Musical cares

Here's a parental axiom: Whatever music you, the parent, despise the most will be your child's absolute favorite.

Music plays a key role in the parent-child relationship. Children need a medium for rebellion, and popular music gives them the perfect way to drive parents crazy. This, of course, is one of the child's main life goals.

(Other life goals, in order, include 1) eating as much snack food as humanly possible, 2) wrecking the house, 3) sitting too close to the TV and 4) sending the parents into bankruptcy.)

To accomplish the music rebellion goal, children must discover which form of music is most abhorrent to parents. This is why parents should never, ever, let on that they consider a particular song to be an abomination. If they do, the children immediately will buy all available CDs by that particular artist and play them at top volume until the parents' ears bleed.

Say, for instance, that you consider "rap music" to be an oxymoron, and nothing annoys you more than the thump of bass and the angry ranting of misguided street youth. If your child discovers you feel this way, he will become a lifelong rap fan. And nothing short of round-the-clock earplugs will save you.

This is not a new phenomenon. Parents have railed against popular music since the advent of radio. Frank Sinatra, when he was young and skinny, sent girls into such swoons that parents wanted him banned as a health risk. Then there was Elvis Presley, whose hips were too lascivious for television and whose sex appeal turned the nation on its head, eventually leading to today's music videos, which are essentially soft porn. Next came the Beatles, who, according to parents, were less about musicianship than they were about hair.

In each of these cases, parental disapproval fanned the flames of the musicians' popularity. If Mom and Dad hate it, then it's gotta be good, right?

Each generation must up the ante. Parents who cut their teeth on rock-n-roll tend to be more accepting of the foibles of youth. Their children must find new ways to irritate, which has resulted in the "progression" of modern music through heavy metal, glam rock, disco and Britney Spears.

Baby Boomers have altered the equation. Because we refuse to grow up, many of us still listen to rock, sometimes on the same radio stations our children enjoy. This forces the children to search farther afield for rebellious music. I'm sure that, somewhere, there's a parent, an Ozzy Osbourne fan, who's slowly being driven nuts because his kids insist on listening to Chopin.

At our house, our two sons -- ages 10 and 13 (when this column first appeared) -- have gotten seriously into pop music in the past year or so. They watch MTV and VH1. They sing along with the car radio, showing that their brains -- like mine -- are storing lyrics where more important data should go. Their bedroom radios whisper all night long.

Some of their favorites make my teeth grind together, but this has been true since they were toddlers and listening to Barney the Dinosaur or Alvin and the Chipmunks. I'm careful not to show my dismay at their musical choices -- children are like horses; they can smell fear. My tastes tend to be eclectic, and I can embrace almost any format with enthusiasm (or at least a straight face) for short periods of time.

This leaves my sons confused. How can they find music that I hate, when I seemingly like (at least some of) everything?

Oh, they've managed. I let it slip once that I cannot abide a guy named "Weird" Al Yankovic, who plays the accordion and does parodies of popular songs. I'm all for parody, but this guy's voice gives me the same chills that most people get from fingernails on a chalkboard.

Letting my sons know this was a grave parental error. My 13-year-old now loves Weird Al. He knows that, if he plays the CD long enough, Dad will be forced to go outside. This fills him with rebellious glee.

So they've got me. But it could be worse. I'll take Weird Al over Alvin and the Chipmunks any day.

(Editor's note: As our sons have gotten older and become musicians themselves, they've developed an interest in older rock. Now, our house reverberates with Led Zep, Pink Floyd, The Doors, etc. I consider this Daddy's Revenge.)

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