“Dad? Can we listen to Fun?”
One of my most significant life developments over the past couple of years is that my kids have progressed from mostly consuming Disney Channel music (read: High School Musical soundtracks) to enjoying the same kind of music I like. Even better, they skipped right past the transitional Taylor Swift/Selena Gomez/Justin Bieber pop-zone in order to arrive at this glorious place of shared fandom. For instance:
• Owen and I drive to school most mornings singing Matisyahu (“One Day” is a favorite) or The Swell Season’s “Falling Slowly” at the top of our lungs.
• Ellie finally gave into our family-wide insistence that she listen to Mumford & Sons, admitted that “I Will Wait” was a pretty great song, and has now embraced folk rock.
• Four heads immediately start bobbing during our family card games when The Script shows up on Pandora, when we pull up The Lone Bellow on Spotify, or when Imagine Dragons rotates up on a shuffled playlist.
I am delighted at our arrival at this strange destination. Maybe I’m too culturally conditioned by the you-kids-turn-that-crap-down cliché of film and television, but this multi-generational musical overlap isn’t always the case, is it?
This got me thinking last week about the musical tastes of my own parents—namely that I’m not certain what theirs were. I do know they showed zero interest in the music I loved during my teen years (U2, REM, rap).
My inability to pinpoint their musical passions is strange, because our family has always been a musical one. My dad plays the violin. One of his sisters played the cello in our local symphony. Another sister teaches flute. Meanwhile, my mom plays piano and her sister plays the viola.
We have actually had family gatherings during which we all stood around a piano and sang together. (No, we did not all wear clothing our governess fashioned from drapes.)
I play a smattering of instruments, too. Musical ability is a big part of my family’s strong musical heritage. But, still, I keep running into a gap in that legacy: Despite their love for playing and singing music—and despite nearly four decades in each others’ proximity—I have no idea what kind of music they listen to.
Do they have a favorite band or album? My dad has been a casual fan of Mannheim Steamroller for at least a couple of decades, but I haven’t heard him listen to much but talk radio since I was in high school. While he owned the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, he never spoke of it with the typical Baby Boomer reverence.
My primary musical memory with my Dad involved rolling down the windows and removing the T-tops from his 1984 Nissan 300 ZX and speeding down the highway while blasting the Rocky soundtrack theme song. “Gonna fly now! / Flying high now!” (Yes, he was a cool dad, but I’m not convinced he’s got a robust “classic American sports anthems” playlist in his iTunes.)
And my mom? She has taught deaf preschoolers for thirty-plus years, and spends her days singing songs for three-year-olds. Many of these songs she made up herself. I feel like a horrible son, but other than simple songs about flags, ladybugs, and busses, her musical tastes are a total mystery to me.
I asked my brother and sister for help. Micha recalled that Mom, who spent her late teen years in Southern California, had once been a Beach Boys fan. Brooks remembered long car rides filled with the music of Dallas Holm and Sandi Patty (yes, looooooong rides) and recalled that our parents once saw Elvis in concert at Texas Tech in the early 1970s.
(This was news to me, so I asked my parents for a review of the Elvis show. Mom: “We sat far away and Elvis was very small.” Dad: “Binoculars only proved he had a white jumpsuit on and threw scarves to the audience.”)
My parents played music, but the evidence suggests they weren’t really into music.
So how is it that the Venn diagrams of my kids’ favorite music and my own favorite music contain so much overlap? I think the only reason is because my wife and I have tried to pass along a passion for listening to music. I regularly bring up music in my podcast. We’re always trying to introduce new songs and artists to the kids. We have music playing constantly.
Along with exercise, reading, writing, art, and the virtues of lying in a hammock on a spring day, a love for popular music is one of those cultural batons we want to hand off to the next generation of Boyetts. It’s a priority.
It wasn’t necessarily my parents’ priority, and that’s just fine. Instead of music, Dad taught us all to flyfish. He took us camping often, where I learned to build a fire, read a topographical map, and clean a trout. Mom took us jogging at six in the morning, involved us in her lifetime of work with the disabled, and instilled in us the virtues of books, words, and reading.
Our parents introduced us to their passions, and that kind of cultural heredity changes from one family to another. My foodie brother-in-law feeds expensive cheeses to my preschool-aged nephews. My screenwriting and podcasting friend Rob uses Toy Story to teach his girls about character arcs and story structure.
In a wonderfully ad-libbed answer to an audience question at the Calgary Comic Expo, actor/writer/cultural ambassador Wil Wheaton explained in a much-shared YouTube clip about why it’s “awesome” to be a nerd. He declared that the defining characteristic of being a nerd was loving things. It’s not what we love, he said, but how we love: with passion. That passion makes us nerds.
Ours is a world that often seems cynical, detached, and passionless. Ours is a world that needs more nerds. And we need more parents to pass along their nerdery to their kids. I can think of few things more life-giving than saying, “this is something I love and I want you to love it, too.” Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s backpacking. Maybe it’s cheese.
Doesn’t matter the subject. What matters is the passion.
What kind of nerd are you?