. Did you know it took like 15 people to write Justin Bieber’s song “Baby” and it only took one to right this? What was his name?”
“Freddie Mercury,” I replied.
“Yeah, that’s it. That’s so cool. This song is awesome.”
I felt a sense of relief. My child had been able to discern between Justin Bieber and a Queen classic. Maybe that earlier musical conditioning had paid off.
I was in my office, finishing some work, when I heard Louis Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world” start playing.
“Sweet girl, I had no idea this was a real song,” Cole said. “I thought you made it up for me. I googled the ‘I see trees of green’ and it pulled up. This is wonderful.”
I smiled. “It is. It’s one of my favorite songs, right up there with ‘Unchained Melody.'”
“What’s ‘Unchained Melody?'” he asked.
“A song by the Righteous Brothers,” I told him.
“Are they like Guns N’ Roses?” he asked.
I assured him they were nothing like Axl and Slash.
“Then I may like them. I like this Armstrong fellow and he doesn’t seem to have any reference to a bike either.”
“Is there anyone else you think I may like that you do?”
“Well, there’s Sinatra. I’ve always, always been a sucker for Ol’ Blue Eyes.”
“I’d like to listen to him with you one day,” he said. “I may like him, too.”
Maybe I could find a common musical ground with my child somewhere far away from heavy metal and eons away from hip-hop. Maybe it was from an era when music was really grand and special, in a time neither of us knew. We could bond over classical music that I feared would get lost in the digital age. I could be perfectly happy with that, I thought.
And, the best part of all, it wasn’t country music.