Growing up, my Walkman was my best friend. At the height of that relationship, circa 1984, I was way into some pretty ridiculous music. Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, Iron Maiden’s Powerslave, Van Halen’s 1984 and Ratt’s breakthrough masterpiece, Out of The Cellar had all come out that year, and all four albums were on heavy rotation. These albums also had questionable cover art: a smoking angel, a scantily clad chick crawling towards a glowing hole in the ground, a dude in full make-up chomping on a flesh-covered bone as big as his head, and of course, Eddie. It’s probably worth mentioning that in 1984, I was eight years old. Back then you couldn’t hide album art. It wasn’t tucked away, thumbnail size, on some screen. It was all right there for me — and my parents — to see.
Public Enemy and NWA came a few years later, but even that didn’t raise any eyebrows. (Really, guys?) Chalk it up to having a father in the entertainment industry and a mother far enough removed from Catholicism, yet still a few years away from being Born Again. Fiscally and politically, my parents were conservative. Socially, it was a different story, and music was the last thing my parents seemed to be worried about in terms of its influence on my impressionable ears.
Not too long ago, my wife and I rented The Social Network. My son saw the box when he came home from school. “It was pretty cool. Kinda confusing, though.” Apparently he had watched the movie at his dad’s house the previous weekend, which was news to us. I think we set a record for awkward sideways glances when we finally sat down to watch it ourselves, almost to the point of distraction. Blow jobs, bong hits, you name it. It ain’t a movie for an 11-year-old.
Language isn’t that big a deal to me, nor is violence. It’s the drug use and the sexually suggestive material. My son knows that cursing doesn’t display a broadened vocabulary. If anything, it shows a lack of it. But sex and drugs are the eternal wild cards, and you never know when life is gonna play ’em for your kids. And trust me when I tell you this: they know far more than you think.
Like me at eight, my son is never far from his headphones. Barring some seismic shift in taste, I’m not concerned with censoring his playlists.
With its teased hair, make-up and leather pants, ’80s rock was almost a caricature of sexuality; something so far removed from real life that it was nearly impossible to replicate as an adult, let alone a kid. Unlike today, hip-hop was thought-provoking, dangerous and equally alien, and all Iron Maiden did was heighten my appreciation for Greek mythology, WWI, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Like me at eight, my son is never far from his headphones. Barring some seismic shift in taste, I’m not concerned with censoring his playlists. Television and movies are a different story, as is social networking. Thou shalt not tweet, and you best be putting your Face in that Book if you want me to re-up your text messaging plan. But the music doesn’t concern me. Is that bad?
I know quite a few parents who dictate what their kids are and aren’t allowed to download or even listen to. More often that not, it’s for religious reasons, but mostly they tell me they don’t want their kids “growing up too fast.” Neither do I, but when your kid is in 6th grade, what Mumford & Sons, Katy Perry, and Bruno Mars can do doesn’t hold a candle to the little girl who’s fully prepared to push boundaries.
If anything, music can help issues. Maybe I’m being naive. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’ve been a music journalist for 13 years. Maybe I’m fearful of being hypocritical. Or maybe I’m right. Maybe in the grand scheme of things, letting your kids find their own music path is the biggest little thing you can let them do.