Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"If anyone asks who your favorite Beatle is, the right answer is 'John Lennon.'"

My youngest brother Tyler has finally gotten to the age when he's becoming interested in music. I've been waiting years for the opportunity to micromanage his burgeoning taste-precisely the reason I also look forward to having children. He's 13 now, going into 8th grade; right around the same age I was when I found Nirvana and picked up my first CD, Nevermind. My other brother Dane and I have plotted for this occasionally, agreeing that it's necessary to get him started off on the right foot. A few weeks ago, I finally sat down and whipped together a mix for him, and came up with this tracklist:

"Hate to Say I Told You So" by the Hives
"Fell in Love With a Girl" by the White Stripes
"Miles Away" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"Doin' the Cockroach" by Modest Mouse
"One-Armed Scissor" by At the Drive-In
"Wolf Like Me" by TV on the Radio
"Song 2" by Blur
"Everlong" by the Foo Fighters
"Buddy Holly" by Weezer
"Devil's Haircut" by Beck
"Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand
"Come As You Are" by Nirvana
"Dream All Day" by the Posies
"Come Together" by the Beatles
"Karma Police" by Radiohead

It sticks pretty close to alternative/indie rock, but that's how I got started, and I figured it'd be the best way to break in for a kid in a small Pennsylvania town where middle schoolers wear their parents' old AC/DC shirts. Maybe some of the choices were too ambitious, but I didn't want to dumb it down or give him mediocre starter bands if he was ready for advanced placement. I even felt bad about limiting it to rock, and had considered a more diverse mix of genres, but settled on themes for each mix CD so I don't stunt his interest in, say, hip-hop by representing it with just one song that he could hate.

His reaction has come slowly. It took at least a week to get him to listen to the whole mix. I have to restrain myself from screaming: "It's only fourteen songs! You spend eight hours a day in front of the computer with headphones on! How long can it possibly take to get around to this?"

Part of my interest in his musical development is the desire to give him opportunities that I never had growing up. As the firstborn, I had no one looking over my shoulder saying "Psst, Follow and Leader and Significant Other seem cool on your 14th birthday, but down the road you'll be too embarrassed to even trade them in."

I feel the obligation to shield him from inferior influences. Alarms go off in my head whenever I see a threat of him getting into lousy music. He seems to run around with a lot of emo girls, He's talking about growing his bangs out. I caught him with a folder of songs by artists including AFI, Hawthorne Heights and Fall Out Boy. He has various musical ringtones for friends, and claims each selection is that person's favorite song. The other day, I heard Panic! at the Disco piping from his Motorolla. Speaking as his eldest brother and protector, that friendship ends now.

Maybe I should be recommending him ringtones instead of records. Part of the probably could be his generation. Is that all songs are to him? Diversions while browsing MySpace? He won a 1-gig MP3 player in a school raffle months ago, but didn't load anything on it until very recently. In my early teens, I was used to spending all my time on online with WinAmp going, but I was already in the habit of purchasing music.

It's possible, in fact, that Tyler may never purchase a CD. Does that mean he'll never understand listening to an album as a whole? As an example, he said Nirvana and Weezer were his favorites on the mix, so I sent him Nevermind and the Blue Album. But he's got MP3s, so he's never listened to an album while thumbing through liner notes and reading lyrics. Even if Nevermind becomes his first favorite album, will he get that same wave of nostalgia that millions do when they see that disc with the wavy blue water line pattern? Will seeing Spencer Elden's junk immediately put the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" riff into his head?

I try to give him guidance, but there's just so much ground to cover. "I know this is hard to understand, but between the blue Weezer and the red Weezer they went from the best band ever to the worst." "I'm not saying bigotry is good, I'm just saying it's okay to be a little emophobic." "If anyone asks who your favorite Beatle is, the right answer is 'John Lennon.'"

At least he's interested. He says he likes Nevermind more than the Blue Album, though he doesn't yet have the musical vocabulary to express why ("The music appeals to me more." No shit, kid!) He even stunned me by coming back from back-to-school clothes shopping with a Nirvana t-shirt in tow, which got me thinking about generational differences again. As I named the members for him - that's Kurt, he's dead; that's Dave, he's in the Foo Fighters now; that's Krist, he hasn't done anything worthwhile since this photo was taken - I realized he didn't seem to know anything about the band's history. And where would he? He's into music fairly passively, and I haven't noticed him reading about music online. Again, by contrast, allmusic was practically my homepage. My playlist. He did make a MySpace playlist out of the mix, though, which the best I can gauge means I'm on the right track. I'll just have to remind myself that some musical growing pains are inevitable, and fight the urge to disown him over that "I Write Sins, Not Tragedies" ringtone.

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