“Yes, my son? »
“Do you think they’ll be playing Bowie before we get to school today?”
The youngest is a precocious child and his conversation starters are anything but typical of a seventh grader.
I do some quick calculations; it’s about a six to ten minute drive depending on traffic, including a stop to drop off her older sister at high school. It’s time for maybe three songs at most. We listen to 91.3 The Summit. They play a little more David Bowie than many other stations on the dial. They also have an eclectic and extensive playlist. But concretely, what are the chances? I play it safe.
“You know, I’m sure some radio stations in America – maybe a lot of them – are playing Bowie right now. But I would say the odds of you hearing him right now, right here on this station, are really very, very thin.
“Okay, that makes sense.”
Two minutes later, the disc jockey comes in and says, “And here’s one from the Thin White Duke…”
I should have been better informed. And I should have asked him for the lottery numbers. He won’t hear the whole song playing because we’ll be at school in no time. I wonder what his offbeat conversations will be about today as he heads for the entrance.
Just two nights before that, the dinner conversation was about how we’re all made of stardust. In my 49-year-old mind, which wasn’t even alive for Woodstock, but was looking for tunes from that era, I thought “we’re stardust, we’re golden” as his pre-teen mind didn’t was not musically distant, musing on Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars.
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We are both old souls, warmly enjoying music from all eras.
He’s been like this since kindergarten, asking me to insert a BB King or Johnny Cash CD for those short trips. His face lights up every time he hears the familiar “Ring of Fire” intro. His number one request from age 8 to 10 was The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.”
And then there’s this weird sense of song premonition. About two years ago we were running errands and he asked me if I could play Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” for him. I explained that the newer car didn’t have a CD player and the song wasn’t loaded on my phone. At that very moment (on 91.3, of course), “A Boy Named Sue” appeared on the radio.
So yeah, son, about those lottery numbers. …
A treasure trove of tapes
The younger one was eager to help me complete an overdue task, rearranging my workshop in the basement, partly because it meant uncovering older relics of my own musical interest. I kept my tape collection for years for purely sentimental reasons. And when he lifted the large rack of tapes under the typical pile of things that should have been thrown away years ago, he was floored by an entire section dedicated to Billy Joel.
“I must have this!”
It’s my boy!
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“Do we have something I can play on?”
Unfortunately, all of our cassette players have broken down over the years. About two years ago, I used an Amazon gift card to buy a walkman-sized player that was also supposed to convert tape recordings to digital music files. But its playback quality was incredibly uneven, and the converted recordings were rubbish. He tried anyway, and after about two songs, he agreed that it was not a good way to enjoy this treasure. And the age of the tapes themselves – all probably at least 30 years old now – combined with the wear and tear I’ve put on them by listening to them over and over means he won’t be able to enjoy hearing them the way I heard when they were considered the go-to format for music portability.
The land of 10,000 tunes
By my early twenties, CDs had become the norm for music sales, and much to the delight of Columbia House and Best Buy, I began to amass a record collection far larger than my cassette rack. So there, waiting in the studio, was another unfinished project – the digitization of my CD catalog. I cleared it up a few years ago by selling some of these albums at a garage sale. As I began the much smoother conversion process of ripping my CDs to MP3 files, I began to notice sadly what was no longer there even as I looked forward to uniting most of my music collection in a way that would make it more portable. than ever.
I had started this project more than 17 years ago, but it stopped when the children arrived. In some ways, this expectation was beneficial. Since then, advances in computer technology have allowed me to put an obscene amount of songs onto an incredibly small storage device, a 512 gigabyte micro SD card that’s smaller than a penny. I still can’t figure out how everything I’ve ripped so far – over 10,000 songs – fits on a card that’s not even as big as a fingernail (and still has enough room to accommodate seven times that number of tracks!).
While in recent years I’ve started listening to Spotify mostly when I’m not in the car, Spotify certainly has its flaws. For example, he thinks Richard Thompson’s sentimental motorcycle ballad “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” belongs in every random shuffle it generates for me – turning a song I once loved into one I have to ignore for a few years. (The radio overplay of the Dave Matthews Band and Sheryl Crow in the 1990s had the same effect on me for a long time.)
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And ever since Neil Young pulled his catalog from Spotify, I’ve been missing something fierce. It’s good to have it back now, close at hand, whenever I need to hear the sweet sounds of “Harvest Moon”. The youngest is probably going to turn out to be the Neil Young-est of my kids based on his listening preferences so far. Maybe one day he’ll rediscover “Comes a Time”, the song I used to sing to him to help him fall asleep when he was a baby.
I try to let him discover the music to him and his three older siblings without imposing my own favorites on them. But the flip side is figuring out what the appropriate consequences should be when explaining how NOT they like some of my favorites. Is it wrong to disown the eldest daughter for dissident John Hiatt? Sigh. Yeah, I guess that’s a bit extreme. Especially when I take into account how many other of my basic listens she enjoys, how she went to the James Taylor/Jackson Browne gig with me and loved it. And how it was the eldest daughter, not me, who helped endear Billy Joel and David Bowie to The Youngest.
Oddly enough, among the 10,000 tracks I copied onto the smallest high storage device I’ve ever seen, there isn’t a single Bowie track. I used to own a copy of the greatest hits compilation “Changesbowie”, but this was one of those that slipped my mind at the yard sale.
Carefree. The wondrous spatial oddity that is The Youngest has figured out how to summon Bowie to the airwaves whenever I want to hear it.
On top of that, he adds a new postscript to the morning farewell:
“Have a Bowie-dacious day, Dad!”
When he’s not working as the Beacon Journal’s underground editor, you can sometimes find Joe Thomas reflecting on everyday life as the average Joe. Contact him at [email protected]