Part of being a responsible parent is pretending to like godawful music and listening to it over and over again in a minivan. This was not covered in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. My lovely wife Jen and I will be forever haunted by having certain CDs on repeat when our kids were younger: Sesame Street’s Elmo’s Lowdown Hoedown (Big Bird, Elmo, and friends singing country songs about reading, friendship, and feelings), The Lilo and Stitch soundtrack, and Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0.
I should note that I like early Justin Bieber. When that precocious kid sang “Baby” (“Ooh, baby baby baby oh, baby baby baby no, I thought you’d always be mine,” etc.), I was rooting for him to have long-lasting success in the music industry. But when our youngest was a 5-year-old music-selection dictator screaming for us to play that song nonstop on car trips while our other kids covered their ears and screamed, “Make it stop! Make it stop!,” it made me reevaluate my relationship with him and, frankly, my love of other things Canadian, like Pamela Anderson and Canadian bacon.
But I wanted to talk about taking my youngest daughter to her first legitimate rock concert. As the baby of the family, she has benefited from Jen’s and my (mostly my) slippery-slope parenting skills. With the first child, we were all, “His eyes won’t see a screen until he’s 3! And he’ll only listen to Mozart and Beethoven and James Taylor! And he’ll only eat organic foods harvested within a 100-mile radius of our home! And let’s bubble-wrap the crap out of this apartment so he never gets a boo-boo on his body!” We were pretty annoying. By the time Child No. 3 came around, our tune had changed: “How long was that hot-dog chunk on the floor? Was it longer than 60 seconds? Just brush off the crumbs and see if she’ll eat it. And is it 9 a.m. yet? ‘Dora the Explorer’ should be coming on soon; TV is our friend.”
I was the baby of my family, too, and I can pinpoint the moment I realized I was the beneficiary of being youngest: July 1980, when I was 9 years old. My mom took a much-needed vacation with her girlfriends to Florida. (My parents had four children in a 4-year span. It was so loud at our house that even I didn’t like to be around us at times, and I was one of us.) My dad took us to a double feature at the local theater: The Blues Brothers (the first time I heard the F word and the S word used repeatedly in a film) and Airplane! (the first time I saw a woman in a state of undress in a film). As we left the theater in stunned silence, my dad turned to us kids and said, “We probably shouldn’t speak of this to your mother.”
By contrast, I had a friend who was the oldest in his family, and when we were 15, his parents took me along with him and his little sister to see the re-release of Disney’s Song of the South. Which, by the way, was controversial for other reasons, but was still a Disney movie. I was like, “I’m too cool for this, man. Pass me some Jujubes.”
When my brother was 18, he convinced my parents to let him take his girlfriend to a concert at Poplar Creek, an outdoor music venue in the Chicago suburbs that no longer exists. The only way they would agree was if he took along his three younger siblings. (Well played, Mom and Dad.) This seriously cramped his style that night. The happy news for me is that I got to see my first band live in concert. I am not ashamed to admit that it was the UK pop duo Wham! with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. (The band’s official name includes the exclamation point; please don’t assume I am excited every time I type it out.) Which one of Wham!’s songs are you thinking about now? Is it “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” or “Careless Whisper”? If you’re not familiar with Wham!, they were like the Justin Bieber of their time: catchy tunes, cute faces, lots of screaming fans, never meant to last. I was in love with the whole spectacle of that evening: the long line surging forward when someone thought they spotted George, an opening-act comedian (not something you see with most rock bands), girls crying when the boys took the stage, and the pyrotechnics and light show.
It was the summer before my freshman year of high school. You can bet I wore my “Whamamerica! tour” concert t-shirt to high school exactly once before burying it deep in my shirt drawer.
In recent years, I also buried some of my music collection away so that my kids wouldn’t be exposed to it: AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, the Violent Femmes, and Blink-182. While it was easy to hide the cassettes and CDs, things got complicated when I switched over to iTunes. Our youngest child perused my music on the laptop and stumbled upon Blink-182′s 1999 album Enema of the State. The joke in the title reveals the level of the band’s juvenile humor (right in my wheelhouse). For whatever reason, our daughter took to this album. Sometimes you can’t explain why certain music appeals to you (e.g., I am a huge fan of Taylor Swift and will vigorously defend her right to pen breakup songs about celebrity ex-boyfriends; I wish I was kidding).
We started running into the problem of what amount of foul language is okay to sing aloud if it’s not allowed in everyday talk. Slowly, our daughter pushed for more music along the lines of Blink. They’re a pop punk band, so she fell for the triumvirate of greats in that genre: Blink-182, Fall Out Boy, and Green Day. (Not to turn this into a lecture or to reveal my own ignorance on musical genres, but pop punk basically takes the “screw you” mindset of punk music with its fast chord changes and distorted guitars but adds a more listenable tune to it. To hear the difference, listen to the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and then listen to Blink-182′s “What’s My Age Again?”)
