We don’t pick out silver patterns together or make a ritual of attending fashion shows or church services. The parent/daughter bonds in my family don’t have to do with jewelry, sports, or religious events. We do tunes.
Yes, that’s right, three generations connect through music. And we’re all amateurs who usually mangle the original lyrics.
When I was young in the ‘50’s, my Dad sang while we did the dishes nightly. He washed; I dried. At the time, I didn’t think about it, just sang along with “Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga choo choo?” and “Feuuuuuuuuudili-yaka-saki want some seafoooooood Maaaaamama.” The words didn’t make much sense, but sense didn’t have much to do with the ritual. We sang until the dishes were back in the cupboards and it was time to finish my homework. This was just something we did together every night without thinking about it. We sang.
In the morning, Dad bellowed “opera” while he shaved. He sang in Italian, and I mimicked the words. For years I sang “his “opera before hearing the Three Tenors sing on PBS. They sang different words. I immediately called Dad to find out if they were singing in a different dialect; he confessed that he made up his words and wondered what the real ones sounded like. I still like his best and continue to sing them, even though I’m probably saying something like “I fell in love with your armchair and the boats fly south.”
It’s no surprise that my husband and I sang unconventional lullabies to the girls when they were babies. “Rocky Raccoon” and “Sweet Baby James” ruled the house. They were well worn and part of our history. David and I met when the first James Taylor album was released. When he went out of his way to deliver a copy of the printed lyrics to my college mailbox, I knew it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship! More than forty years later, we hum those same songs together.
Frank Sinatra was also in our repertoire. His music was usually reserved for long car rides. “Lady is a Tramp”, I’ll Never Smile Again”, “I get a Kick Out of You” are just a few favorites. We knew most of the words, and mumbled the ones we weren’t sure of. Years later these same songs were on the playlist when my husband and two young daughters drove to the Cape every weekend. There was never a debate about which tape went into the deck when the car was packed. It was a ritual. Today we scramble to find a tape player for the girls to hear the “old Sinatra” tape—the one David recorded when Ron Della Chiesa broadcasted on Sinatra’s 70th birthday. They want to download it to their iPods.
As the girls became teenagers, I wondered if we’d continue to share tunes. For a while, when Christine Aguliera and In Synch were in vogue, I doubted it. Then our older daughter wanted to attend her first Pearl Jam concert. My going was not my choice; I lost a coin toss with David and as overprotective parents, we were not sending our first born to a huge venue with unknown drivers to meet her demise. Tsk Tsk…I had not heard Pearl Jam’s music, but had lots of preconceptions about what this experience would be like. Ignorance is bliss. I was all wrong.
My initiation to the world of Pearl Jam and live rock concerts was baptism by fire. At the then called “Tweeter Center”, uniformed staffers were everywhere. They checked out tickets six times before we were seated: P1 and P2 up front, to the right—right next to the speakers. The staffer next to my seat, a 40 something man, sported neon green earplugs. The monster sized speakers were literally inches away from us. So was the stage. My earrings shook from the vibration, so did everything else.
Pearl Jam played loudly. I truly couldn’t understand the words, but it didn’t matter. I liked the beat, the rhythm, the sound, and I remained interested–that was far more than what happened at PTA meetings. The sound of Eddie Vedder resonated throughout the night. It pulled me in. Bodies bounced and swayed and twitched. Arms were overhead. We were all captivated, even this 50 plus year old chubby outsider was mouthing the words she learned during the last 30 seconds.
A young man seated in front of my daughter asked if she’d like to sit on his shoulders. She politely declined—good choice or bad? What would she have done if I weren’t there? What would I have done if he asked me?
Several years have passed since that concert. We have gone to several others together. I am truly addicted to Vedder and his band. It’s a gift my daughter Kate has given to me. My then 14 year old, Molly, introduced me to the captivating wordsmithing and staccato rhythm of Regina Spektor’s song, “Consequence of Sounds”. Later she brought me to Elliott Smith’s music—something I never would have stumbled upon.
There is a primal lyrical soup that binds our three generations. Nonsense songs from the thirties link to Sinatra’s love songs to the Beatles’ and James Taylor’s ballads to Pearl Jam’s head banging, thought provoking music to Spektor’s and Smith’s magical merger of words and rhythm. Both girls continue to update my playlist with new goodies. It’s never ending and I love it.
When I visited my eighty-some year old dad who was silenced due to Alzheimer’s, we sang. His conversational word bank had been diminished to ten lonely words. However, when we sang, many more words were revived, and he could sing the words he said more than fifty years ago, quite happily and fluently. The ritual of music made it happen.