CJ Kaplan tries to foist the music of the 70’s on his unsuspecting children.
Katy Perry, Ozzy Osbourne, Taylor Swift, Cookie Monster and the entire New York cast of Wicked cram themselves into our minivan for the 4-hour trip to New Jersey. Immediately, Katy is unhappy with having to travel in such common transportation. She rolls her glitter-covered eyes and huffs strands of blue hair off her forehead in exasperation as Ozzy and Cookie Monster tussle over an animal cracker that my 5-year-old son, Eric, has dropped on the floor. (I’d joke that the animal cracker was in the shape of a bat, but Ozzy has probably heard that one two or three million times before.) Taylor sits, doe-eyed and mouth slightly agape, in absolute wonder that we’ve chosen her to accompany us on this journey. She is so cloyingly grateful that we don’t even feel bad about sticking her in the middle between Eric’s booster seat and my son Alex’s sprawl of books, playing cards and random bits of food. Meanwhile, Elphaba and Glinda are so royally pissed they have to play a matinee that they refuse to get into their harnesses and fly around the car while my daughter Samantha belts out “Defying Gravity.” We are a truly eclectic and ragtag bunch as we make our way west on the Mass Pike toward Route 84. But, the tunes keep us going.
As the father of three children with vastly different musical sensibilities, it’s not easy to find an agreeable playlist on long car rides. Samantha favors the Perrys, Swifts and GaGas of pre-teendom along with the soundtracks to the Broadway shows she’s seen. Alex, an old soul, prefers the thick sludge of late 70’s hard rock and heavy metal. And Eric, caught in the confusing zone between “little kid” and “big boy” clings to the comfort of his PBS friends. So, it is incumbent upon me to create a mix tape that will please them all. (Yes, I just carbon-dated myself with the term “mix tape.” But, that’s what it will always be to me even when they finally implant the iTunes chip in my head. Besides, CDs and Playlists are bloodless compilations while mix tapes are made with love.)
I begin by displaying all the music we own on our home computer and instruct each of the children to choose the songs they would like to hear on the drive. Alex and I have similar tastes, so I am perfectly content to let him choose for both of us. My wife doesn’t hold any strong opinions about music except that she hates Rush and the Beastie Boys. (In fairness, this hardly makes her unique among females.) At any rate, she defers her options to Samantha. When the children have finally made their selections, I begin to craft the soundtrack for our trip.
Eric, bless him, has only chosen one song. It’s the Sesame Street classic “Fuzzy and Blue,” sung by Grover, Cookie Monster and the under-used and underrated Herry Monster. I open the mix with it because Eric deserves to be first for a change and because he usually falls asleep about twenty minutes into the ride.
From there, I go with a number from Wicked and follow it up with Black Sabbath’s “Hole in the Sky.” The juxtaposition of a song from a show that’s supposed to parallel The Wizard of Oz with all its tornado imagery and a nihilistic dirge about looking into an actual hole in the sky is lost on my children. When you’re an English major, sometimes you have to do these things for yourself.
Following this heroic couplet, we go Swift, Zeppelin, Perry, Osbourne, Lady GaGa and Rush in that order. As “Tom Sawyer” blares over the speakers, the boys in the car do their best Neil Peart air drum solo while the girls look out the window and desperately search for interesting license plates. Later, Swift, Osbourne and Wicked take their turns with a little Hendrix and AC/DC thrown in for good measure. Curiously, the girls like AC/DC even to the point of singing along to “Dirty Deeds.” Clearly, AC/DC is the anti-Rush.
We’re now roughly an hour-and-a-half into the ride and my kids have used up all their options. Thinking ahead, I’ve added about thirty minutes of what I consider to be neutral music-70’s soft rock. Here’s the thing, though. This is my guilty pleasure. I, who listen to music so loud that the Stones and The Who fall at the low end of the decibel spectrum, love me some AM Gold.
Give me your Ambrosias, your Breads, your Firefalls and your Little River Bands any day of the week. I think Brandy is a fine girl. I believe it’s gonna take a Lotta Love to change the way things are. I know you’ve got to be Cruel to Be Kind. That’s why I’ve been such a Lonely Boy, but I’d Really Love To See You Tonight so we can make love in my Chevy Van (or, more accurately, my Honda Odyssey).
No matter where I am or what I’m doing, this music gets me every time. How can you not love the catchy hooks, the silky harmonies and the absurd, often supernatural, storylines? (Dream Weaver, anyone?) Perhaps it’s because it takes me back to a simpler time, rolling to basketball practice in my mom’s Buick Electra Estate Wagon with actual wood paneling. It seemed like we knew the words to every song subconsciously even if we’d only heard them once or twice before. When I hear those songs today, I can almost smell the smoke from my mom’s Salem 100’s and taste the salty crunch of the McDonald’s fries she used to pick up for us on the way home. Those things were undoubtedly bad for me, but the memories are irrefutably good.
I often think about music in the context of sports. The best thing to happen to baseball’s dreary conga line of batters was when players got to choose their own music as they stepped to the plate. Even better, closers started coming out of the bullpen and warming up to songs designed to fire up the home crowd and psych out the opposition. When Trevor Hoffman came out to “Hells Bells” you got the sense that he was going to bring the fury of the underworld against you. “Enter Sandman” echoes Mariano Rivera’s cool detachment. You know that he’s going to lull you gently to sleep with one split-fingered fastball after another. And when erstwhile Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon charged out to the mound to “Shipping Up to Boston” you felt as though he might beat you up and take your lunch money.
In my own pitching fantasies, the ones where I throw the ball more than 47 mph, I used to picture myself entering to some balls-out anthem like Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild” or Metallica’s cover of “Blitzkrieg.” Now, I think that’s too obvious. What if, instead, I sauntered out to the mound while Seals & Croft’s “Summer Breeze” or “Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon played over the PA? Would I not completely blow the crowd’s mind? Would I not be so far inside my opponents’ heads that they wouldn’t even remember how to swing properly? Damn straight I would!
So it was with huge expectations that I awaited the verdict on my choice of music on the back half of our drive mix. I’d given them some America, a little Bee Gees, a touch of England Dan & John Ford Coley and the triple threat of Andy Gibb, Dolly Parton and John Denver. I glanced into the back seat and took the plunge.
“Well,” I asked. “What did you think?”
There was a pause as if nobody wanted to go first. Finally, Samantha spoke.
“That was terrible!” she declared.
“Yeah, terrible!” Alex agreed. “Can we never hear that again please?”
“Wait,” I sputtered. “How could you not like that? Eric, what about you?
“Blah,” he scoffed and then went back to eating his animal crackers.
I was stunned.
“I liked it,” said my wife, helpfully. “They just don’t get it.”
And then I understood. Their AM Gold is going to be “Firework” and “Bad Romance” and “You Belong With Me” and whatever other cavity-inducing bubblegum pop comes out in the next five to ten years. Then, some day they’ll be driving along trying to get their kids to listen to it and they too will be surprised by the response they get.
Of course, that understanding isn’t going to stop me from continuing to try. The next time we drive to New Jersey I’m going to hit them with a big dose of Jimmy Buffet. The only problem is that there are at least a dozen people in his Coral Reefer Band.
I think I’m gonna need a bigger minivan.
Photo by Asim Bijarani/Flickr.