Songs my mother taught me
I woke up today thinking “I know I write a music column, but maybe I should write something today reflecting on my years of being a mother.” Well, my daughter has been away from home since February and my son recently made the decision to join the Marines after he graduates, so maybe reflecting on those things isn’t such a great idea. No one wants to read that. Who needs tears and self pity on Mother’s Day? Besides most mothers, I mean. We’re nothing if not martyrs. So I thought I’d reflect on my relationship with my mother instead. Or, more topically, thank my mother for my obsession with and passion for music.
My earliest memory is of when I was two years old, dancing in the living room to “Go Now” by the Moody Blues. It’s no coincidence that almost every memory I have after that is attached to a song, because there was always a song playing in our house. From my first record player which I used to play cardboard 45s of The Archies – cut from the back of cereal boxes – to the enormous stereo/television/liquor cabinet in the living room, to the multi component system that kept growing to the tiny AM/FM portable radio that blared WCBS-FM from the kitchen counter, music was ever present in our house. My father built speakers into the walls of the kitchen so my mother could listen to music while she cooked and did the dishes (hey, it was the early 60s, she wasn’t quite liberated yet) and later there were speakers built into the living room ceiling, speakers outside and yes, even speakers in the bathroom so we could rock out while taking a shower.
The best thing about the music that forms the soundtrack to my childhood is that it is so diverse. It was from my mother’s eclectic taste that I learned to be open to all kinds of music and not limit myself to one genre. The day might start with us (three kids) eating breakfast to Bobby Darin splish splashing, then dusting the living room to the soundtrack to Hair (where I accidentally learned what sodomy means), reading outside while the Andrew Sisters serenaded us with “Rum and Coca Cola”, then finishing off the evening with Elvis or The Beatles. Later, there would be mom dancing to The Knack or singing along to Dexy’s Midnight Runner right after swinging to Glenn Miller. Then the Pink Floyd, so much Pink Floyd. It wasn’t unusual for the entire block to hear “Dark Side of the Moon” blasting from the windows on a summer day.
I listened to everything she played for us. I listened when she thought I wasn’t listening (hence the sodomy lesson). I memorized the words to every single Broadway show tune. I knew the songs of the 30s, 40s and 50s and sang along even though I was a hippie-wannabe teenager obsessing over the songs of the 60s and 70s. My mother taught me not just how to listen to music but how to fully enjoy it without care about who was watching you enjoy it. I sang along to every cheesy song of the 70s from “Run, Joey, Run” to “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” at the same time I was buying 45s by Kiss, Sweet and Led Zeppelin.
My mother taught me everything I know and love about music. She raised me with a song constantly playing in my head and my heart. Her excitement about music nurtured my passion for it. Even though there were so many times when she wrinkled her nose at what I was listening to (especially the Doors) or told me to turn the music down (that was my sister listening to Motley Crue, not me!), she always understood my need to constantly have music playing, because that need came from her.
I’d like to think I’ve done the same for my children. They both have a great love of music; my son plays the guitar, my daughter spends all of her disposable income on going to shows. We’ve shared a lot, too. I introduced my son to the bands he loves like Van Halen and the Deftones, and my daughter has introduced me to some bands I love, like Taking Back Sunday and Brand New (it is, however, unfortunate that I could not force my love of Queens of the Stone Age upon either of them). I want them to always have a song in their heads and hearts. I wanted them to learn from me what I learned from my mother – life is so much better with a soundtrack.
Thanks to my mom for everything – for the Andrew Sisters, the soundtrack to South Pacific, for doo-wop and classical music, for rock and roll and straight up pop, for the Saturday afternoons spent dancing to Donna Summer and the backyard barbecues where Elvis was king. Mostly, for instilling in me a passion so great for something that I ended up writing about it every day.
Happy Mother’s Day!