Saturday, August 26, 2000

Dad's music doesn't play here anymore

        It all began because I was losing control. Not authority. I still yell loudest in my house. Nobody delivers a better “because I said so” than yours truly. I can knock out a “when I was your age” like I'm spinning rivets at General Motors. But the sway I held over The Kid Down The Hall was leaking like the Niagara River down the falls. Something had to be done.

        “Listen to this record,” I say.

        “Record, dad?” He snickers. This is what 14-year-olds do when their parents go prehistoric. They snicker.

        I pull the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed from its sleeve. I hold it carefully by the edges. Three decades old, clean as the day it was born. A whole lot cleaner than Keith Richards. I place it on the turntable.

        “What's a turntable, dad?”

        Side One, Song One. “Gimmie Shelter.”

        “Greatest rock 'n' roll song of all time,” I say.

        There was a day, not that long ago, when I was king of his forest. When everything I said was met with the acceptance of a true believer. When I possessed legendary strength and epic command. When I was all-knowing. When I could beat up all the other dads in the neighborhood.

        That was a while ago.

        Now, I'm one of those well-meaning foofs who sounds like a Scout master. I call my son “son” like I'm Ward Cleaver. It used to sound paternal. Now it's just pathetic.

        I believe it all started with the music. The day my son strayed from Mick, Keith and the boys, I lost my totalitarian grip. It may not be so. But it is what I believe.

        Something had to be done. The communists called it “re-education.”

        Thus, “Gimmie Shelter.”

        My son oozed onto the couch in his familiar way: Head propped on the armrest, feet splayed across the back, right arm dangling to the floor. In the last year, he has added three feet and gained four pounds. He hasn't grown, so much as spread.

        He has a bored look smeared across his face. “OK, Dad. Let's hear it.”

        My father force-fed me Benny Goodman and the Dorseys and I hated that. But this is different. This is rock 'n' roll. What my son listens to is, supposedly, rock 'n' roll. We're on the same, three-chord wavelength. Plus, I have better taste than my dad.

        “You'll love this,” I say.


        From Richards' stark opening guitar notes to the churning fadeout, “Gimmie Shelter” is the edgy essence of rock 'n' roll. Mick Jagger sounds menacing, Richards shreds the propriety with a massive solo, Charlie Watts keeps it all from falling off the edge with perfect syncopation.

        Bar-tender. It's just a shot away.

        I turn the volume up to 11.

        “Sit,” I say. “Listen. Feel. That, son, is rock 'n' roll.”

        He shifts slightly in the couch. “How old are these guys, Dad?”

        “How 'bout Keith Richards?” I ask. I'm pleading, I'm pathetic. I'm fighting for my life here. “If rock has a face, it belongs to Keith. It's a face that has seen the miles, worn the miles, taken the miles 15 rounds.”

        I'm pleading the case of a reformed heroin addict to a 14-year-old. Somebody take me away.

        “Can we listen to my music now, Dad?”

        OK. Uncle. I give. “Sure, son. What?”

        Methods of Mayhem.

        “Meatheads of Mayhem?”

        “Yeah, Dad. Whatever.”

        We put Meatheads of Mayhem on the CD player. Alas, no need for the turntable. It sounds like an armadillo under a truck tire. One-chord rock. Who wrote this, Dr. Seuss?

        “This is cool,” he says.

        I leave the room feeling like a used blocking sled. I pray for the future of the world.


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