As seen in the December, 2012, issue of Minnesota Monthly
Last year, I bought my son Murphy an iPod for Christmas. As I wrapped the jewel box that the iPod came in, I imagined that we would spend endless hours together listening to my vinyl records, CDs, and my vast catalogue of downloaded material as I introduced him to all the music I grew up with. We would then huddle around our computer, cozying up to it like it was a campfire, and comb through the iTunes store and hand pick all the songs that I suggested. There would be high-fives, maybe some riotous air guitaring, and more than likely a gluttonous romp through my wife’s lavish holiday cookie tray.
I selfishly wanted Murphy to like the music that I liked, which was the roaring underground rock of the mid 80s to early 90s of our local Twin Cities sound. At an early age, I was musically baptized in the shambolic genius of The Replacements and the sonic ground war of Husker Du, two scrappy hometown bands that exemplified the entire indie rock DIY movement. It was a hootenanny of raw throated, unpolished and sweaty songs.
It was more than just the music, though. The indie movement was a way of life. The music fed our underdog status as a people and as a city, our working class sensibilities, and most certainly cranked up our sneers at the establishment. All of this helped me grow my own musical roots into my beloved hometown of Minneapolis and I wanted Murphy to feel that, too. I wanted him to feel the authenticity, the sweat, the do it yourself attitude, and the ringing in the ear you got after having your face melted off at the 7th Street Entry.
But Murphy had other plans. After politely sitting down and listening to some of my favorite songs, he went ahead and torpedoed the whole bonding operation by ignoring all of my suggestions and bought and downloaded his own music, which was the biggest pile of manufactured corporate cheese I’ve ever heard. For days, control over the music played on our stereo and computer was a pitched battle for the soul of our family.
“I want to listen to the Black Eyed Peas,” he’d chirp. “I want The Mats,” I’d answer. “I want ‘Radioactive’ by Imagine Dragons,” he’d say right back, referring to the spandex clad side show that made gyrating pop hits. “Give me some Bob Mould!” I’d retort.
This high stakes game of musical bomb throwing went on for several days. But then one night after I went nuclear about what he was listening to (something called Flo Rida) and what he was downloading onto his iPod, I realized what I’d done: I had committed a classic gift giving foul.
Sometimes, we give gifts for ourselves and not for the recipients. In my case, I tried giving my son the gift of an iPod with all of my music and never once considered that he might, you know, want his own songs on his own iPod.
A few weeks after Christmas, when I depressingly felt that my son had succumbed to the dark side of corporate pop music, I caught Murphy jamming to a wild fiddling song from Duluth based bluegrass band Trampled by Turtles on 89.3 The Current. We stood there together, wrapped in the warm sound of the old school banjos and mandolins, which in today’s musical landscape, a place where nearly every performer and every sound comes polished to a prepackaged fine sheen, was about the most punk rock, the most authentic sound I’d heard in years. You could practically feel their uncorporate north woods Bunyan-esque beards growing through the speakers. Then, with a muttering of six simple words, my son unknowingly gave me one of the best presents that I’ve ever received.
“Hey, dad, I like this song,” he said.