April 7, 2014

Let there be music.

"And there will always be music."

When I was a teenager, and I knew everything, I liked to tell my parents all the things I'd do differently when I was an adult and it was my house. 90% of them were probably wrong (I'd treat my kids like adults! I'd never make them eat things they didn't like!) but I did live up to one of my promises. The first thing I do when I come home from work is turn on the radio or turn on a CD. I can't even back the car out of the garage without the stereo on.

I grew up in a quiet household. My dad turned on the TV to watch the evening news or Crossfire, but mostly it was quiet. My parents and I read books and magazines. I did homework or wrote stories or worked on puzzles. We talked, when there were things to say. 

The silence was one of the first things my older brother rebelled against. My parents and I could hear the heavy metal music blasting from Chris's car before he even turned into the cul-de-sac. "What will the neighbors think?!" my parents protested, but his mind was made up - and so were those of the neighbors, presumably.

In 1989, Chris gave me his old boombox when he got a new one for his birthday. I was 11. It was amazing. I listened to Y-94, the local pop/rock station, and if there was a really good song playing, I recorded it off the radio. I still remember that my version of Journey's "Faithfully" cut off in the middle, because I had to flip the tape over and continue recording on the other side.

The first tape I owned was my brother's duplicate copy of Guns N Roses' Appetite for Destruction. The first tape I bought was the single to One More Try by Timmy T. The first tape I bought that I'm not at all embarrassed about was R.E.M.'s Out of Time.

I think it annoyed my parents that I listened to music all the time, but they let me have it in the confines of my bedroom. I begged to listen to Y-94 in the car, and once in awhile they acquiesced, but usually my parents preferred talk radio or silence. My first Walkman was a major step toward independence; on family vacations I could sit in the back seat and listen to my tapes and stare out the window. I still recall a trip to Canada in which Extreme's III Sides to Every Story served as my personal audio backdrop to the majestic Rocky Mountains.

"When you are driving a car, you can choose the radio station," my dad would tell me.

He was absolutely right. When I did get my first car - a maroon Pontiac named Beverly, handed down from my mom, I saved my allowance and went straight to Best Buy to get a tape deck installed. I could play tapes! And drive! The world was my oyster.

Music helped me make sense of the world and my own place in it.

When I was an angst-ridden teenager, I listened to Pearl Jam's Ten and Nirvana's In Utero and Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, and I thought the lyrics could have been transcribed straight from my own tragic inner monologue.

When boys broke my heart, the Indigo Girls and Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco told me that it would hurt like hell, but I was strong and I'd find my way.

The first time I met Sam, he was wearing a R.E.M. Monster Tour t-shirt and I knew that we had something in common, not just a band we liked, but a common language for relating to the world.

Now that I'm older, music is a time capsule. Tonight, we listened to all of They Might Be Giants' Flood, which we found packed in a box in our garage. It must have been 10 years since Sam and I had listened to this album, and I'm not sure we ever listened to it together, but we both remembered all the words. It brought us back to the early '90s, to being teenagers in our separate small Midwestern cities, to being awkward and happy and sensitive and foolish and utterly glorious in our youth. I doubt those teenagers imagined that someday we would find one another and listen to this CD around the dinner table with our two little kids (who thought it was pretty fun, and were already TMBG fans from other albums such as Here Comes Science).

Sam comes from a family in which everyone likes the same type of music. Earlier today, we exchanged emails with my father-in-law about getting tickets to The Hold Steady in June. We have Wiant family traditions of going to concerts, buying each other CDs that we want for ourselves, and listening to The Current, our local NPR rock station.

Sam and I honor the time-capsule properties of music and make mix tapes of our favorite songs of the moment about once a season. It helps us archive our life and feed our sentimental side, being able to pop a CD into the stereo and immediately feel exactly like it's the summer of 2010 and Felix has just joined the world.

We've made a few mixes for the kids, and we got Evie her first iPod when she was 4. She likes the bubble-gum pop that she hears about from her school friends, but she also sings along to The Decemberists and My Morning Jacket and Wilco.

When my kids are teenagers, they will have to rebel with silence... because in this house, there's always music.

Evie's first rock concert: John Mark Nelson @ Lake Harriet Bandshell

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