by Merry Mercurial
At eleven, my daughter has spent the past several years listening mostly to pop while exuding a monkish tolerance for my classic rock. Don’t get me wrong: she’s always giggled at the Pink Floyd song with that timeless “do goody good bullshit” lyric. And smiled at how consistently radio censors seem to be out to lunch whenever the Eagles sing of riding up and down the highway not seeing a goddamn thing. To her, though, classic rock sans the cussing has been a cupcake without the frosting—just an f’ing muffin.
Long ago I decided not to be that jerkface pushing my auditory agenda. Whatever her music of choice, no soapboxing about you kids’ noise today—and not only because, having spent the last decade or so steeping in sounds of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, I could be at least a little objective about the past: some songs were great, others were fine-ish, others were the cheapest examples of them kids’ noise of yesteryear. But also, what business of it was mine. The “respect their autonomy” credo inherited by this generation of parents isn’t bad one as generational gospel truths go. Don’t push him into sports. Let her do what she wants with her hair. Don’t garden their playlists while they sleep.
I lay this groundwork before talking about the Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold album for two reasons. To establish
- that the alluded-to musical eras I have loitered in were long. Looong. It’s taken me the better part of one decade to properly anthologize and, to an extent, eulogize three other decades, and I’m really only now getting around to the few, the proud, the people committing rock and roll now. Forgive me, Fighters of Foo.
- that I’d assumed all my classic rock, even at its David-Gilmour-led-Pink-Floyd pleasantest, was too hard or structurally unfamiliar for my daughter’s taste, so (not that it mattered . . .) I shouldn’t expect us to often be on the same page musically.
Enter the Foo Fighters.
This scene is set with me hovered over my keyboard, Amazon Music on the screen, pulling my headphones off so she can hear the song I’ve been listening to on loop, in a drooling zombie trance, for an hour. Its name is “La Dee Da.” And why do I love it so? Is it how it lionizes bands (Whitehouse. Psychic Television. Death in June) Dave Grohl was all about as a teenager howling against the ennobled conservatism of the time? The fact that it feels to me like metal jungle disco, when I can safely say that little else in life has? I want to share it with the world. I feel like this is mine—my song, my feat of art—and I want to show it to teacher. It’s a lover I just drunk-married in Vegas but whose awesomeness eclipses the drunk-Vegas-husband paradigm, so I need to make it clear to everyone that my zany bridal bliss/hangover should not be used in a character assassination of my stranger turned fellow drunk turned life partner. It’s what you wish hope and pine for music to be: it is everything.
“Now you may hate this,” I warn my daughter. And hit play. Without hesitating, she reports she hates it indeed.
But five minutes pass. “Play that again?” Within ten, she has dragged out an exercise ball so as to frog about the living room as it repeats. “You can’t shame me, la dee da/Give or take me, how bizarre.”
Her: Who is this?
Me: Foo Fighters.
Her: What’s that supposed to mean?
Me: It’s . . . something to do with aliens.
We Wikipedia it. We read that Dave Grohl’s on record saying had he expected a career of this, he would’ve chosen another name, as Foo Fighters is the “the stupidest fucking band name in the world.” Self-aware, funny. I like Dave. Dave cusses; my daughter likes Dave too.
We start through their videos. Dave’s kung foo moves in the “Walk” video are her favorite. Their video for “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” takes a more serious tack. For a moment I consider whether the stars in their eyes in the video are cheesy; quickly I dismiss this as the mean-spirited trash thought of a traitor. Eye-stars are literal brilliance. She learns the children in the video are his daughters, and she asks me if I can even imagine how cool it must be for them—knowing their dad is both a talented musician and the greatest human animal to have ever drawn breath. I get back to practicing with the Adam Levine acoustic guitar I bought from Target. I’m getting dangerously close to being able to play a D minor chord without spraining my wrist.
We look up the lyrics to everything and sing along. On “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” we encounter a discrepancy: Amazon X-Ray Lyrics reports the line as “Oh my dear, heaven is a big bang now”; our search of Google/everything-and-nothing/the-collected-flotsam-thoughts-of-humankind reports it’s “heaven is big band now.” She looks at me conspiratorially.
Her: I think it actually makes more sense if it’s “big bang” but . . .
Me: But you like “heaven is a big band” better?
She nods. So do I, I tell her. The thought of heaven being one big band—and now, as though it hasn’t always been, as though heaven evolved from a place for escaping fire and brimstone to one rollicking musical love-in—is comforting. Sometimes we sing it “bang”; mostly we sing it “band.” She brings out several of her favorite animal figurines. We dance them to “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour).” She tells the flamingo and ostrich engaged in their spirited pas de deux not to be fooled by the calm music of this number: if they really listen, they’ll realize that the lyrics (“there ain’t no superheroes now; there ain’t no superheroes, they’re underground”) are truly unsettling—and that that said, they should carry on dancing. Is that not the message of the song? If the Foos can helm a jouncy ballad in this superhero-less world, by George, we can dance in one.
