Gus is 821 days old today and he sure likes to dance. When it's just me and him in the house, I run some Spoon, Creedence, Neil Young or Dave Mason through the speakers and he spins and bobs and jerks his little body, though not quite in time with the music. If he doesn't like a song, he says, with pauses between the words, "different music" or "daddy sing," following which I am obliged to turn off the stereo and make up songs with specific objects such as "little red car," "our car" or "Dr. Gabby" (his pediatrician).
On our morning drives to day care he sometimes asks for music, but more than likely, he will ask me to sing the entire 30-minute drive, often about riding in the little red car. And at night, after the teeth are brushed, the books are read and the light has been turned off, Becky and I sing our little boy to sleep. If he doesn't like the tune we've chosen, he is quick to say "Not that song." But he doesn't often turn down the chance to hear his mama sing "Tinny lend me your pony," or me sing "After the Goldrush" or "Desperado." He's also good for a Beatles song or two -- he especially likes "Rain" and "Let it Be."
Grampy Carl visited this past week and he might as well walk in the door playing the mandolin or guitar. A stringed instrument is always close at hand with Carl and Gus loves to sit nearby and watch him play. Apparently, while I was at work one day last week, Carl played for Gus, who danced and scatted along. I wish I could have seen and heard that!
As you might have guessed by now, music has always played a very important role in my life and in Becky's. Whether it's singing or listening or going to shows, throughout my life, music has been my joy, my confidant, my crutch, my release. At times, it has added piquancy to particular bitter moments, enhanced joyous experiences or helped me transcend wearisome situations.
I hope that Gus is able to build a similar connection with music, and I'm doing my best to make sure the music he listens to spans the spectrum of genres (with some exceptions -- I don't think I'll be introducing him to gangsta rap or death metal any time too soon). But, due to my own predilections, we often come back to rock; something with a hearty backbeat, crunchy guitar and a distinctive vocal element.
I know that it will be up to Gus to determine what he gets out of music, but I want it to be for him more than just something in the background. It's OK for music to be irreverent and danceable, but it should also make you think and ask questions about your own assumptions, authority and the cosmos. For me, those musicians included (and, yes, I am showing my age here) the Beatles, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, the Who, Talking Heads, and R.E.M. Though my tastes range further than indicated by the list, these are the artists who had a direct influence on my life, changing its direction in one way or another or rescuing me from despair. For better or worse, and for lack of a better analogy, they were the parents I turned to when my questions left me scrabbling for answers.
But let me be clear here: I want to be the first (OK, maybe the second; I don't mind deferring to Becky) person Gus turns to for help in comprehending the intricacies of life, and not some remote Rock God with a Guitar standing on some shining hill in the distance. If there is one thing I have learned from my lack of connection with my dad, it's absence is unacceptable. Despite how overwhelmed I might feel by the world and my responsibilities to my family, I will not tune out or drop out; that's the path of a coward and I will not let my son suffer the inequities of life without giving him anything I have in my heart and soul that can help him survive and thrive long after I'm gone.
With that said, I know Gus won't always be able to find the answers he needs from his parents, and I don't mind if he turns to someone such as Neil Young or Peter Townshend (he can do worse than take guidance from songs such as "See the Sky About to rain" and "The Sea Refuses No River").
Someday I hope to turn him on to some really radical, thought-provoking stuff, such as John and Yoko's "Some Time in New York City." Recently, after reading about the plight of women in nations on the other side of the world, I got to thinking about a specific song on that spectacular album and how heartbreakingly true it still is, more than 40 years after it caused a stir due to its title and its lyrics. It had been perhaps 35 years since I first listened to "Some Time in New York City" and perhaps 25 years since I last listened to it in its entirety, so after not a little hesitation, I downloaded it, plugged it into my car stereo and blasted it out on my commute to work.
To say I was stunned by my reaction to the music would be an understatement.
It made me want to cry for the loss, rage at the machine and shout for joy to the skies, all at the same time. So much has changed since that album came out and yet, so little has changed. Women are still oppressed and belittled, our prisons are still overflowing and barbaric and political activism is a death sentence in so many places around the world. And then I thought: This is the kind of music I want Gus to be listening to when he's ready. I hope he can dig into it and I hope it spurs him to ask questions that maybe don't have satisfying answers. I want him to know it's OK to be unsettled, because life isn't always about stability, it's about adjusting our footing in the shifting sands of ambiguity. I want him to know the universe is a hard cold place and chance often plays a bigger part in our lives than does design.
But I also want him to know life is about beauty and passion.
It's about Chilean women standing outside a torture prison singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." It's about a solitary figure in Tiananmen Square bringing to a halt a cavalcade of armored tanks. It's about dew on new flowers, carrots eaten out of the ground and the fur of a vigilant dog. It's about little red cars and Christmas lights and snow falling from the sky. It's about Grampy Carl strumming the mandolin and mama singing bedtime songs and daddy making up stories about children with golden hair.
It's all those things and more. So much to discover and so much to explore. So much tragedy and so much wonder. I want him to be alive to the ebb and flow of the world around him, to be awash in all that it offers him, but I want him to be strong enough to not let it drown him. I hope that Becky and I can teach him the skills he needs to strike the right chords for his life, but I know we won't be here forever.
Thankfully, that Rock God with a Guitar will always be standing on the shining hill in the distance.
Bob Audette is the day managing editor at the Brattleboro Reformer and proud father of Gus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Or follow him on Twitter @audette.reformer.