It was a crisp Spring day winding down as I drove to get my daughter Thryn at school. She usually takes the bus, way cooler than Dad picking her up, but this day she had to be somewhere else. I had parked and was wandering around the lot when she and her friends bubbled out in a small knotted mass of clumsily developing suave. Thryn ran over to excitedly ask some question about The Beatles, which album a song was on or some other small fact. I told her as her friends gathered around. One of them asked me another Beatles question and I dutifully replied. Then another came.
I saw in their faces a look of wonder as to how anyone could know all this as questions started boiling out of them. I was the sage, dispensing wisdom vital to the ages. And the horror rose from deep within me.
No, no, nonono, you can’t think your parents’ music is cool! You can’t think your parents are in anyway cool! This just isn’t right!
As the kids head back to school this scene comes back to me. Whatever they learn in school comes in some kind of context – a moment or scene that defines what will stay with them forever. Some of that stuff, like it or not, comes from their folks. “Mommy’s allright, Daddy’s allright, they just seem a little weeeird.” Cheap Trick, that’s another band they need to know about.
The music from my equally awkward past has not all made it through to today. There is a general appreciation for the spectacle and raw emotion of big haired 80s music, especially “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey for some reason. They have an inkling of “More than Feeling” by Boston, but are thankfully ignorant of Air Supply and REO Speedwagon. A few big hits from the 70s and 80s have made it through time to become genuine classics.
There are big gaps in their repertoire, however. These are the pieces I have a duty as a parent to fill them in on. “Stairway to Heaven” is strangely unknown, as is Skynyrd’s classic “Freebird”. Supertramp’s “Logical Song” is way off the radar. The serious-minded boys who have gotten into guitar know both Hendrix and Clapton, but not much of Beck – and I did my best to point them to Yngwie Malmsteen just for the heck of it. I’m insisting that any kids of mine have to at least appreciate the artistry of Rush, even if “YYZ” is a bit too much or if the 7/8 time signature in “Tom Sawyer” throws them too hard.
And if they have to listen to the 80s big hair spectacle, they at least have to know Heart because they could sing.
Why did some of these bands and songs “make it” while others didn’t? I have no idea, to be honest. My guess is that if I went to a different school we’d find a different set of songs that survived all the way through to classical status.
Sometimes, late at night, a few of these become sing alongs in Tom Reid’s bar here in St Paul. Singing along in bars is an ancient tradition, but the falsetto of “Don’t Stop Believing” doesn’t lend itself to the experience, even if everyone is sober. I can see why adults want to relive their childhood with songs like this, but the truth is that no one was planning for them to become music-hall sing-alongs. It doesn’t matter. People love it and do their best to make the moment work.
Naturally, all of this is a bit strange to me. The music I’ve always liked was written by people long dead – it’s status as “classics” was decided by tweedy academics long ago. But the music all around us defines the experience we all share. It’s cultural. Even a guy like me couldn’t help but pick up on some of it, especially Rush. They were really awesome (and you don’t get to argue with me on this point!).
More than just sharing with the kids we grow up with, at some point we get to share it with the next generation. Many of these songs will speak to them either through the message or the sheer artistry. Some of it will stick, too. And they become classics.
What did I miss in my list? What has become a “classic” in your circles – and if you know, why? I’d love to know. This is the stuff that makes getting old way more interesting.