When our youngest balked at the increased amount of tennis lessons I had signed her up for this summer (I figured that if she liked tennis 2 times weekly for 3 weeks, she’d really like it daily for 6 weeks), I told her I’d make a deal with her: Make it through all the lessons, and I’d take her to the Blink-182 concert in September. (Bribery, ladies and gentlemen!) Originally, we were going to bring her sister and a friend, but they couldn’t make it.
Which is how I found myself heading out on a Friday night to the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, just my 11-year-old daughter and me, to see a punk show: three bands, one DJ. When I was shopping for tickets, Jen convinced me to buy the lawn seats on the theory that our daughter shouldn’t have nice, sheltered, cushioned pavilion seats for her first show because then she might never want to get the cheap seats. “What if it rains?” I said. “What are the odds that that it would?” Jen said.
When we got to the parking lot, we could barely see the entrance gates because of all the rain. (Thanks, Jen!) It was coming down so hard that there was a chance that the concert would be cancelled. We wore raincoats, and I carried a poncho in so we could sit on something. I wanted to sit in the car as long as we could, but the kid was anxious to see the sights and sounds, so out we schlepped through the pouring rain. I mean, it was raining hard like a Taylor Swift song. In the first 5 minutes we were there, we got completely soaked. The good news is that we had our pick of the lawn and settled into a spot behind maybe 3 rows of people. We watched the DJ (DJ Spyder) and ate our soggy pizza and nachos. My daughter kept looking around wide-eyed and saying, “Look at all the black clothes! Everyone is so emo!” We bought souvenir T-shirts; my first choice turned out to be a woman’s shirt, of course, so I had to scramble to find something manlier.
The first band to play was the All-American Rejects, another pop punk band whose popularity was highest in the early 2000s. They were great, even though the venue was only about half-filled by the time they hit the stage. They played a short, 35-minute set of all their hits and finished with a new song, called “DGAF,” which stands for “Don’t Give A” and then the F word. The chorus was, “We don’t give a *bleep*,” screamed over and over again. Later, my daughter said she liked the All-American Rejects the best, better even than Blink-182. Hopefully not because of their new song.
By the time band number two came on, the rain had stopped for the night. And the crowd got thicker and pushier and scarier. I looked around at one point and realized that (A) my daughter was by far the youngest person in our vast section of the lawn and (B) I was by far the oldest person in the lawn section. I’m not kidding. Fortunately, my kid kept her hood up the whole time, so I’m not sure that anyone around us even knew how young she was. Also, I’m the height of a middle schooler, so she’s about my size now.
The second band was a group called A Day to Remember. Their music has been described as metalcore. I like all kinds of music; however, and especially when I am trying to protect my kid from the headbangers crowding into me, I can’t say I’m a big fan of them. I told her, “If things get ugly, I’m grabbing you and we’re pushing our way out to the right.” And she kept reaching over to hold onto my arm to make sure I was still there. When two guys started a mosh pit behind us, my daughter got pushed about 5 feet away from us, but I had my hand on her arm and stopped her from flying too far. I was never happier to have a band finish its set than when A Day to Remember said, “This is our last song!” I cheered the loudest.
Then Blink-182 was up. I went into the concert somewhat disappointed that one of the three original members, Tom DeLonge, wasn’t touring with them (he’s the guy with the nasally voice who shares lead vocals on their songs), but I have to say that I’m glad I went. Although, again, speaking as a dad, I’m not sure about the massive flaming sign behind their drummer, Travis Barker, that was simply an “F,” a “U,” a “C,” and a you-know-what-else. Some quibbles: they didn’t play enough songs off of their best album, they played too many songs that were closer to the metalcore of A Day to Remember and not enough that were closer to the pop punk of the All-American Rejects.
They were supposed to play from 9:20 until 11:10 or so; looking at other setlists from the tour, they’d do about 24 songs. About 5 songs into their set, my kid whispered to me, “I’m really tired. How much longer should we stay.” I was like, “Really? It’s 9:50 on a Friday. At sleepovers, you stay up until 2 a.m.” So I made her a deal: we could leave after they played “All the Small Things,” which I knew they would do as their 22nd song. (One suggestion for the guys in the band: When you have a song like “First Date,” whose chorus is “Let’s make this night last forever,” you should end with that song instead of playing it so early in the set.)
The closer and closer we got to the end, the sleepier my daughter got. As soon as we finished singing along with the crowd on “All the Small Things” (“Say it ain’t so, I will not go, turn the lights off, carry me home…”), we zipped out, hopped in our minivan (only the cool kids drive minivans to punk shows), and headed home.
I put Enema of the State on in the minivan. My little rocker was asleep as soon as we hit the highway.