On Having a “Cool Dad”

by Emma Keyes

Teenage rebellion is a time-honored tradition that kids are supposed to start considering on their thirteenth birthdays and then get over once they move out of their family homes. I mostly missed that integral stage of life because I never had any reason to rebel. My dad was cooler than I was, and I needed all the help I could get. (I love my mother, but I would not have gone to her for anything related to “coolness,” although it seems like bluegrass is becoming a hip genre to listen to, so maybe I’ll need her help sooner than I anticipated). In sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, a pretty large chunk of my identity was based on my musical identity, which I stole straight from my father. If I had rebelled against my dad, I would have lost access to the channels through which I formed my identity at that time.

Full disclosure before I continue: I am writing this while listening to the soundtrack of the musical Hamilton, which is probably not that cool, but that doesn’t mean I don’t listen to “cool” music. When I was thinking about the opening paragraph to this piece, I was listening to the Replacements, who are the epitome of cool college radio era bands. Anyway.

My dad has told me that one of his proudest moments as a parent came from hearing my brother and I in the shower (so you know we were real young at the time) singing “Bastards of Young” by the Replacements together. Since I’ve already mentioned the band twice in this piece, it bears mentioning that the Replacements are the coolest eighties indie band hands down, and yes, I will fight someone about this. One of my favorite musical stories my dad told me in my it-feels-far-away-youth (besides when I made him explain the entire narrative progression of “American Pie” to me probably ten times) is about the music video for “Bastards of Young.” From my (probably bastardizing (ha)) memory: The Replacements had a record deal, as many bands do, and that record deal included some requirement that they make [x] number of music videos or whatever. The band didn’t want to make a music video, but they did want to get paid, so they said, “fuck this,” (metaphorically) and filmed a guy (half off-screen) listening to the song on a speaker, smoking a cigarette. At the end of the song, the guy gets up and kicks the speaker to shit. That’s it. That’s the video. I thought that was the greatest thing when I was twelve years old. My opinion hasn’t changed much in the past six years, either.

I have a memory of having gone into our basement on some morning when I was probably eleven years old with my little green iPod shuffle to try out our dusty stationary bike. Really the only memorable thing about that moment in my life is that I was listening to “Another Saturday Night” by Sam Cooke. Looking back at myself, I’m impressed. Eleven year old me was cooler than eighteen year old me and that’s probably because I’m out of the house and away from my father’s musical influence. Damn you Yale, you’re making me less cool.

The first real concert I ever went to was Robyn Hitchcock playing with Peter Buck at the Black Cat in Washington, DC. I was twelve. We didn’t stay for the encore, because I was little and tired and overwhelmed, even though the only Robyn Hitchcock song I really knew was Balloon Man, which was definitely going to get played during the encore. In the classical Hollywood sense of the phrase: It was the start of a beautiful friendship. That beautiful friendship has taken a couple of different forms over the years. There’s my friendship with music and my friendship with concerts. Most importantly, there’s my friendship with my dad. At concerts we venture into the great unknown as equals and we’re better for it. I would be a very different person from who I am now if not for the musical relationships that my dad has helped make into such an integral part of my life, and that’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s something that feels true in this moment, and that’s enough.

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