Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.
Like most parents with an infant, I’m convinced that my child is a wunderkind. Charlie is only 11 months old, just beginning to walk and with a vocabulary limited to “mama” and “dadda,” but I’m still pretty sure he’s a genius. The difference between me and the other wackjob parents is that I don’t look at my son and see a future scientist who’ll discover the cure for AIDS or a politician who’ll broker global peace. I see the next Keith Moon, driving his Cadillac into a hotel swimming pool just to show how rock ‘n’ roll he is.
And I’ve come to this conclusion based solely on Charlie’s ability to bang two sticks together in a semi-rhythmic fashion.
There’s other evidence of his rock DNA, of course. He’s become a connoisseur of falling asleep in weird locales, like in the grass at public parks or the couches of strangers. He likes getting naked in public. (A lot.) He prefers the bottle to solid foods. He enjoys making out with his dolls, which the Dame and I now affectionately refer to as his groupies. He’s trashed several hotel rooms, and that’s not hyperbole. During a recent family vacation at a beachside hotel, chairs were overturned, lamps were pulled to the ground, and the TV remote was thrown off the balcony. And did I mention the drumming? Everything he touches are potential drumsticks. Toy cars, board books, juice boxes, random debris he finds on the ground when his mom and I aren’t paying attention; it all needs to be smashed together to see what kind of sound it makes.
I’m well aware that I’m probably reading way too much into this. Charlie also likes to finger paint, but you won’t catch me saying “Holy shit, he’s this generation’s Henri Matisse!” But there’s a very good reason for that. I don’t look at paintings every day. But I definitely listen to music every day. Music is something I care deeply and passionately about. Charlie being good at math or being able to kick a ball like a miniature David Beckham are not skills that affect me personally. But a biological gift for drumming that might eventually lead to him making music professionally, which in turn would lead to me being the old guy at the rock club who doesn’t have to feel creepy or weird about being the old guy at the rock club — because not only do I know the band, I literally helped create the band — that may be the best reason for procreation that I’ve ever heard.
I didn’t have a kid because I want somebody to take care of me when I’m old and feeble. I had a kid so he’d grow up to be cooler than I am or ever was, and I can live vicariously through his too-tight leather pants and South By Southwest all-access passes.
Let me be clear about one thing. I will be unconditionally supportive of anything Charlie decides to do with his life. If he realizes that his passion is teaching high school gym or auditing corporations, fine, nobody will be prouder than me. But if, by some lucky happenstance, he decides that his true calling is to be the drummer in a critically acclaimed if not commercially successful rock band — a Radiohead or Wilco for 2030 — I just want to go on record saying that that would be fucking awesome.
I think I’m starting to become a Tiger Mom. Or what’s the male equivalent? Wolf Dad. But that’s not quite it. In almost every aspect of parenting, I’m the polar opposite of strict. Nap time, meal schedule, I’m cool with whatever. “Did we remember to bathe Charlie today? No? Whatever, give me a wet wipe.” But when it comes to music, I’m admittedly too enthusiastic for my own good. Let’s just say he’ll run out of diapers before he runs out of tambourines. He owns a wider array of rock tees than I do, everything from early ‘70s garage punk to late ‘90s post-grunge emo. There is rarely a moment when music is not being played in his presence, to a degree that our days are divided into music genres. The 5 pm dinner hour is now known as the “singer-songwriter rock block.” And whenever we have guests, I force them to listen attentively to Charlie’s drumming, which isn’t technically drumming any more than his wobbly attempts to walk could be compared with Bob Fosse choreography.
“The difference between me and the other wackjob parents is that I don’t look at my son and see a future scientist who’ll discover the cure for AIDS or a politician who’ll broker global peace. I see the next Keith Moon, driving his Cadillac into a hotel swimming pool just to show how rock n’ roll he is.”
I guess I am a Tiger Mom or Wolf Dad, but only for rock music. An “Eye of the Tiger” Mom and “Hungry Like the Wolf” Dad, if you will.
I’m not crazy for thinking a child so young could have a promising musical ability. Science agrees with me. In a study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (People magazine for nerds), researchers monitored the brains of 14 infants as they listened to rock tunes, and discovered that newborns have an innate sense of rhythm. But how can we use science to tell the difference between “My kid can follow a basic tempo” and “My kid has the raw talent to become the next Questlove?” I reached out for answers to István Winkler, the study’s lead researcher, but he wasn’t sympathetic to my parenting dilemma. “I don’t think that anyone knows the exact age at which musical talent can first be assessed,” he told me. “There are infants who obviously show interest in music, like to move together with rhythmic sounds or cause sounds themselves. But this shows affinity, not talent.”
“But what if the talent is there, and you just want to give them a gentle nudge in the right direction?” I asked. “Do I get him private lessons, maybe buy some time in a studio so he can record a demo?”
“I am quite much against trying to establish talents, musical or other, too early,” Winkler said. “Wunderkids are a great story, but they are very often not happy. They are usually led by their parents to invest an unduly amount of time and effort into –” blah blah blah, a bunch of other words. Clearly I was barking up the wrong tree. I needed a Simon Cowell, not Professor Frink.