Thursday, February 21, 2008

Music and Lyrics

My parents were born three days shy of five years apart from one another. They both celebrated birthdays this past week. That's right - I was raised by two Aquariuses, and somehow survived.

Now five years is not an unheard of gap , but because of my parents' upbringings, they are essentially from two different generations. The primary musical influences on my father in Israel were Elvis and doo-wop artists, whereas my mother's vast record collection spanned the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, and mournful Laura Nyro. It was my father's music that we rolled our eyes to, and my mother's that we idolized.

As the youngest of three kids, I listened almost exclusively to the music everyone else at home was listening to. The first cassette I ever saved up for and bought (I bet you remember yours too) was The Zombies Greatest Hits, because I wanted to have my own copy of Time of the Season. I was eleven, and it was 1990. Needless to say, most of my friends at school didn't relate to this side of me AT ALL.

My oldest brother is seven years older than I am, and was able to drive me to the uncool places I liked to go (like the library on Friday afternoon) while my non-driving mother could not. But there was a caveat. I had to sing the opening lyrics to Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, or some equally embarrassing selection of his, before he would turn on the ignition. I was probably around 9, but I could "Aaaaaaahhhhh ahh!" with the best of them.

Those music-linked memories are now becoming those of my own kids. My mother singing Joni Mitchell while she dusted. My now-Breslov brother practicing the same Pink Floyd riff until I burst in yelling, "I THINK you GOT it!" Trying hard, as the youngest, to learn to sing along correctly and keep up on car trips.

When I vacuum, the lyrics to Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone tend to come to mind - "He's not selling any alibis . . As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes" - How many songs can you think of that have the word "vacuum" in them?

[I remember how strange it was back then was when other kids my age, as late teens, 'discovered' classic rock and got into it. All of a sudden, what I'd been pumped with my entire life was considered cool, and all the years of wondering what exactly they loved so much about Debbie Gibson seemed to dissolve into memory.]

I preface with all of this background because what I'm thinking about lately is what my kids are listening to. As the bigger ones get, well, bigger, they become undoubtedly more aware of everything. Conversations I have with RaggedyDad are interjected with Ann's (and sometimes even Andy's!) opinions. And I realize that the music I listen to has to be considered too. I still remember being six years old, hearing about a Madonna song called Like a Virgin and asking my mother, "What does THAT mean?" I think she somehow managed to change the subject.

To be clear, I'm not listening to music with awful, overly suggestive, or violent lyrics, and I don't ascribe to the school of thought that a "rock" sound has something inherently wrong or unholy about it. But there are moments where it's quiet in the car besides the song, and Ann will ask me, "What does THAT mean?" and I second-guess myself.

I struggle with this partly because kiddie music (and we have plenty of it) can get really annoying, and also because I grew up in a household with a continual non-kiddie soundtrack and I don't feel it had a negative influence on me aside from a lot of brain space devoted to a lot of lyrics. For now, I'll continue to listen to the same music I've been into by default since I was a kid, but I can see that as my children get older, things will continue to evolve in this department.