Music in the Car with The Boy
by Albert Stern
I. Three Years Old
II. Five Years Old
The summer the family moved to the Berkshires full time, John Prine’s “Lake Marie” was our theme song for some reason, I guess the reason being that radio up here is godawful and after you fruitlessly scan through the stations for a good song, you pop in any CD that might be lying around, and Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings was on the only CD that ever seemed to be in the car.
We’d all sing along to “Lake Marie” — and it was strange for a five-year-old to know all the words to this particular song, I get that — sometimes from beginning to end, sometimes just the chorus (“We were standing, standing by peaceful waters…standing by peaceful waters…woah-ah-oh, ah-oh”) and what became our respective “parts” (e.g., “And living on the two lakes…known as the…Twin Lakes…” “The wind was blowing…especially through her hair…” “Shadows! That’s what it looks like...”).
But always, all of us together, the “Aaaaaaah, baby…we gotta go now…” part. With feeling.
The next summer, “Lake Marie” was replaced by Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” but I don’t think the wife and boy liked that song so much as they liked the way I would sing along with the “Now I’m lying on the cold hard ground…Oh! Oh! Trouble! Trouble! Trouble!” and “When your saddest fear…comes creeping in…that you never loved me or her or anyone or anything…Yeah…” bits. With feeling, it’s true, but not the same kind of feeling.
“Lake Marie,” on the other hand, we all really loved. Standing by peaceful waters. Aaaaaaaaaaah, baby. We gotta go now.
III. Eight Years Old
“Dad, I like this song.”
“It’s really good, isn’t it?”
“It’s really, really good.”
“Sunshine, this kind of stuff was the soundtrack of my youth.”
We had fun screeching along with the singers and continued working in the upper registers for the rest of the ride.
The soundtrack of his youth.
IV. Nine Years Old
The boy and I are in the car on Valentine’s Day, and this song comes on the radio.
We listen for a bit, and I say it isn’t a good Valentine’s Day song. He asks why not. I answer that it isn’t about people who are happy and in love, it’s a sad song about a couple that split up.
We keep listening for about a minute or so, and then the boy says: “Maybe it’s a warning.”
I don’t know why you had your kids, but I had mine in order to have someone around to amuse me and eventually, maybe, mow the lawn.
V. Twelve Years Old
I’m with the boy in the car about to get on our way to his bar mitzvah lesson. Meaning he’s twelve. Meaning he’s at the most annoying age of them all. I’m leafing through my CD album, and pick one, telling him we’re going to rock and roll, that the record is one of the great ones.
The first song plays. “It’s not that good,” he says. Before the second, I tell him it rocks even harder than the first. He listens, and says he likes Eddie Hazel better. He had really impressed me a few days previous by saying how much he liked Eddie Hazel - how did he find out about Funkadelic’s guitar player anyway? He wouldn’t say, which means he probably clicked on something in the Napster listening queue I’d listened to. Still, kind of cool of him.
I say, “Well, it’s good that we live in a world where we have Eddie Hazel and this music, too.”
The boy is not impressed by the second song, nor the third — “Dad, do you KNOW what you look like when you listen to this stuff,” he asks.
Fourth song, he doesn’t say anything - maybe a sign that the music is working on him, maybe just a sign that he’s become engrossed with his handheld gizmo.
Before the fifth song plays, I tell him — “This is one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll songs ever. Ever.” We listen, and get through about half of it before I pull up in front of where he’s having his bar mitzvah lesson. I tell him I’ll see him in an hour.
“Um, Dad,” he says. “Can I stay until the end of this song?”
A small grimace of victory is fixed tight on my lips.