My kiddos think I’m a hippie, an opinion they made without knowing the definition of the word. To them, a hippie is a “mostly cool” mom who folds origami, loves peacemaking and has photos of herself hugging trees. She also says things like, “You can accomplish (just about) anything if you love what you do.”
That is me. I wear the term with honor, but that last line is why I now have a problem.
My 6-year-old’s love is banging on things with decent, sometimes impressive rhythm. Everything Bubba touches is a drum: the car window, his brother’s face, air.
Bubba didn’t realize playing the drums was an option for a kid until he saw a Youtube video featuring a 9-year-old in braces belting out a Guns ’n’ Roses song I might remember from growing up, had I been allowed to listen to that kind of music.
“That is what I want to do, Mom!” Bubba yelled, banging on the computer table while he watched. The video has more than 37,000 views. The singer and band are kids are from Kansas City’s School of Rock in Parkville.
I’m impressed. I would have loved to be a kid-rocker, but here’s the conflict: My need for more than several consecutive minutes of daily peace and quiet clashes with the loud, steep learning curve that comes with drum sets. Also, I’ve read many rocker biographies and wonder if their mothers were proud of their backstage antics.
But I did say my kids could accomplish anything, with the “just about” reserved to nix nonsense goals like flying to the moon on construction paper wings. I have also said, from experience, that growing up is much harder if you don’t find your thing until after you’ve grown up. So if there’s a chance drumming was Bubba’s thing, I was going to support it.
Since I wasn’t ready to scour Craigslist for drum sets, we headed to the School of Rock’s open mic night instead. When we arrived, a collection of kid musicians were covering “The Weight” by The Band.
Bubba dropped my hand to drum his knee, singing along. (Our family knows this song well, a classic ensemble piece with an easy beat and crazy harmonies. I consider it kid-friendly not just because Jimmy Fallon recently performed it with the Muppets, but because I am terrible with lyrics, and so are my kiddos, which allows us to sing it without discussing cannonball metaphors afterward.)
We sat in front so Bubba could take it in: the blue-haired pianist, the guitarist’s blurry fingers racing up and down those frets, the drummer banging away without anyone shushing him, kids who had found their thing in rock.
Later, I talked to the guitarist, Park Hill South senior Jacob Johnson, who will be attending Berklee College of Music in Boston this fall. He must have nailed his audition, a version of Jeff Beck’s “Scatterbrain,” quite possibly the most complicated guitar solo ever written.
Jacob’s proud mom, Sherri, admitted at first she hesitated to encourage Jacob’s rock career.
“As a mom you think, ‘But you’re so smart, you should be a doctor, an engineer!’ You get to a point where you begin to see their passion, that this is really what they are meant to do, and you just let all that go.”
I asked Jacob if he knew that, back in the day, most kid bands played in garages, not on stages.
He nodded. “There’s a more of a general acceptance today of other forms of music beyond classical music for kids. As rock music gets more popular, it’s more accepted to pick up an instrument or to play songs everyone can sing along to.”
Bubba and I left that night, his head full of music, mine full of questions not just about noisy instruments now, but about how to separate the darker aspects of rock from the single-minded focus on music these kids seemed to have down in their core.
A few weeks later, I contacted my friend Johnny Solomon. We went to high school together, back in the day when choir and band were the only musical outlets for kids. I never did find an amp for my violin, but Johnny found one for his guitar. Now his band, Communist Daughter, travels the country. Their take on “Golden Slumbers” is the sweetest cover I’ve ever heard.
“Parents wanting their kids to learn from the classics is an age-old tradition,” Johnny reminded me. “It just happens to be that people are realizing how brilliant Nirvana and The Band are in the big picture.”
Johnny is also a recovering alcoholic and addict. I wanted to know if he thought finding rock as a kid could have saved him from his most painful experiences. He didn’t think so.
“Getting into music before you can get into bars is probably a good thing,” Johnny said, “but I can say people shouldn’t kid themselves. Being in the rock world is throwing yourself in the midst of drugs and alcohol. No amount of good intentions is going to stop that as long as music is performed in bars and people idolize drug problems. But separating learning music from bars and drugs can definitely give kids a different focus.”
It wasn’t music that caused Johnny to be an addict; it was music that ultimately gave him something to live for, he said. Then he added that if he had kids, he’d want them to learn the drums early.
“Of course, that will mean they will hate it and want to do science instead,” he said.
I still haven’t found Bubba a drum set. I might wait until he begs me. For now, he floats around from a hand drum to the piano to empty oatmeal boxes, happy to drum on whatever, or whoever, is under his hand at the time. When he does decide he’s ready for more, this mostly cool mom will be ready, earplugs in, eyes wide open.