CJ Kaplan’s attempt to share his love of heavy metal music with his six-year-old daughter is thwarted by Miley Cyrus.
My dad is easily bored with cars. He likes to lease or buy a new one every two or three years, and he favors the luxury touring sedans. He’s also not afraid to try the newest fancy car on the street, figuring that even if he doesn’t like it he’ll only have it for a couple of years. As a result, he was one of the first people in our town to own a Lexus when they started coming over from Japan in the late 80’s.
I remember him pulling into our driveway in the blood red LS 400 and inviting us to jump in for a ride. My brother tried to cadge the front seat, but I muscled him out of the way and slid in beside my dad. As we drove through downtown Needham, Dad pointed out the many exemplary features on his new Lexus. The seats were butter-soft leather, the engine was a throaty V,8 and the dashboard looked like it belonged in the space shuttle. Even the friggin’ steering wheel tilted and telescoped to maximize the driver’s comfort.
“But, here’s the real kicker,” Dad gushed as he flipped on the factory-installed Nakamichi stereo. “It’s got 12 speakers hidden all around the interior. There’s even one under your seat.”
Sure enough, the voices coming from the radio were vibrating through my hamstrings and glutes. Smiling, I reached to switch the tuner from the talk radio station that had likely been pre-set at the dealership to my favorite rock station. I was hoping to catch some AC/DC or maybe a little Metallica. As my hand neared the console, my father reached over and batted it away.
Stunned, I looked over at him.
“Don’t touch the radio,” he said, suddenly serious.
“But, Dad. Don’t you want to put on some music and see what these puppies can do?” I asked.
In the backseat, my brother nodded vigorously.
“Don’t touch the radio,” repeated Dad, even more severely than before.
And so we continued our ride in silence, except for the call-in sports show where the host and his guests argued for and against the merits of Astroturf.
As my butt reverberated with the sounds of middle-aged men fighting about stadium lawn care, I vowed that I would never waste a cherry sound system like that. I promised myself that my children would always have rock in their lives (and in my car) and I would be the one who taught it to them. That’s right, I sneered into the Lexus’ electrochromic side-view mirrors, I would teach my kids to love loud music.
No father ever expects his six-year-old daughter to fall in love with Hannah Montana. It just sort of happens.
My plan to inculcate Samantha with power chords was in its earliest stages. I had begun to supplement the giant stack of Elmo CDs in my car with low doses of classic rock. Nothing crazy. A little Boston here, a little Journey there. Melodic, listener-friendly tunes. I’d save the heavy stuff for later.
And then she came along.
The demon seed of Billy Ray Cyrus and pre-fab Disney product Miley Cyrus (a.k.a. Hannah Montana) appeared on our TV and took over our household. Posters went up Samantha’s room, concert tickets were purchased and, worst of all, the atonal warbling of a toothy teenager singing 18 songs in a row about leading a double life filled my car. Even when I managed to remove the Hannah disc from my CD player I wasn’t allowed to put on “Daddy” music. We had to listen to Radio Disney in case they had an exclusive interview with Miley or her mulleted pimp/dad. My achy-breaky heart was crushed.
My wife, seeing my pain, assured me that it was just a phase. Turns out she was right and wrong at the same time. The infatuation with Hannah did eventually end. But, it was immediately replaced by an obsession with Taylor Swift. Out of one tuneless country girl and into another. Except this one sang song after song about every high school sophomore who left her hanging after a game of “Spin the Bottle.” It was angst without the experience. And it sucked.
I wasn’t about to go down without a fight this time, though. After the 2010 Grammy Awards, I dialed up YouTube and summoned my daughter to my office to show her Taylor’s uneven duet with Stevie Nicks. (I’m being charitable here. Truth be told, Stevie could’ve smoked a pack of Marlboros, snorted an 8-ball of coke and still out-sung Taylor that night. In their version of “Rhiannon,” Ms. Swift sounds more like a Welsh witch than the title character of the song. Check it out for yourself starting at 2:12 of this video if you don’t believe me.
Samantha watched the performance without comment.
“Well?” I prodded.
“Wasn’t so bad,” she declared, turning and walking out of the room.
I had to try a different tactic.
“Honey,” I said, walking into Samantha’s room one night with an armful of CDs, “if you like women with great voices, try some of these.”
Across her pink bedspread, I fanned out discs featuring Ann Wilson, Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett, Janis Joplin and Joan Osbourne. She picked them up, looked at some of the cover artwork and then handed them back to me.
