Too young to rock and roll

by Brian Clarey

Something terrible has happened. Just terrible. A threshold has been crossed from which there is no turning back. And I fear nothing will ever be the same.

Last week my oldest son discovered rock and roll. And it’s kind of freaking me out.

It’s not completely unexpected — the kid was born in New Orleans, after all, and experienced a Jazz Fest in utero, during the third trimester of his gestation.

But I thought I might be getting off easy with this one, who has not only never expressed any interest in any kind of music whatsoever, but who has

actively avoided instances where live music is performed because, he would say, it’s too loud.

Not that we didn’t try. But after a few years of lugging the kid to festivals and performances he didn’t want to go to and obliging his requests to turn down the car stereo, I began to think myself a little bit lucky.

Because rock and roll is badass, man. Wild and unrestrained. The soundtrack to rebellion and hedonism. The way of all-night parties and dangerous inclinations. Trust me, I know. It’s why I fell in and will never completely leave.

For me it was stuff like Led Zeppelin, the Stones, the Grateful Dead and their ilk that made me feel like I was tapping into something dark and powerful. It was artistic and suggestive, sure, and I could lose myself in it. And it was dangerous, with a hard edge that made me sneer.

The vehicle for my boy’s newfound love of the hard-rock genre was, oddly enough, a period piece from the 1980s that in hindsight looks more like a parody of what rock and roll ought to be than the genuine article: Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” a number about vague notions of rebellion, I think, with themes of dissatisfaction and rage throughout. And, with apologies to Dee Snider, it is one of the stupidest songs ever to crack the Top 40.

Even when this one came out in 1985, 15-year-old me knew it was awful — though I kind of like the video, with Neidermeyer from Animal House doing his thing.

And that’s something weird: When I was his age, I learned about new songs from the radio and MTV. My son discovered Twisted Sister through his newly purchased copy of Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock — a video game.

An awesome video game. You’re like this rock-and-roll warrior trying to save the demigod of rock by forming a monster band and slaying the Beast by playing all seven parts of Rush’s “2112” and this song Dave Mustaine wrote just for the game.

Anyway…. The kid likes the game a little too much, if you ask me, got that guitar slung over his shoulder, that glazed look in his eye as he tears through some Black Sabbath and George Thorogood. And he’s starting to infect the other children, who have taken to singing the lyrics to “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as they wander through the rooms of our house in the way they used to sing their ABCs.

Trust me: Nothing good will come of this. First it’s a little Twisted Sister on the Guitar Hero. Then he’s cruising the internet looking for sounds, and sooner or later he’s gonna want to go to rock concerts — and we all know what happens there.

Then maybe he’s gonna want an electric guitar, just a little starter one with maybe a small amp. He’ll ask for lessons and I’ll probably fold, justifying it by deeming it “supportive of my child’s interest in the arts.”

Then he’s gonna want to start a band. And even if it’s just a handful of little pishers working three-chord dirges in my garage, it’s still gonna be trouble. It won’t be long before there are a bunch of rock chicks hanging out while they practice, and then they’ll be sneaking beers and making out and planning road trips and… oh man… oh man.

So while he was straight-up wailing on Guitar Hero Sunday afternoon, I filled him in on the dangers of the rock-star lifestyle.

When Blind Melon’s “Tones of Home” came on, I told him how lead singer Shannon Hoon died of an overdose in a tour bus outside the F&M Patio Bar in New Orleans the night he was supposed to play Tipitina’s. When it was time to play Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I told him about the fate of Freddie Mercury.

“Dead,” I said. I gave similar notes on Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, the Ramones and Nirvana by way of Foo Fighters.

“How come they’re all dead?” he wanted to know. “Rock and roll, son,” I said. “That’s why.” He shrugged and went back to playing Guitar Hero. Even though he’s right-handed, he plays guitar left. The chicks are gonna love that.