It’s one a.m. on a Saturday night. The music is loud, really loud, and above the din, there are the voices of young males fighting over the last slice of pizza.
I pull the pillow up over my head, hoping to muffle the commotion. I’m tired and I have to get up and make breakfast for these lovable louts in the morning. So when it continues, I do what my mother would’ve done: I go into my 14yo son’s room and tell him and his friends to “Turn that racket down!”; which I soon realize, is kind of funny, because they’re listening to my band’s CD. I am the racket I want him to turn down. Crazy kids.
My husband and I have played in our band, Jehova Waitresses since before our boys were born. So up until then, we generally spent our time traveling around in an old Dodge van playing shows, releasing CDs, living off a steady diet of pizza and Taco Bell and dressing like the original Broadway cast of Rent. Ah…freedom. I can almost hear George Michael singing it, and even he said ‘you gotta give for what you take’.
So of course, having kids was a big adjustment. You miss the open road, if not the Motel 6’s, but you do gain experience in the art of fighting with children after living with your bandmates 24/7. And even with boys, your home bathroom will never be as bad as the one’s you’ve seen in rock clubs.
I’ve always strived to be the “cool mom”; like Patti Smith. There’s a certain pride in knowing that when their friends shout “Hey! Your mother wears army boots!” at them, that yes, yes I do!
But we all know that kids never think their parents are cool, no matter what they do, and I’m sure even Ozzy Osbourne’s kids rolled their eyes a time or two, if for no other reason but for the fact that he couldn’t work the TV remote.
My 14yo son Max likes to refer to our Indie Americana band as “that hillbilly Kumbaya band you two play in”, and for a while, we worried that he might become a jock. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it would’ve been a little too Alex P. Keaton for this household.
So when Max wanted to learn to play guitar we were all over it. This would be something we could bond over. I agreed to play Guitar Hero with him if he’d let me show him the bar chords to Green Day songs on a real guitar. I think deep down he enjoyed the fact that his mom was teaching him how to play American Idiot, but he was equally mortified. For his sake, I was willing to pretend to be out of touch just enough to refer to the lead singer as Billie Joel Armstrong. “Mom!” he’d admonish, “it’s Billie JOE Armstrong!” I’d say, “Oh, is it? Well, I think their latest album just dropped at Walmart’s.”
It was a proud moment when my son came home and announced that he and his friends were starting a band. They practiced in our garage/studio and while I plugged in their amps, one of his friends asked me if I’d tune his guitar. After obliging, I might have played a few bars of Longview, just to prove I’ve still got it. And his friends might have exclaimed “Wow, Mrs. Roy! You know how to play Green Day?”. And I may have said yes and plunged headlong into an epic Green Day medley, spiraling my kid into horrified embarrassment.
Things only got worse for our kids when my husband a punk band, Grumpy Old Punks, churning out songs with titles like That’s No MILF, That’s My Wife. But that just builds character, right?
When I got a Rickenbacker electric guitar, my Les Paul playing son wanted to play it. I agreed, but under one condition: he had to have a good old fashioned jam session with his mama, take it or leave it. He chose to leave it.
It wasn’t two minutes before he came in arguing,
“That’s not how it goes, Mom. It starts out like this.”
“Oh, really? Is that how Billie Joel Armstrong plays it?”
“C’mon Mom…you know it’s Billie JOE.”
And here’s how I know it’s okay to be the eccentric mom with the guitar and the Indie band: if it gets my kid to see me as a person beyond the nagging parental unit who’s very existence seems to stem and derive pleasure from getting him to pick up after himself and do his homework, if I can teach him something that he considers useful and fun, if we can connect on this level and I can possibly stave off the almost inevitable intrusion of Jay Z or Cool Whoever, bursting forth from his bedroom speakers….I mean, damn! he actually listens to my hillbilly Kumbaya band – then I’ll have done my job, and we’ll have bonded. And in the words of Billie Joel Armstrong, he loves me “Just the Way I Am”.