I got my 4yo son a drum kit for Christmas, not some little flimsy Toys R Us unit, but a real miniature one by way of our local pawn store. B loves it and has already declared it the best Xmas present he received. I set it up down in our shed and have taken my electric guitar and amp down there, too.
So far, I’ve gone down and turned on the space heater and let it warm up a little before we get bundled up and head down to the shed where B sits at his little stool and gets going by whacking away at the skins. Then I begin to play, usually just an E chord with the “gain” turned up for maximum fuzz, which B seems to approve of but depending on where I go from there it can all come to a halt.
B and I have been jamming for months and months, me on the electric or acoustic guitar, B on an old single drum that one of my brothers was going to throw away but instead bequeathed to us. For weeks and weeks, months and months, I’d play a simple blues chord progression and B would bang away. I also introduced a couple other tunes, like a bastardization of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” or Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and far Away,” or just a few crude melodies I’ve strung together on my own.
At some point, B began to pick up the beat and as he did so he gained confidence in his perceived musical abilities. This is when he began to seize control of our band as I quickly went from band leader and lead singer to merely the guitarist.
Now when I play something he recognizes, he quickly stops drumming and barks at me to stop. “That’s an old song,” he says. “We’re not playing any old songs, only new.” I shake my head. I have limited abilities on the guitar and am stretched to create on the guitar but nevertheless shrug and begin banging on an E chord again but reach for other chords.
He also changed the name of our band. I initially called us Hot Junk which I thought was a good name for a garage–or shed–band but then he overruled me. “Our band is called the Camo (as in camouflage) Color,” he announced one day, and he reminds me of it every time I drift into a familiar riff. We are only supposed to make new music, and when I don’t and he brings the hammer down on me I just swallow his abrupt direction.
It’s kind of funny to me, but still a little abrasive being bossed around to such a degree, especially within a creative context. It always reminds me of the famous scene from the Beatles’ film Let It Be when Paul McCartney tries to tell George Harrison what or not what to play. “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play,” George says, “or I won’t play at all if you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”
I need to memorize this quote and start saying it back to B. I know he will be unfazed by my truculence, but maybe it will make me feel a bit better about being bossed around. Either way, we are Camo Color and we only make new music. There is no changing that.
I have never played my kids so-called children’s music. No “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” around here. Instead, it’s always been selections like Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” or a live version of “Money” by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. Primarily, it was a coping measure for me. Pulling out one of my records while B played helped preserve my sanity.
Yet, at times I’ve made perhaps questionable decisions with the songs I’ve played around now four-year-old B. There is a song by 80s punk giants the Minutemen called “Little Man With a Gun in his Hand” that I put on a CD and played in the car and B immediately took to it, perhaps for the imagery or the pummeling structure of the song. Or I thought it would be funny to play him the Ramones’ “Beat on the Brat.” He loved that one as well (the irony escaping him). Still, it’s interesting to see what sticks with him. I’ve played my son hundreds and hundreds of songs and these two resonated for some reason.
I have to admit to feeling a little pride that he liked such great songs, but on a recent outing with a friend of his and his father, B suddenly decided to start reciting some of the two songs from above and took us threw a couple chorus’s of each and then finished with the refrain of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” I thought it was funny at the moment but also felt a twinge. Was I an inappropriate father for ingraining these tunes in my nascent child’s brain? Am I over thinking the significance of it? Yes and yes. Yet, these misgivings have not stopped me.
In the last month, I came across a box set of the Doors playing a series of four concerts in New York in 1970. It was a revelation to me, never a great fan of the Doors, these live shows are different. Jim Morrison is on fire every song, bellowing and screaming, and the band is tight. I immediately started playing it all over the house and in the car as well.
I wondered what B would grab onto, so far it has been “Roadhouse Blues,” with lines like “Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel,” or “Woke up this morning and I got myself a beer.” It’s also the first song of every show, so maybe that’s why B focused on it, but it’s also very hard charging (it’s always been one of my favorite Doors’ songs off my favorite Doors’ album, Morrison Hotel). An unexpected benefit is that 14-month-old G seems to love it as well (Mama, whose musical taste tends to drift more towards the Adele side of things, even likes it I think) and it came in handy this past weekend as we undertook the five-hour drive to West Virginia to Nana’s house.
On the way there, I withheld playing the CD of the first show until B called for it. We were four hours into the drive and everyone was becoming restless and irritable but when “Roadhouse Blues” came on B started bouncing his head and G flailed his arms and kicked his legs. We all sang along and the rest of the show rode us out til we got there.
On the way back, Morrison et al were even more vital. Three hours into the drive baby G started to scream. He was tired and unreceptive to food or any toys. I was getting tired of his shrieks behind my head so stuck in the CD. The first notes didn’t faze G but then he took note, quit crying and launched into his usual full-body dance. A couple more songs–“Ship of Fools” and “Break on Through (to the Other Side)”–and he had quieted and was drifting off to sleep. B was moving his head to the beat, I was singing along. It’s hard to imagine any children’s lullaby accomplishing the same thing.
I had one of the greatest things happen to me this morning. A couple of months ago my youngest brother gave me a small guitar amp and an old beat-up electric that I occasionally strum while baby G bounces in his jumper. Usually, four-year-old B–if he’s not at school–will sit and play with some of his toys.
In the last couple of weeks, though, he’s started to take an interest in a small classical guitar I have lying around and has adopted it as his “electric guitar.” After Mama left this morning, I threw B in the jumper and plugged in the electric and started to play a rudimentary version of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” (itself a very rudimentary tune).
G did his usual bounce along to my playing but out of nowhere B announced he was grabbing his electric guitar and held the classical to his chest and with his fingers on the frets strummed along. He was sorta jumping and singing the chorus, I was head banging and laughing, G was pogoing up and down with a big smile on his face like he was either our hype man or in the audience.
It was one of those pure moments that make all the other stuff–the crying and fits and the poop and pee–all worthwhile. Thanks AC/DC.