I’ve got a lot of kid stories these days. It turns out once you have a kid, every story becomes a kid story, because you no longer interact with the world without a diaper bag slung over your shoulder.
Maybe people forgot to tell me an infant would dictate my every move 24 hours a day. More likely, I forgot to listen. Either way, I now live my life in the moments between the B’s: bottles, baths, bowel movements, bed.
My best friend from high school texted me the other day to let me know he rented out a movie theater for his birthday. “It isn’t even expensive,” he said. “During COVID, movie theaters are just dying for business.”
The plan was for everyone to arrive around 7:15 and mingle, and then we’d take our seats at 8 to watch the No. 1 film from the year he was born: Back To The Future.
I told him it sounded like a blast, but there was no way we’d be able to make it.
“I’m hoping when he gets a little older I can have my life back,” I said.
“Seventeen-and-a-half years to go, buddy,” he said. A hurtful response, but not altogether untrue.
Now, instead of a brick of Keystone Light sitting at my feet, there’s a infant with a binkie, looking up at me with wide eyes each time I tell Carson Wentz to make a goddamn throw or get off my fucking field.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little excited to have someone to watch football with. My wife has tried, but she can’t stand all the yelling, and I can’t stand all of her snarky commentary.
“You know they can’t hear you, right?” she’ll say when I bark for an audible before the snap.
Not only do I expect Robert to be a four-for-four Philly sports fan, but so help me god, he’s going to have the best music taste of any kid in the graduating class of 2037.
My buddy loaned me a pair of those special in utero headphones that sit on the mom’s belly. The first song I played him was The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun;” also the first song I played him when he was born, in case he missed it.
I see it as my parental duty to brainwash him early. No way in hell he’s going to listen to the 2030 equivalent of Cardi B.
And why shouldn’t I? Reproducing is a pretty fucking narcissistic act in the first place. I might as well make the most of it.
I used to spend hours pouring over their crate of musty LP’s: The Stones, James Taylor, The Allman Brothers. Friday nights belonged to Bonnie Raitt. Saturday mornings we had breakfast with The Beatles. Saturday nights were for Ella Fitzgerald and the jazz station that broadcasted from Temple University. Sundays were reserved for Sinatra.
My parents delighted in showing me the music of their lives, my dad closing his eyes at the dinner table and letting a song take him back to a particular time and place. “It was 1975, and I was living in Elnora, Indiana…” I learned from them how a well-timed song could make your life feel like a movie, the soundtrack of my own biopic.
I’m lucky my parents exposed me to good music at a young age. Because you know what would’ve influenced me if they hadn’t?
I don’t know if this was something common to other public schools during the early 1990s, but the majority of my school’s music curriculum consisted of these film strips, which must have been published somewhere between the Chicago riots and Watergate.
The songs, which had been dubbed onto cassettes from vinyl, were traditional folk ditties revamped with holiday-specific lyrics. For example, the Christmas Songs That Tickle Your Funny Bone filmstrip featured a track called “You Take The High Branch and I’ll Take The Low Branch” to the tune of Celtic spiritual “Loch Lomand.”
Or the version of Offenbach’s “Can Can” on Columbus Songs To Tickle Your Funny Bone that features the lyrics:
Who’s the man, the man who can
Can cross the sea sea sea can can
Who can can yes oh he can can
Christopher Columbus can
Or my personal favorite, “Albuquerque Turkey,” sung to the tune of “Darling Clementine;” the lyrics of which are too absurd to not print in their entirety:
Albuquerque has a turkey
And he’s feathered and he’s fine
And he wobbles and he gobbles
And he’s absolutely mine
He’s the best pet you can get get
Better than a dog or cat
He’s my Albuquerque turkey
And I’m awfully proud of that
Gobble gobble gobble gobble
Gobble gobble all day long
You can gobble til you wobble
Albuquerque turkey song
And my Albuquerque turkey
Is so happy in his bed
‘Cause for our Thanksgiving dinner
We have ham and cheese instead
Once a week, my friends and I would sit cross-legged on the indoor/outdoor carpet of the music room and endure these abominations of sound. It’s incredible to me no parent caught wind of this and intervened. But then again, my elementary school also made us sing several verses of “Battle Hymn of The Republic” each morning after we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, a practice I’m fairly certain they continued well after the Towers fell.
I feel fortunate my parents exposed me to other, non-funny-bone-related songs, because I think if they’d left it to the public education system, I’d have stopped my musical journey at Weird Al Yankovic.
I once professed a dislike for Willie Nelson, so any time we got into my dad’s truck, my brother would put in a cassette of Willie’s greatest hits. My dad and brother would belt the words at the top of their lungs until they had me in tears.
Then, when I was older, my dad would often wake me up by blasting Sousa marches on the house stereo. “Up and at ‘em,” he’d yell over “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” “We’ve got a lot of yard work to get done today.” This was a tactic he later farmed out to the U.S. Government, who successfully utilized it at Guantanamo.
I did eventually branch out and develop my own music taste, starting with Top 40 artists like Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey and winding my way through alternative rock until I discovered punk and ska in high school. And for the most part, my parents let me explore, even though they probably knew no part of Less Than Jake’s catalog could stand up to even the weakest of Beatles songs.
Even though my iTunes has swelled to over 15,000 tracks, I’ll always come back to the classics of my childhood, taking comfort in the songs my parents indoctrinated me with as a kid. It’s a pattern I’m happy to continue with my own son, selfishly molding both his music and sports tastes in my own image. That’ll keep me busy, at least, until he lets me have my Sundays back.