I have been given the task for which I believe I was made to be a father. My primary calling whittled down to one thing at a very specific time in my son’s life. It’s all on the table and I’m not about to shudder at this once in a lifetime opportunity. So, I won’t second guess myself, but please understand, dear reader, if the weight of this decision doesn’t seem to weigh heavy on my words as I type.
My son wants to listen to an album to help him determine the kind of music he will like. This was his declaration. He noticed, with the help of his mother, the he doesn’t like much pop music. So we decided that with an old iPod Nano we would load an album into his ears to expand and marinate. He wants this! And now the decision is in my hands, and the shape and color and texture of his adolescent life depends on my answer.
Ok, so first a few rules. It can’t be an album that played an outsized role in my life and isn’t transcendent in how it articulates some aspect of life. Weezer’s self-titled debut (the Blue Album) thus just misses the mark. That’s a shame as it is an amazing album and something by which we can interpret the whole 90’s decade, but that is for another time. Also excluded by this, thankfully, is Richard Marx’s Repeat Offender which is embarrassingly good and reminiscent of my mid childhood.
I don’t want to pinpoint something so specific that it speaks to one narrow aesthetic. I think this disqualifies the very, very good Doolittle by the Pixies and certainly knocks off the Ramones Greatest Hits.
For some reason, I feel guilty that I have not considered anything highbrow, like Bach or something. Isn’t that my role as a civilized fellow? Shouldn’t I teach my kids the finer things? No. Because one, he’s 8 and wants to bop his head. Because two, you go from the Ramones up to Brahms, I’m not sure it works the other way around. And because three, I might question how you define “finer” and other qualitative measures in music. Like the Weezer comment above, this deserves treatment in another article on another day.
I thought about Queen but removed them when I decided the choice could not be a Greatest Hits album and that Queen never made a singularly good album despite a bevy of hits. I considered Thriller by Michael Jackson but upon listening to it does sound dated at times and has a few duddy ballads.
The album I decided to give my son is the Beastie Boys 1994 album Ill Communication, before you scoff having perhaps a limited view of the Beastie Boys, let me drop part of a review of that album by the editor of the AllMusicGuide, Stephen Thomas Erlewine:
“with the group sticking to a blend of old school rap, pop culture, lo-fi funk, soulful jazz instrumentals, Latin rhythms, and punk, often seamlessly integrated into a rolling, pan-cultural, multi-cultural groove. The best moments of Ill Communication rank with the best music the Beasties have ever made”
The album features the brash punk riffs of “Sabotage”, the east coast rhyming style of Q-Tip on “Get it Together”, the funk of “Shambala” and the contemplative but groove heavy “Bodhisattvsa Vow”. This is the album to introduce my son to beats, rhymes, a slew of instruments and a splash of giddy sophomoric punk rock.
Am I doing the right thing? Feels like it, so check back with me in a few weeks. In the meantime, throw up a #albumtochangemysonslife hashtag on Twitter with your responses.
Dan is the director of The League of Faithful Masks which produces the Virtue in the Wasteland podcast. He received his PhD in 2008 from the University of St. Andrews and was recently a professor of history and political thought as well as Assistant Dean at Concordia University, Irvine. He is the author of Monsters: Addiction, Hope, Ex-Girlfriends and Other Dangerous Things.