My Life in Dad Rock: May I See Some ID Please?
I keep waiting for it to happen. You know—for the other shoe to drop, as they say, or some overwhelming wave to crash over me and shame me into acting my age. There's a nagging voice inside that says I'm entirely too old for this music. You know what I'm talking about: power pop, leftover punk, thrash, sonic craters from 20-something poseurs, jangly guitars, real soul. I figured by 43 I'd be discovering what my dad found so…age-appropriate about Montovani and Muzak.
But that revelation never came. So here I am, married two decades with one kid almost in high school and two more in elementary school, mailing off mixtapes every month to names and addresses in far-away places. I'll bet that about 99 percent of the time, I'm old enough to be the father of the recipient of my mix CD. But they don't know that, so they can't care. And I have stopped caring, too. In fact, I take a lot of not-so-secret glee in it.
Not so long ago, popular music existed more often as cultural accoutrement than what it truly is: refreshment, enlightenment, edification, entertainment, expression, relief, joy. Kids listened to whatever noise offended their parents, and parents listened to whatever sounded soothing. But it's not that way anymore. I like to think I'm one of the people who made it a little more acceptable (or at least a little less ridiculous) for someone way past 30 to listen to new or even objectionable music unironically and with no intention of 'just trying to relate, dude' at full volume in traffic. I knew my musical allegiances were a little ahead of the demographic when, on a drive to the beach, my 10-year-old asked me to switch off a rock song because of:
2) The Language
My dubious parenting skills aside, it occurred to me in that moment that there are more and more adults who offend their own children with their musical choices. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?
I also remembered this: the year before the trip with the Freaky Friday moment, this same boy had learned, while riding around with me, all the words to the first two Fountains of Wayne albums. Long before every prepubescent snot in America could sing "Stacy’s mom has got it goin' on," my little boy knew "Red Dragon Tattoo" and "Sink to the Bottom". This was, I decided, a preamble to my Rock 'n' Roll Dad Constitution. My kids wouldn't be subjected to Raffi if I didn't have to listen to whoever replaced Montovani (i.e., Celine Dion).
Sure, I'm still the oldest guy at the Ben Folds concert and the oldest guy at the Nashville Pussy extravaganza (except for the bikers). I'm one of the rare few who don't get a serious age inspection at the bar; nevermind that I'm only buying Diet Cokes. And I may be the only 40-something I know worrying more about my long-term hearing loss after last week's Drive-By Truckers show than about how radio will corrupt my kids' minds. But I'm finding more and more signs that I'm not alone. How many lawns would a teenager have to mow to afford a 0 iPod? And don't even suggest that my kids should get that kind of technological marvel for Christmas before their dad has had at least a couple of years to test it out first. You think all those copies of Guitar Hero II were snatched up by middle-schoolers? Yeah, because little Jimmy next door really wants to rock out on his PlayStation with Deep Purple. Right.
As the story goes, Mick Jagger once said that he'd rather be dead than still trying to rock out as an old man. So, after his thirtieth birthday, when someone asked what he was still doing breathing, Mick just declined to answer and suggested the question be asked again in 10 years. And that's the upshot: rock, in all its forms and styles, keeps the soul young. Heck, the search for new sounds is part of what keeps me going. I love discovering new music, even when my kids tell me that the latest stuff they hear roaring out of my office speakers is total garbage. Just like my father likening The Beatles and their ilk to rubbish, my children's indignation at my choice of music is a pretty good sign that I'm on to something.
So, a mixtape is a little, anonymous marker of faith for me. It connects me with the larger world of music enthusiasts and lets me unleash what I like on them, and hear back what they like, too. The mixtape grows my world in the best way possible: by expanding my musical horizons not through marketing or caprice but through a shared experience in a distant, small way with someone who, except for their age (and sometimes, I know, in spite of it) has the same obsession I do. And, from month to month, I keep listening, discovering, enjoying, and—forgive the cliché—keep rockin’.
-- Mike Long, 06/28/2007