“This is your music, Daddy. I like Taylor’s style better.”
“You mean Country Music?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Okay, I can find you some Loretta Lynn and Bonnie Raitt and Dolly Parton. You know that song ‘Jolene’ I play sometimes…”
“Daddy,” she said, cutting me off. “I like Taylor Swift.”
After Taylor Swift came Ke$ha and Katy Perry and Lady Gaga and a host of others who actually made me long for the days of Hannah Montana. Wounded, I turned to my middle child, Alex. The boy looked just like me, so maybe there was a chance he shared my sonic sensibilities. Only with Alex I jumped in feet first.
One of our first purchases for the Wii was Rock Band. All the songs on that first version were right up my alley. I jammed away on my fake guitar to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, The Clas,h and Kiss hoping that it would draw Alex, Pied Piper-like, to my side. One day I was having a go at “Paranoid” when he walked into the room.
“Who’s this?” Alex asked.
“Black Sabbath,” I replied, flashing him the heavy metal devil horns.
“Who’s the singer?”
“I like it.”
“You do?” I gaped.
“Yeah. Can I try singing it?”
“You certainly can,” I said, wiping away a tear. And we proceeded to tear up the family room with me playing a proud Tony Iommi to Alex’s Prince of Darkness.
For the next two weeks, all Alex wanted to do was sing “Paranoid.” He sang it at the breakfast table. He sang it in the car. He sang it in the shower. He even managed to imbue some of Ozzy’s cockney accent into the lyrics:
Finished wit’ my womeen
‘cause she couldn’t help me wit’ my moind
People t’ink oim insane
Because I am frowning all the toime.
One day, he walked into my office as I was working.
“Hey, Dad,” he chirped. “Does Black Sabbath have any other songs besides ‘Paranoid’?”
“Um, sure. Lots,” I responded.
“Can you put them on my iPod?”
I wrapped both my arms around him and hugged him to me for a full minute.
“You bet I can.”
Like me, Alex was hooked.
After Alex was well on his way to head-banging bliss, his little brother joined us. Eric always does what Alex does with shadow-like devotion, so I wasn’t surprised. Still, I was delighted when one evening we were watching a ballgame and a commercial featuring “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones appeared between innings.
“What’s this song, Daddy?” he inquired while cuddling the little stuffed blue dog he carries everywhere.
“It’s called ‘Miss You’,” I answered and then proceeded to sing the next few stanzas from where the ad had left off.
“More,” he smiled.
So I played him the whole song on my computer. Then, he asked for more songs. We ran through “Heartbreaker,” “All Down The Line,” “Crazy Mama,” and “Wild Horses” as my heart swelled in my chest.
Two down, but there was still the matter of Samantha.
Entering the fifth grade, Samantha had the good fortune of ending up in Dan Warren’s class. Mr. Warren was known for his off-beat teaching style and innovative ways of introducing big concepts to his students. One of his inventions is affectionately known as “Classic Album Friday.” Every Friday afternoon, Mr. Warren plays a song from a classic rock album and discusses its significance in music history with the kids. Then, he gives them a drawing assignment that relates to their perceptions of the song, and they listen to the rest of the album while they work.
Of course, I didn’t find out about this until after the midway point of the school year when Samantha brought home one of her drawings on a Friday afternoon.
“What’s this?” I asked, holding a picture of an alien ascending to earth from the night sky.
“That’s Starman,” she replied, briefly looking away from iCarly.
“You mean, like David Bowie’s ‘Starman?’ I said breathlessly.
“Yeah. You know David Bowie?”
“Yes I do. But, how do you know him?”
Then she explained the whole thing to me. And the wheels started turning.
A couple of weeks later, I wrote an e-mail to Mr. Warren. I told him that I really liked what he was doing with “Classic Album Friday” and asked if he would ever consider a guest DJ. He shot me back a note the next day saying that he’d never had a parent present an album, but that he was open to the idea as long as it was okay with Samantha.
At first, she was dead set against it.
“NO WAY, Daddy!” she yelled when I told her what I had discussed with Mr. Warren.
But, after much wheedling on my part and out-and-out blackmail on her part (trips to the mall, extended bedtimes, etc.) she acquiesced.
I was going to rock Mr. Warren’s fifth grade class.
