Nate Owens remembers the music he listened to in the car with his father, and the music that he listens to in the car with his own son.
A big part of my childhood was spent sitting in the back seat of a car. Like most Americans, my family was comfortable with driving a long distance for a small time away, like a weekend visiting my grandparents in Ohio. A big part of those trips was music, stacks of cassette tapes that we memorized on our long trips. In my youth, this meant a lot of Christian music from the early 90s, the likes of Carman and Russ Taff. It wasn’t exactly music anyone else at school liked, but I have a lot of fond memories of those trips.
At some point in my adolescence, my dad became a lot less interested in listening to music on car rides. After four years on the mission field, where he could only see sporting events on tape or in the wee hours of the morning, he relished the ability to keep up with the Reds and the Buckeyes when we returned to the US. If the radio or TV was on and it wasn’t sports or sports-related programming, he considered it a missed opportunity. Of course, by this time I had graduated to my own taste in Christian music, like dc Talk and Jars of Clay. We pushed my dad to listen our music in the car, and while he would usually let us listen to it he never seemed to want to.
There’s still always music going in our car. When I got married, my wife and I spent a lot of time listening to the radio and debating what songs we liked the best. She shared the joys of James Taylor with me, and I shared the wonder of The White Stripes. Having kids didn’t change these habits immediately. A two-month old infant doesn’t really care what’s playing on the radio. But once our first son was old enough to listen, we began to think a little more about what he was listening to.
I don’t mean we tried to keep him from offensive stuff, since most of what we owned or listen to wasn’t really offensive in the first place. But I did think that it would be good to let him listen to some of his own music. So when he was old enough to make his opinions known, he began to suggest CDs for the car ride, and by “suggest” I mean demand.
The worst is probably Miles the Crocodile, a CD some friends of ours bought for him when he was born. It’s from a collection of CDs that introduce kids to jazz, and each song is based around a particular color. As kids’ albums go, it’s actually not bad. But as every parent knows, “not bad” becomes “unbearable” after the fiftieth play. That blasted crocodile sang me the colors until I was dreaming them. More than once I tried to “accidentally” remove it from the car and leave it in the house. But that only created crises when we couldn’t listen to Miles the Crocodile right now.
Thankfully we’ve moved on from that stage. Now we’re in phase one of my master plan, which is to get my son hooked on kids’ music from They Might Be Giants. He liked No! alright, but the one that really grabbed him was Here Come the ABC’s. I’ve been a They Might Be Giants fan since high school, but the number of times I’ve heard “The Alphabet of Nations” is more than I would have chosen. It’s still an upgrade from Miles, but after listening to it so many times the difference is academic. I’m not sure how we transition this fervor to getting him to squawk to listen to Apollo 18. Maybe I should have thought of a phase two to this master plan.
It’s not only kids’ music he likes. Like me, he had an intense obsession with Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories this summer. That ended up leading to Thriller, and he really loves what he calls “the Halloween song”. So I guess he’s developing a taste for pop from the 70s and 80s, which isn’t such a bad thing. What I’m not looking forward to is his teenage years, when his music will sound foreign and irritating to me. I have this fear because the music marketed towards today’s teenagers grates on my nerves. That isn’t an issue now because I’m not a teenager and can keep it out of my life entirely. It won’t always be that way though. I like to think my sons will have awesome taste and will be able to debate whether Brian Wilson’s Smile is better than Pet Sounds. But I know there will be plenty of music that I’ll find obnoxious, just because I know I’ll be an old man who will be tired of dealing with new stuff.
So my plan at that point will be like my dad’s, to push hard for sports talk shows and baseball games on the radio. It might be tricky to get my wife to go along with this, but she sleeps a lot in the car anyway, so the boys won’t get any help from her. If all men are destined to turn into their fathers, I might as well embrace that inevitability.