In my house, there is a tiny miracle once or twice a week. My teenager says of a song or band, “My mom likes them,” and it’s not actually meant as an insult.
I have been a fan of music, live concerts, and deep thinking liner note analysis since the early days of MTV, so to me it seems normal that I should stay up to date with what’s new and emerging on the music scene. I write a music and humor blog, and try to hit at least one show a month here in the Bay Area. But based on the number of friends who are surprised when I say I’ve got tickets to see St. Vincent or tUnE-yArDs or Jenny Lewis or some other act they’ve never heard of, I’m in the minority. (Of course, they must just be sparing themselves the indignity of never getting carded anymore, in which case they’re just faster learners than I am.)
But I’d like to argue the benefit of staying up to date on your kids’ music:
1.) It provides endless “teaching moments.” When we’re driving back and forth to ballet or school, I let the girls decide what we’re listening to, for as long as I can stand it. The teaching moments come flying at you, if you listen to a Top 40 station and concentrate. We’ve had discussions prompted by domestic violence survivor Rihanna’s penchant for singing about what she seems to consider the sunny side of domestic abuse (“Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, well that’s alright because I like the way it hurts” in Love the Way You Lie,) gay rights (Born This Way by Lady Gaga), and whether there are any circumstances under which Jack Daniels can be considered a dentifrice (anything by Ke$ha.)
2.) It keeps your brain on its toes. I am an embarrassingly bad analyst when it comes to music – I pretty much like everything, and consider each new song completely unrelated to that which came before. However, after reading about how important it is to push the aging brain to uncover context, connection, and synthesis, I’ve started listening more critically to new stuff. Does that opening riff remind me of a Tracy Chapman song? Who does Zola Jesus sound more like, Siouxsie Sioux or Kate Bush? What original song is Nicki Minaj sampling in her latest single? When I hear Sweden’s Mary Onettes sing Love’s Taking Strange Ways in the video below, I definitely hear an echo of Echo and the Bunnymen.
Some people like Sudoku. I find my Advanced Music Theory self-study program far more appealing.
3.) Some of it is superb. It’s tempting to think that all the best music was written when we were young. The problem is that your parents thought too, and they’d never heard U2 or R.E.M. Just like in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, there is some utter dreck on the airwaves today. But listen deliberately and you may just find that your favorite song of all time was only written three months ago by a new band from Sheffield, England. And how cool would it be if it were your teenaged son who introduced you to them, and explained to you why he likes them?
So how does a busy mom or dad uncover new favorites? I am shamelessly dependent on Apple for an assist. When I cook dinner I almost always have Spotify or Rdio playing on my iPhone, and I’ve been known to point the Shazam app at the Abercrombie & Fitch speakers to identify what’s blasting out of them. Another iPhone app I love is Band of the Day. It’s just that: a short bio of the featured band plus links to their music videos. I listen in the morning while I drink my coffee, at least a few days a week, and try to drop names like “Hiatus Kaiyote” and “Diamond Rugs” into conversation. The Songkick app alerts me whenever an artist whose music appears in my iTunes library is playing anywhere within a fifty mile vicinity.
I have a deal with my best friend’s son, who just finished high school: I give him an iTunes gift card, and he makes me a mix CD of the songs he loves right now. I don’t have much time to read music magazines anymore, but I swing by the alternative hits chart on Billboard now and again to study its lower rungs.
Of course, there’s a limit to my love. It’s an inalienable right of teenagers to dismiss the music of their parents; denying them the ability to do that would count as dereliction of parental duty. So I stand firm against my 14 year old’s current favorite rapper, Krispy Kreme, the YouTube sensation who sounds like a total doofus, and my 11 year old will probably call Child Protective Services if I make her listen to The Lumineers again.
But it’s important that they start flexing their autonomy. I’m well aware that in my house, the biggest sign of independence will not be the day my kids move out for college. It’ll be the first time they go to a concert without me.
Nancy Davis Kho a freelance writer living in Oakland, CA whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, Bitch Magazine, Skirt! Magazine, and Hippocampus Magazine. She writes a music and humor blog about the years between being hip and breaking one at Midlife Mixtape. She’s also the music barista/virtual DJ at GiveMeAir.com. Her daughters, 11 and 14, consider a night at home on the couch with Mom watching the entire selection of DirectTV On Demand ‘80s videos absolute torture, which confounds her.
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