January 19, 2009 | Comments ()

By TK | Music | January 19, 2009 |


Childhood is a frightening time. Not until you’ve walked out in the street with no ID, mobile phone, money, keys or sense of direction can you experience again how utterly helpless you used to feel as a child, and how completely reliant on your parents. It’s not that you liked them, so much: it’s just that they knew where you lived, and could drive you there and feed you.

So I think we all give ourselves too much credit for the way we formed our musical tastes. The perennial question ‘what’s the first album you ever bought?’ goes along with this, implying that we were masters of our musical tastes at ten - that we had any sort of agency over what we did. We didn’t, and you know it. The music we listened to most as children was what we damn well had to, or else I’ll stop the car and you’ll just have to walk home. Huh? How would you like that? That’s right: you sat in the back seat for literally thousands of hours while your parents sat in the front and played whatever music they liked, and you just had to shut up and listen to it. And you couldn’t GET OUT. And how much of it did you like? If I’m honest, I think I liked about forty percent of what my parents played - which is a good average if my friends are to be believed: these are war-scarred veterans, telling gruesome tales of bloody encounters with ELO, Chris De Burgh, Tom Jones. I got away lightly.

The all-time number one top artist in my parents’ car, 1980-1998, was Bruce Springsteen. Did I like him? No. No. A thousand times no. Do I like him now? Still not very much - but I know every single one of his songs off by heart. At home my parents had Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge of Town on record, and in the car they had all of his 80s releases on cassette - minus Nebraska (his best album). In the early 90s, the Salmon family gamely persevered with Boss-dreck like Human Touch and Lucky Town. My sister and I were eleven when the latter two came out, and I proudly remember singing along sarcastically with her to Bruce’s woeful “Man’s Job”, whose horrible chorus appallingly goes: “Loving you is a man’s job, baby/Loving you is a man’s job/ Loving you is a man’s job, baby/ Loving you is a man’s job”. Now I know where my fear of lesbians comes from.


“The River”

The reason I hated Bruce Springsteen, and why I also hated Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker - who were all firm staples in my parents’ car - is that I loved beautiful, clear voices. The vocals of Bob Dylan seemed a complete nonsense to me: it was plain to hear that the man just couldn’t sing. And he didn’t write wonderful songs, either: a lot of them were just endless lists of words repeated over and over, with a droning voice and no melody. My most despised song by Dylan was “Maggie’s Farm”, which in my mind I associated with one of my most hated Rod Stewart songs, “Maggie May” (what’s with all the Maggies?). In turn, I obscurely connected both songs with Margaret Thatcher, I think (and if my parents had taught me anything, it was to despise anyone from the Conservative party, and especially Thatcher, as they were in the habit of stealing from the poor to give to the rich).

Back to Dylan though: I also loathed “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” - what on earth was he talking about, and why did the song last so Christing long? Even now I think my child self was right to dismiss as total guff this ceaseless parade of stuff the narrator has seen: “I saw ten thousand blackbirds, they were feasting on chicken/I saw Soviet ball-gowns, embroidered with barley”, and all that bard-as-prophet crap. Whatever, Bob. These days I still can’t bear to listen to Rod Stewart, but I managed to conquer my distaste for Bob Dylan (chiefly because he’s really good, which helps), growing to like him for the first time in my life when I was about twenty-one. But I had to work at it! Very hard! These childhood things are ingrained in you like racism.

Paul Simon fared a little better than the growlers. Like anyone alive in the 80s, my parents owned Graceland. But they also had Paul Simon, and Still Crazy After All These Years, amongst others. And Paul Simon had a perfectly agreeable (read: boring) voice, and there were some lovely, bouncy songs to enjoy as a kid: “Mother And Child Reunion”, and “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” especially, with its joyous shout of ‘WOAH-OH’. I wasn’t so keen on the African stuff on Graceland so much - “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” was clearly awful, and the shrieking by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, on “I Know What I Know” sounded ghastly. Only now is my generation reclaiming Paul Simon from car-memories: if I ever hear “You Can Call Me Al”, it sends waves of sheer joy coursing through me, but I couldn’t listen to him for about fifteen years.


“You Can Call Me Al”

The other biggies at the time were Madonna, whose album True Blue my parents owned for some reason I can’t quite understand, and Ella Fitzgerald singing The Cole Porter Songbook - both huge favourites with the kids. It seems odd now, in light of the horrific monster she’s become, but back then Madonna was fun, and endearing. Do you remember that? Listening and singing along to “True Blue” with its infectious bubblegum tune, on a summer’s day with the windows down, was to be entirely, innocently, blissfully carefree. We sang to all sorts of lyrics we didn’t understand - “Papa Don’t Preach” springs to mind (and the line “I’m gonna keep my baby” most notably - which, my father lyingly told us, meant that she was going to remain with her boyfriend, and not split up with him. I don’t blame him for chickening out - abortion would have been difficult to explain to six-year-olds). But we also didn’t understand the sultry ambiguities and innuendoes of Cole Porter, either - which didn’t stop us singing along to “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, with its references to cocaine, or “Too Darn Hot”, with its saucy allusion to the Kinsey Report.


“True Blue”

Now to the crimes: I’m afraid to say my parents got caught up in the late 80s Enya frenzy, and we all had to endure Watermark and Shepherd Moons at great length. We children loathed Enya with all our heart, and I still have very vivid memories of driving home from the countryside on a dark and cold Sunday night, thinking about the homework I still had to do, listening to “Orinoco (goddamn) Flow”. And Dire Straits! Hoo mama - I loved Dire Straits, I confess it. “Walk of Life” was obviously the best song in the world, and “Money For Nothing” wasn’t bad either. Or so I thought at the time: I can’t fucking stand Dire Straits now, of course - but this was the 80s, before CDs, and before I had proper opinions based on reason and experience.

As we started to grow up and exert a little more influence on the tape decks, Janis Joplin, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and The Beatles all had their turn in the limelight (this was when I was about twelve or so), and for some reason my parents also let us listen to the Bodyguard soundtrack in the car. R.E.M and Tracy Chapman, later on, were bands my parents were discerning enough not to veto, but they wisely drew the line at the Cranberries.

As for how all of this influenced my musical tastes, I’m not too certain. I love a husky or a nasal voice, these days, which is something I couldn’t stomach back then - it’s something to do with a melody needing to be obvious and not have anything get in its way for a child to like it. Nowadays I like the way a singer does something different and bends the song to his or her own quirks. But I still sort of think that a child is often a good measure of the quality of a song: quit the fuss, get straight to the melody, put something in there to sing along to - who can argue with those demands? That’s the recipe for great pop. I also can’t help wondering whether children of the 2000s will be complaining, in years to come, of being made to listen to Radiohead and The Arcade Fire. I hope so.

What were you forced to go through, as a child? Musically speaking, I mean: this is not the place for dark recollections.
—Caspar Salmon

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My Parents' Car

Road Trip Music Of Our Youth / Caspar Salmon

Music | January 19, 2009 | Comments ()




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