One day, she pulls out every stuffed animal in her closet, all 8,209,122 of them; pyramids them on the floor; leaps into them as she never quite has with leaf piles. She lays there listening to Concrete and Gold’s titular song, and she says, “They remind me of Pink Floyd here.”
We work our way back through their previous albums—and a happy, breezy archeology it is. I try yelling “But now I’m freeeeeeee” like Dave in the song “Monkey Wrench” because every time I try his metallic screaming from “La Dee Da,” my voice box ages five years. My daughter tries “La Dee Da,” and while I may be biased (who hasn’t secretly hoped their own daughter is tomorrow’s primo metal screamer?), she doesn’t sound bad; she gets much further with these attempts than I do. It’s becoming clear that my classic rock never was too aggressive for her palate. Her band, she lets me know, will be named Metal Monkey.
Her: What do you like better—the new album or the older ones?
Me: Hard to say. What about you?
Her: I like some of the older stuff. But I like this whole album. (She looks a bit dazzled; her eyes seem to say And isn’t that a rare and beautiful thing in this world.)
At one point, I set sail on what has the markings of a research binge that will reach for the drain stopper of the internet. Soon I can name dates of activity and active members in regard to side-project bands. Them Crooked Vultures. Chevy Metal. Pat Smear was and wasn’t involved with the band in X ways across X span of time. I gorge on these details until achy, while they hold no interest for my daughter. Here’s what she cares about. She cares that the Foo Fighters rock; she likes that their faces reflect a high degree of fun-having as they play. Rock is not in the Wikipedia annotations—she gets it. Rock and roll isn’t about anything that would sequester it from the main vein of jumping, dancing, singing, screaming, party-throwing, blindingly bright, thunderous, zillion-mile-an-hour life.
We’re driving along. The Amazon Music app on my cracked-by-parking-lot phone streams Concrete and Gold through the Bluetooth shower speaker we’ve hooked over the rearview mirror. By now the album is our clock: from home, we’ll be to the mall in “T-Shirt” plus “Run” plus “Make It Right.” “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” will just have begun good when we park. We’ll walk our mall-laps like retirees because outdoors it’s too mosquitoy and muggy to agitate your limbs or think hard. We take our walk. She tells me about the plot of the latest Warrior Cats book she’s reading. We pass an Infinity War display in FYE and ask each other in a hundred ways to a hundred non-answers, “What the hell was Thanos thinking?” Back in the car, more often than not with the summer night sky now grousing and flickering with storm, we restart “The Sky Is a Neighborhood.” And a rough but familiar neighborhood it is tonight. We get home mid-“Sunday Rain.” Often, in the world beyond the speaker, it is raining—sometimes even on a Sunday—and we sit there in the car awhile listening and telling ourselves our weather is nothing more, nothing less than a worthy tribute concert.
My daughter has done much more than inherit qualities from me; she’ll end up taller, a better metal singer, and quite likely a more organized writer. And I couldn’t be happier for her on all accounts. If there’s one area in which we’re matched fairly equally and may always be, it’s flair for the dramatic.
Me (as “La Dee Da” kicks into gear, the shower speaker’s lo-fi fuzz just enhancing the song’s existing fuzzy aesthetic): Here it is. The one that started it all.
Her (as the “Fuck you, Darrell!” shout that ends the album fades and the opening notes of “T-Shirt” from the album’s own opening play once more): Can you believe this ever wasn’t part of our lives?
It’s hard to. But much, much harder to believe this girl ever wasn’t part of my life.
When I was her age, I read Baby-Sitters Club and R. L. Stine; she reads Warrior Cats, and lately has begun isolating those qualities that make the stories work, emulating them in her own storytelling, feeling so good about a well-constructed paragraph that she dances around the living room. She prefers the new Jumanji; I’ll always have that nostalgic attachment to the first. I have a feeling that she, like her mother, will never buy into the malarkey that at a certain age, you’re simply too old for stuffed animals. There’s plenty we’ll continue having in common, and I know that plenty will change.
For how awesome it is to watch her fanhood for a band (a rock band—a good rock band) bloom in tandem with my own, the factor far awesomer here is seeing yet another example of how today she is that much more herself—that much more in tune with her likes and dislikes and the why of each—than she ever has been before. Moving from an incubatory period of loving what she reads to writing what she loves. Turning her life into a multimedia experience, where every book or movie she likes sprawls outward in the form of customized figurines, computer art, fan fiction, representative characters crafted in the Sims 4. And landing on that all-important first band you can’t help but dance and sing and shout to, that you don’t even try to look at objectively but find yourself reverentially critiquing on the fly. The music that starts to define for you if not a cultural epoch, an era of you.