On the day of my guest appearance, I was more nervous then I ever was for any client presentation or new business pitch. I had chosen “Ramble On” from Led Zeppelin II as my Classic Album Friday lesson. My idea was to talk about the song in terms of its allusions and references to Lord of the Rings. I had several videos queued up on YouTube, a print out of Tolkien’s poetry from LOTR, movie stills from the Peter Jackson trilogy and other songs from bands that Zep had influenced. I wore jeans and a black t-shirt with word METAL printed on it and the aforementioned devil horns hand sign.
I was fully geeked-out. All I needed was a Dungeons & Dragons game and a couple of black lights to complete the stereotype.
“You need to calm down,” my wife told me as I paced around our kitchen waiting for my appointed hour to arrive.
“I can’t,” I replied. “This is too important.”
“Don’t embarrass her!” she warned.
“Of course not,” I scoffed.
But, this was my best chance to let Samantha hear my music in a forum that I controlled. Damn the torpedoes! (A great Tom Petty album, by the way.) I was all-in.
After Mr. Warren introduced me and I had played Willie Dixon’s “Bring It On Home” on YouTube for them, I addressed the class.
“First of all, you can call me CJ or Mr. Kaplan, or if you like, Mr. Awesome!”
From her seat in the back of the class, my daughter winced audibly.
Moving on quickly, I told them I was going to read a poem called “Namarie.” But, before I did I asked if they had any questions. When nobody raised their hand, I ran to an empty desk in the front row and pretended to be one of the class.
“Mr. Awesome! Mr. Awesome!” I yelled, waving my arm like Arnold Horshack.
Then, I ran back to the front of the room and answered myself.
“Yes, the handsome boy in the front row. You have a question?”
That drew some laughs from the class and a groan from Samantha.
Running back to the empty desk, I answered.
“What does ‘Namarie’ mean and what language is that?”
Completing my second lap back to the front of the room, I answered again.
“It means farewell and it’s written in Elvish.”
The class murmured and buzzed. They waited for what was coming next. I had them.
From there I went on talk about Frodo’s journey and his reluctance to take it in relation to Robert Plant’s lyrics of longing and heartache. I talked about how the first line of the poem (Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind,) was similar to the first line of the song (Leaves are falling all around). I talked about references to LOTR in other Zeppelin songs like “Misty Mountain Hop” and the “Battle of Evermore.” I talked about the album Led Zeppelin II and how it had been recorded in different studios all over the world during their first tour. I talked about the album being the foundation for all the heavy metal in the 1980s. (That’s when my shirt finally made sense to the kids.) I even compared the characters in LOTR to the characters in Harry Potter.
When I finished, I asked the class to draw a picture about a journey that they were reluctant to take and how it had worked out in the end. Then, I sat down in the empty desk and took a deep breath. I had left it all out on the field.
One of Samantha’s classmates approached me as I looked for more songs to play the kids. He looked at me sheepishly.
“Have you ever seen John Bonham’s drum solo on “Moby Dick?”
“Yes, I have.”
“It’s pretty awesome, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. Should we watch it now?”
So, we watched the old clip on YouTube together while the class continued to draw. I had reached one fifth grader, but had I reached the one that really mattered?
Later on at home I finally cornered Samantha.
“So, what did you think?” I asked hopefully.
“You were a really good talker, Daddy.”
“Thanks. But, what did you think of the music?”
“I’d say it was about my third favorite song I heard this year.”
“What were the top two?”
“The Beatles and Michael Jackson.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. That was good company. I could live with that. She may never love Black Sabbath or the Stones, but Led Zeppelin was in the same stratosphere as The Fab 4 and MJ. I smiled, thanked her for letting me talk to her class and, in the words of Paul, let it be.
When Samantha came home from school a few Fridays after my guest appearance, I asked her who the Classic Album artist of the day was.
“Billy Joel,” she replied with a sneer. “His voice was awful.”
“Really,” I said. “Billy Joel may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his voice is hardly awful. Are you sure it was Billy Joel?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“What was the name of the album?” I asked, probing further.
“Blood on the Tracks,” she replied.
“Ah-ha!” I exclaimed. “Are you sure the artist wasn’t Bob Dylan?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess it was,” she said. “Billy Joel…Bob Dylan…whatever. His voice was still awful.”
I guess I still have some work to do.
Photo of CJ Kaplan by Lisa Kaplan
Main Photo by Patricia Oliveira/Flickr