Sometimes I think our girls actually enjoy it when my wife and I reminisce about our childhoods. Other times I know they tune us out.
Like when I go off on a tangent about classic rock, I’m sure this is what they hear: Blah, blah, blah, the Rolling Stones, blah, blah, blah, Bruce Springsteen, blah, blah, blah, the Who.
As a father, it’s my duty to pass along cultural iconic lessons, and I hope they will sink in and my girls will care about them, too.
My father did the same thing for me. I remember him reminiscing about Glenn Miller and Count Basie and how he once took a date to see Louis Armstrong at Kansas City’s Pla-Mor Ballroom in 1937. He was so put off by the 75 cent ticket price that he considered passing, but finally realized it was worth paying that much to see a legend.
I got a glimpse of my father’s youth and his personality (and his frugality) through his music. And because he shared it with such passion I learned not only to appreciate, but eventually to enjoy his music.
He once took me to Starlight Theatre to see the Mills Brothers, a revered vocal quartet who were then past their prime. I remember my father’s excitement when the aging singers shuffled out on stage. Seeing the show didn’t mean a lot to me, but I was excited for him. And when I heard them perform, I understood.
What Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers were to my father, the Who is to me. The band members were and still are among my musical heroes, so I was beyond ecstatic when, on the day before my 15th birthday in 1980, I went to see the Who at Kemper Arena with some of my buddies. The Pretenders opened for them in what would become one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.
The buff and handsome Roger Daltrey belted out the anthemic lyrics as he whipped and twirled his microphone. The gangly Pete Townshend bounced around like an acrobat performing his insane windmills on guitar. And the statue-like John Entwistle, who I swear didn’t move his feet the entire show, tore up the frets on his bass.
Having inherited my father’s Depression-era frugality, I had grumbled about the $12.50 ticket price. It was the most I had paid to see a show (until the Rolling Stones came to Kemper the next year, and I coughed up a seemingly staggering $17 to see them!). Both shows were money well spent. I’d call that a bargain.
Fast-forward to 2015, and it turns out that the Who and I both hit 50 at the same time. They celebrated the golden anniversary of the release of their first hit single, and I observed a half century of life. But after Daltrey suffered a serious illness, the Who had to postpone their tour, and we didn’t get to celebrate our milestones together until last month. It was so worth the wait.
My wife and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to bring our daughters to see these rock legends. My girls were mildly interested since they were familiar with some of the songs, but when they saw those over-70 rockers tearing it up on stage, they were riveted.
At one point my older daughter reached back to grab my hands and had me wrap my arms around her as we swayed to “Baba O’Riley,” a song she recognized and knew that I loved. Our 8-year-old, who complained about how loud it was (even through earplugs), climbed up into my arms during the finale, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which she and I have danced to dozens of time in the living room. We screamed and pumped our fists.
This was a priceless moment — sharing my passion for this band and this music with my girls, who genuinely enjoyed it. And sitting around us were other fathers with their kids creating their own inter-generational musical memories.
The day after the show, my older daughter asked if she could download some of the Who’s singles. I couldn’t help but feel a minor proud daddy moment knowing that the rock ’n’ roll seeds I had planted were actually taking root.
And I imagine that someday, if Taylor Swift is still performing in her 70s, our girls will take their children and tell them about the time their parents took them to see her for the first time. And the torch of our family’s passionate musical history will have been passed.
To reach freelancer Jim Cosgrove, aka children’s entertainer Mr. Stinky Feet, send email to email@example.com.