Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I Got The Music In Me

It's March 19th in New England and we have yet another snow day. After sleeping in and grumbling a bit, my teenage daughter settled herself on the TV room couch. My husband is (yet again) shoveling and I'm working in my home office. 

But, my teen is not exactly alone; she has her iPhone and my iPad.

These days, it seems like the age-old divide between adolescents and their parents can be measured in personal electronic devices. Yes, I own as many as my daughter does, but they are not my lifelines (or more like additional limbs) as they seem to be for her.

When I was fifteen, the only new-fangled technology I owned was a Sony Walkman and a Texas Instruments calculator — both of which I cherished, BTW. If I wanted to watch something, I used my parents' TV. If I wanted to listen to music, I did so via cassette tapes and vinyl records, just like my mom and dad did. But that's where the common ground stopped.

At fifteen, music plays a critical role in helping us define who we are. In a recent New York Magazine story (Why You Truly Never Leave High School), Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University developmental psychologist and expert on adolescence, explained it this way:

“... no matter how old you are, the music you listen to for the rest of your life is probably what you listened to when you were an adolescent.” 

Puberty and adolescence are the periods when our brains sort us into the categories that determine the type of person we are. "I'm the type of person who does this. I'm the sort of person who likes that." And then it follow us ever after. As Steinberg relates to himself, “There’s no reason why, at the age of 60, I should still be listening to the Allman Brothers.” But, at an earlier, impressionable, formative age, he determined that he was "the type of person who likes the Allman Brothers." And the rest, as they say, is history.

These days, my daughter is all about Imagine Dragons. This morning, she approached me with great excitement because the band has published (online, of course) its upcoming concert schedule. This summer at Boston University, but not open to the public. ("Arrrrrrrgh! Mom! Dad! Who do we know at B.U.?") December in Columbus, Ohio. (Errr ... no, despite the presence of our best friends there, we are not going to spend $1,000 on airfare to see a concert on a school night.) And, some future date that I can't remember in Paris. (Okay, that one I might consider ... Not.)

I asked her, reasonably enough, if they are her favorites now because she got to see them live a few weeks ago. She said they would be her favorites anyway. 

Her love runs deep.

Mine does not. 

Frankly, like countless mothers before me, I don't get it. I know — I'm vaguely aware of, would be a more appropriate choice of words — some of their songs. "It's Time" was covered on Glee, and "Radioactive" has a bizarre video with a gangster Lou Diamond Philips and a bunch of Muppets on crack. I am by no means an expert.

But, that's okay. 

Frankly, I don't have to like her music. Just like my parents didn't have to like mine (although, in truth, my mom and dad were way cooler than the average moms and dads back then). I don't get the music, but I do get the feeling. And that feeling will stay with my teenager long past her teen years. Just like Steinberg, I'm a focus group of one that proves this.

What's in my car right now?

Eagles: The Very Best Of
Janis Ian Between the Lines
Billy Joel, Greatest Hits Volume I and II
Elvis Costello, My Aim is True
Carly Simon Hotcakes
The Best of the Commodores
Changes 1 Bowie

And, as always, a lot of Elton John.

This selection is more a snapshot of a moment in time than loyalty to a particular genre, artist or style. Most of these CDs would not please either my husband or my child. But, when I'm alone and I hit "Play," I am instantly transported to my teens — an emotional period, certainly, but one that was filled with hopes and dreams and expectations that have faded over the past 35 years.

Until, that is, I hit "Play."

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