July 6, 2011

Me Vs. Music

"Kid, we're trying to make you cool."

Being a kid is not easy. Remember the years of pimples and learning to walk without feeling that our limbs are poorly matched to our bodies? Those of us with younger family members try to help them by offering a few pointers. Don’t worry about your walk. It will congeal into something that gets you from point A to B in a relatively straight line. Ignore the kids who call you “dork” as they go to their band camps and pretend they’re remotely cooler than you with your pocket protector and Sharpie. They won’t matter when school is over. Honestly, they won’t. When we leave childhood behind, the people who pointed their fingers and snickered at our $5 silver (and mind you, fucking punk rock) shoes seldom reappear on our radar.

In an effort to help younger folks negate the feelings of awkwardness, we try to tune them into sounds that might help it all make sense. For years, The Boy has been passing music to his niece, who seems to mostly receive it well and other times might wonder whether her uncle is unstable or, something even worse in many kids’ eyes, a hippie — the kind who would have enjoyed Altamont. Because his tastes are radically different from her parents, he wants to be sure that when The Kid chooses her music, she is open and knowledgeable enough to pick well.

My own parents tried to convince me that Sam Cooke was smoove, but I was too focused on Spandex and big hair to understand what they meant. It took time to understand and a willingness to hear Sam Cooke. My grandfather gave me that willingness by allowing me to explore his collection of records. I remember the moment when my parents’ music made sense. When the first notes of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” moved over me like cold sheets, I got chills. It was after falling into an early first crush and realizing, “Oh, these songs are about that feeling.” It was this, and realizing that dancing to Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” with my parents was memory gold. I finally understood.
Music like this reaches the cosmic nerve and maybe defines moments of our lives or tries to change a generation. In sharing our favorite music, I think it’s the hope that we’ll experience the cosmic nerve with another and be able to testify to its existence or tag our names on its walls — We were here. After all, bearing witness to this life and making sure we aren’t forgotten is great motivation. All generations do it. It is apparent when Nirvana borrows The Youngbloods’ verse, yet owes something to its legacy. It is the same thing when Warpaint appropriates a Nirvana lyric. It is the act of looking at our feet, realizing we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before.

The question that lately presents itself to me is, “How do I decide what goes in my canon of music to share with my potential child?” I know I can’t share everything, but perhaps I can touch on enough that my kid will take some initiative and explore my music for itself. Even more challenging is how we teach our children to develop a canon of their own. I have yet to produce an heir, but anytime I hear (and am more than a little pissed to have to spell) Ke$ha, I want to rip out my lashes. What irks me is that some kid is adding this train wreck to their canon. And as much as it hurts, it is one of those phenomena that has to happen so the next generation has music they can argue about (or be embarrassed by) with their own children. Who doesn’t want to be a fly on the wall when they discuss the merits of Ke$ha’s funky sixth-grade dance beat in comparison to those hags, Britney and Christina? I do and I don’t. I remember Gerardo — ’nuff said.

We pass on the history that our parents and grandparents passed to us. It is integral to knowing and understanding what’s next. We should not rewrite those histories, but be sure to let them shape how we decide to go forward, and what we give to the world that is coming after us before our tags begin to fade.

Erica Rucker is a freelance weirdo, writer and professional wedding/portrait photographer at eElaine Photography.