There’s a 21st century parenting phenomena that intrigues me, whereby new parents continue to see the bands they enjoyed while childless, and just haul Junior along with them for the show. The family concert going trend is part of a wider movement for people who refuse to cede a seat in the audience just because they can’t find a sitter, like bars with “Family Tables” and movie theaters advertising Baby Nights. To enjoy these opportunities fully requires the type of wishful thinking perhaps familiar to those who were fans of hardcore punk in the ’70s: “If I just close my eyes and pretend hard enough, maybe I’ll forget that I have to wipe poop off someone’s butt between sets.”
When I explained this trend to my pal Susan, an Irishwoman in her sixties with grown children, she said “Chaysus. One more bit of togetherness we could do without.”
I myself heartily endorse the right of parents to demand a night off, to make the idea of concert going seem mysterious and special and a grown-up prerogative to your young child. It, along with legal drinking and a driver’s license, could become one of those signposts to which you point and say, “You’re not there yet. But if you eat those green beans and study for your spelling test, someday you will be.”
There’s something to be said for the ambient approach to music appreciation, where parents play the music they like at home and the kids absorb it through osmosis, without force. I wish I had a dollar for every interview I’ve read with a musician who said variation of, “Mom and Dad always played a lot of Johnny Cash when I was growing up, so maybe that’s why the bass line runs so slow and steady in my songwriting.” Good music is like good nutrition; you make it available, but in the end it’s up to your child to partake.
In fact, I worry that if you strap the saddle of your musical tastes too tightly to your child, they’re going to have no choice but to buck it off. The potential damage is even worse if your tastes really are discriminating. In the inevitable rebellion of the teenage years, during which a child is forced to define herself as “other” to establish her independence, isn’t a child who has been force fed Tom Petty and the Ramones and prime old school hip hop by Erik B. and Rakim going to run straight into the welcoming white trash arms of Ke$ha?
When our oldest daughter was in 5th grade, Crowded House played a show at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, a place saturated with rock history. Maddy asked to come with me. I said yes, in part because I sometimes overheard her humming tracks from their album “Together Alone” while she was doing homework, and in part so that she might have a good answer when someone asks “What was the first concert you ever saw?”
And let’s face it. I took her, in part, because having a pint-sized companion might earn me a second look from the band. When the panties you might be tempted to throw are no longer lace but purchased in a ten pack at Costco where you are also buying dog food, baby wipes, and a gross of paper towels, you have to get creative.
On an unseasonably hot spring night, we drove across the Bay Bridge from Oakland into the City to go stand on line for the general admission show. Since she was barely 4’ 10” at the time, Maddy was worried about getting crushed by excited fans. Having seen the band play dozens of times, I promised her it was not a concern, as the average age of Crowded House fan is 49 and they almost all, male and female, wear Dansko clogs and contribute to Greenpeace. The inherent gentleness of the CH fan base was driven home as we walked past the fans already waiting in line. Maddy received smiles, hellos, even a high five from other fans.
Here are the other things that happened during Maddy’s first concert:
While waiting for the opening band to start, we chatted with the people around us, standing a few bodies back from the security barriers that separate the crowd from the stage. A married couple who were 5th grade teachers delighted in seeing a student in the crowd, and invited Maddy to come and stand in the front row with them so she could see better.
Shortly after Maddy took her place in the front row, a security guard motioned to me and said, “Do you think she’d like to sit down for the show?” He then fetched a padded folding chair and placed it in the no-man’s-land between the security barriers and the stage. As soon as the lights went down and Crowded House took the stage, Maddy tucked in her bright purple ear plugs, snaked around the barrier, and settled into her comfy perch in the pre-front-row, three feet from the stage.
Partway through the show, as the fug of audience perspiration rose to the burgundy walls, the same security guard reached up onto the stage and took one of the water bottles clustered around the microphone base of Mark Hart, guitarist, and handed it to Maddy. Mark, though in the middle of playing a particularly challenging riff on “Locked Out,” still managed to give Maddy a wink and a smile as she drank down his water.
As the show began to wind down, our security guard friend said, “Don’t leave yet!” and disappeared into the back of the crowd. When he returned, he pressed a rolled- up concert poster into Maddy’s hands. “We’re not supposed to give these out!” he yelled over the music.
When we finally made our departure, reluctantly slinking out between encores (it was 11:30 pm on a school night, and I do have some standards,) an old man with a laminated pass around his neck stopped us. “Here ya go, kid,” he said, and handed my daughter a backstage pass. “For a keepsake!”
That’s the other risk with indoctrinating your kid too closely with your own musical tastes. There’s a risk that one day, all your fantasies will come true – for them.