I can remember exactly when the “problems” started. It was early 1970, and I was in the car -- a gold 1966 Chevrolet Impala – with my mom. I was in the front. Bench seats, no seatbelts. We were headed north on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica. We’d just passed the super groovy London Britches clothing store when I heard a song on KHJ -- the only radio station in existence as far as my folks were concerned -- that changed my life. It started with a simple two chord piano intro, then a drum, followed by a yummy-gummy voice blaring through the single speaker on the sun-parched dash board. “If you want it, heeere it is, come and get it… make your mind up fast.” It was Badfinger, and I took it, fast. Soon, I was onto the harder stuff: The Beatles. Within a year, I was on the psychiatrist’s couch. I was six.
My sessions with Dr. Kolite became my first regular excursions into the Valley (I was living in Venice at the time) – his office was in a tall Ventura Boulevard building in Encino. I was sent to a shrink because I was weird. I didn’t like to go outside; I didn’t want to play with army men or ride a Big Wheel. Instead, I preferred to sit in my room and listen to music. This, to my parents, was weird. I was “anti-social.” But I couldn’t be de-weirded. The damage was done, I’m afraid, and I found myself talking to shrink mostly about the Beatles. He even lent me a record from his own collection – it was a German compilation on Odeon Records, entitled The Beatles Greatest.
Of course, it never occurred to me that my love of music was a bad thing. It was my bag, as it were. I guess my mom and stepdad were very conventional in their views of how a kid should be. They certainly meant well. But I was sent into a stranger’s office every week, which, when you’re six, gives you the distinct impression that something’s wrong with you. Needless to say, this did wonders for my self-esteem.
I bring this up for a few reasons. For starters, this sort of negative reinforcement didn’t do me any good. And, as a fairly new parent, I understand more clearly than ever that what happened to me could’ve easily extinguished something for which I showed a great passion at a very young age. So if a kid is somehow “different” from whatever the norm is perceived to be by a parent, so be it. Encourage it. We don’t own or control our kids; instead, we should simply provide an environment in which they can cultivate that which brings them joy – without judgment.
You can throw things at them, and if they dig it, all the better. If not, move on. Of course, you always want your kids to share your good taste. My wife Carrie, for example, is a devotee of the mushy Marlo Thomas kids special Free To Be You and Me, which I always dismissed as a chick thing. My son Emmett may only be two, but he clearly agrees with me. Whenever we screen Free to Be, he walks out of the room.
When I was a wee lad, I became obsessed with an animated special called The Point. In a nutshell, it was the story of a kid named Oblio, who was different from all the other children in his village and was ostracized for it. I related big-time to the story. That it was conceptualized by the great Harry Nilsson (who also composed the soundtrack) made it that much more memorable of an experience. I’ve owned a VHS copy for years, but when the official DVD release arrived a few weeks back, I popped it in and shared it with Emmett. He was completely entranced by it and asked to watch it almost daily when we first got it. On the surface I was hoping Emmett would absorb the important moral of the story, but deep down I was jumping up and down: My son was digging the cool shit.
And he is actually significantly cooler that I could have possibly imagined. After he dug the gently psychedelic vibe of The Point, it was time to take that next step. As an experiment, I put on a DVD of Yellow Submarine. Ohmygod. He is more obsessed than I ever was with the 1968 animated Beatles flick, and, like his old man, Paul is his favorite. It’s unexplainable, really. The characters speak in thick Lilliputlian accents; the story itself rather drags on, but it’s still some of the most dazzling eye candy ever. Of course, I only began to appreciate the film in college with the help of extracurricular stimulation. I wonder what a two-year-old sees when bombarded by the swirl of gorgeous imagery. Whatever it is, I want some.
Most kids his age aren’t grooving to the Blue Meanies; they’re still wrapping themselves around the Teletubbies. But if Emmett opts to obsess with the Fab Four, who am I to get in his way? It’s Radio Disney and Barney that I worry about. Now, that shit’s weird.
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