My first problem came when I bought an “edited” Eminem CD. One evening I heard Roy, then 8, quoting, “I wish I had a big enough a– for the whole world to kiss.” I froze, and then knelt down. “Roy,” I said. “Never say that in front of your friends. Or, er, Daddy.” But my sons and I all liked rap and hip-hop, and I thought somehow we could still manage to listen. I would scope all CDs, studiously memorizing which tracks to skip, and we’d continue to get edited ones.The boys were thrilled to hear rap. Not all of their friends were allowed to. They (readily) agreed not to ask to play certain CDs with anyone else in the car, and we talked a lot about the music’s words and messages. On one CD, Eminem tells kids, very clearly, “Don’t do drugs.” His famous “Lose Yourself” is a paean to tenacity, to persevering against the odds. From Jay Z, the boys learned about injustice, that the police disproportionately stop black men in cars.We had conversations about the “N” word, and its historic hatefulness. Three or four years ago, Teddy, then about 9, came home from a schoolyard mentioning that he had both heard and in fact then used the word. Seeing the look on my face, he grew nervous, then teary, finally saying, “I thought it meant stupid in Spanish.” He’d never heard it before. Ultimately, talk seems better than ignorance.My next problem arose months later, because I began to forget which tracks not to play.Next solution? I found the Grits. Gospel rap. They sound great, and have incredibly moral lyrics. Perfect! But the Grits were no hit. I tried the Khumbria Kings, whom I loved, in Spanish; played M.C. Solaar, in French. The boys could listen to “La Belle et Le Bad Boy,” even if it was about stealing motorbikes, all they wanted. All flopped.Then, as if I didn’t have enough going on, I was hosed by forces completely out of my control. I bought a CD by the jazzy hip-hop band The Roots over one by the duo Gang Starr because of the latter’s parental-warning label. Then, by sheer luck, just after the kids had gotten out of the car, from the Roots emerged the single gnarliest song I have ever heard, about … never mind.What I didn’t know, though, was how good I actually had it then. At that point, at least, music was a shared interest. Then one day the boys popped in a CD, and monotonous screaming – about war, as I recall – filled my ears. “Oh, my god, what is this?””Slayer,” they said smugly. I lowered the volume.They protested, aghast.”I can’t think straight,” I said.”You never let us listen to metal! When are we supposed to listen to it?”Trying to negotiate an intersection, I finally, reflexively slammed the off button, bellowing, “This is crap! I can’t listen to it!” – and shocking us all into silence.I never thought this would happen. I thought I was open to almost any kind of music. But metal – Slayer, Megadeth, In Flames and, worst of all, Lamb of God – I just cannot stand. It’s too much. Maybe it is simply fated that generations clash over music.”You just listen to that guy about dinging the doorbell,” Roy said bitterly.”Hey, that’s the White Stripes, they’re good!” I said indignantly, adding almost pleadingly, “Hey, I like AC/DC.” AC/DC is hard rock rather than metal. “Their songs have melodies. I can tell them apart. I like Guns ‘N’ Roses, too.””You know, that’s true, Teddy,” Roy told his brother reflectively. “Some parents won’t play AC/DC.” “Hey,” I bragged, emboldened to remind them of my largesse, “not every parent likes Tupac.””You always say that,” said Roy disgustedly. “All we ever listen to,” he complained, “is rap.” Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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