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.
I decided that the best thing was to get Charlie some real training, maybe sign him up for a daycare-style music workshop where he could practice his craft and inevitably get discovered. Turns out, finding the ideal baby rocker workshop isn’t nearly as easy as I hoped. Googling the words “rock camp” and “babies” only led me to some very disturbing websites, like the one where I learned about a place in Rock Camp, Ohio where adults dress in diapers for “a night of suckling and spanking.” (If I have to know that exists, now you do too.) I did eventually find some actual music schools for kids, but most of them are age-centric. In New York alone, there’s the Blue Balloon Songwriting for Small People (ages 3 and up), Brooklyn Kids Rock! (ages 7 to 14), NYC Rock Camp (ages 10 to 17) and the Staten Island School of Rock (ages 5 and up), among many others.
Those that do cater to babies tend to emphasize the adorable over the authentic rock experience. The “Little Folks” project in Bloomington, Indiana has a music workshop for infants called “Hush-a-Bye,” which sounds about as exciting as spooning with Bon Iver. (They also have classes called “Songs for Better Behavior” and “Reuse, Recycle, & Rock Out!” Whatever rocks your cradle, hippie.) Monkey Music in Hertfordshire, England has music for babies from 3 months and up, but A) their website brags about “gentle songs”, which puts it in the “Hush-a-Bye” category, and B) they’re in England and I’m not making that commute until Charlie goes on his first U.K. concert tour. The website for a music education school called Kids Rock in Bonita Springs, Florida looked promising, especially the badass AC/DC font. But their infant classes are called “Music Pups.” so you already know it’s going to be more “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” than “Maggie’s Farm,” more “Hickory Dickory Dock” than “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
Sometimes if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. I started taking Charlie to a local Gymboree for their “Play & Music” classes. I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be the curriculum Charlie needed for his musical development — all that parachute waving/ hand clapping/ beach ball throwing bullshit is too David Lee Roth for my liking — but it seemed a good place to start making connections with other music-minded parents.
“Those that do cater to babies tend to emphasize the adorable over the authentic rock experience. The “Little Folks” project in Bloomington, Indiana has a music workshop for infants called “Hush-a-Bye,” which sounds about as exciting as spooning with Bon Iver.”
There’s a kid in Gymboree named Trevor around Charlie’s age, and he and Charlie have developed a fast friendship. They’re also both amateur drummers, which worries me. And I’ve said as much to Trevor’s dad. He seemed confused and defensive when I first approached him. “I’m not sure what you’re asking me,” he said.
“What if Trevor and Charlie start a band someday?” I told him. “They’re not going to have two drummers, are they? Unless they’re Genesis, and one of them is Phil Collins and the other is the backup drummer. I think we can both agree that Charlie is probably taking lead vocals, and he’s obviously the best drummer in Gymboree, no offense to Trevor.”
“I’m not sure if we-”
“All I’m saying is, maybe you think about getting Trevor an acoustic guitar. Just see how he does with it. The band doesn’t have a guitarist yet.”
“Exactly! We’ve got to get moving on this before they go to pre-school and get distracted with academics.”
I’ve had Trevor and Trevor’s dad over to the house a few times, and the old man is slowly coming around to my way of thinking. We disagree on a lot of things, like what the as-yet-unformed band’s name should be, and who gets the lion’s share of the songwriting credit, and whether that chubby, red-faced kid named Max — the one in Gymboree who’s always “getting over a cold” — could have a certain John Entwistle-esque aptitude for bass guitar or will never be more than a roadie. And don’t get either of us started on genres.
“I’m thinking country punk,” I suggested while pouring Trevor’s dad more wine. “Like the Misfits, but doing Hank Williams songs.”
“So, Uncle Tupelo basically,” he sniffed.
“Oh come on, that was twenty years ago. Who’s doing music like that anymore? And if you say the Jayhawks, I will punch you in the mouth.”
“Why do they need to be so fringe? What’s wrong with being commercial? The world could use another Black Keys.”
“Don’t you mean another White Stripes? I thought you had a problem with derivative.”
We opened up two bottles of wine that night. There was a lot to discuss. Trevor and Charlie mostly stayed out of it. They were upstairs in Charlie’s room, giggling at private jokes, doing whatever it is that babies do.