Other Stuff: Radio Tug of War

(Note from Kevin: I am taking a break from writing about learning (well, sort of). Instead, I am trying out a few pieces that use humor and life outside of the classroom. Thanks for reading.)


I remind him that we used to enjoy Raffi together. He’d be in his car seat, all strapped in with a juice box or animal crackers. Raffi would start up, singing about Beluga whales and bananaphones and all that, and we would hum and sing along with Raffi. It was a joyful noise, if you don’t mind me saying.

But he doesn’t remember Raffi. Or he is trying to forget Raffi. At the very least, he won’t acknowledge the Raffi years. Whatever the case, I don’t even have the keys in the ignition of the van when I notice his index finger is already at the “eject” button of the tape his five-year-old brother is listening to (it might be the same Raffi tape — some things never change), ready to take control of the music as soon as the power light goes on. He’s a 12 year old on a mission to DJ the van ride, in style.

I pause and he stares. It’s like a scene from a movie right now, or perhaps some fine work of art capturing the “modern surburban family,” with my hand holding the keys frozen in mid-air and his finger pointing towards the stereo on the dashboard. I relent and concede the power temporarily to him. The tape is ejected. Soon, Lady Gaga is droning on with her Middle East-inspired chanting.

It didn’t used to be like this. I think the musical tug of war began when we finally let him sit in the front seat of the van. The proximity to the stereo, coupled with a gift of an iPod and periodic access to iTunes (damn you, Steve Jobs!), suddenly added a musical sensibility to our 12 year old that we didn’t really know even existed. The radio jockeying began in a way that I couldn’t argue against. We’d listen to the local rock and pop station that I always listened to, anyway. It just made him feel in control when we let him turn the radio on.

I barely registered a change in all of this when I noticed one day that we were now listening to another station more frequently. My rock was gone. This new station featured Top 40 (is there such a thing anymore?) hits of the day. It wasn’t so bad. They still played Green Day, Sheryl Crow and others that I could enjoy and it gave me some pleasure to know I was hip enough to drop names like Pink and Black-Eyed Peas and know what I was talking about. My own ears, taught to love music by the likes of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, cringed at the electronic drums and over-produced songs (is auto-tune used in just every song or what?), but I could live with it.

One day, I noticed that we were onto yet another radio station. This third selection seemed a bit edgier in themes and yet, less musically sophisticated. Lyrics streamed in about parties late in the night, about leaving your boy/girlfriends, and hints of other things that might make me blush to write about. I became protective of my son’s ears (not to mention his younger brothers). I also noticed that my issues of Rolling Stone magazine began to disappear on the day they arrived. He pirates them up to his room, reading profiles of the artists in pop culture. This  made me look a bit closer at the magazine, which often features provocative covers. Some sort of shift had happened right beneath my feet. How in the world did that happen?

And so, the tug of war of the radio began. I am now on full alert to the landscape of lyrics, knocking Kesha and Jason Derulo off the speakers. Still, every time I leave the van for a second, or whenever there is a commercial break on another station, there we are, right back in the mix of electronic drums and bass and dancing a bit too close. I switch it back , or turn it off, and deflect the “look” by reminding him whose van it really is. Heck, kid, I sat in the front seat long before you were even born, man! I realize that in engaging this radio control, I am now the “old man, “ even if I do have an electric guitar at home and play(ed) in a rock band for  the years. My cool quotient is dropping (if it was ever even high to begin with).

I know we are beyond the days of Raffi, but I’d still like to offer some protection from the encroaching world. I know it is fruitless to think I can filter out music from his life while still hoping that he finds his own soundtrack to his youth, just as I did. Part of loving music is loving music that your parents don’t like.

Now, where is that recent Rolling Stone anyway?

Peace (in the soundscape),

  1. I remember those days as my oldest was growing up and later still in the real teen years. She had a preference for rap and that was really difficult to enjoy. A steady rhythm is easy to get into but I like to understand more of what the singer is saying and that didn’t happen. I seriously wonder if there is something physiological that happens to our ears that prevents us from hearing the actual lyrics. As a kid, I listened closely to catch them but now – no luck.
    Hang on Kevin. Stay available to your son’s thinking and understanding. You know how important music is for the developing soul.

  2. Wonderful post that took me back to being a kid in my parent’s van trying the same “radio-tug-of-war”. That’s when the Suchy Radio Rule was born. The rule was that whoever was driving had control of the radio. Of course this rule was invented before I started to drive so I don’t think my parents were thinking of the future when they crafted the Suchy Radio Rule. Needless to say they were taken aback the first day I got behind the wheel and immediately switched the radio station before putting the van in drive. There was a bit of glory in saying to them “driver has control over the radio”!

    Hang in there Kevin and cherish these moments with them!

  3. As the co-occupant of my car with my 13-y.o. daughter, I laughed out loud at your post. Her shift to the front seat was definitely a turning point in relinquishing my control of the car’s sound track. I appreciate becoming familiar with newer artists and in fact I now love Lady Gaga! I do reserve the right to nix songs with offensive or misogynistic lyrics, or even a song I like that we’ve already heard seven times that day. She reprogrammed the auto-buttons to her favorite stations, and then, bless her heart, figured out that she could make two sets of favorites and proudly announced that she had set up my news, jazz, and classical stations for me.

  4. The battle never ends. The 19-year-old ALWAYS commandeers the radio. The 23 and the 25 year olds allow me to stay tuned to NPR usually (thought I rarely have the opportunity to chauffeur them any more). Need to add to your cool quotient? Subscribe to PASTE magazine. Trust me. Instead of taking the whole issue, they’ll pilfer the CD out of it (but you can still get the tunes online). Good luck!

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