My oldest son’s first concert technically was 13 years ago before he was born. My wife was about eight months pregnant when we went to a Green Day show in Washington, D.C. The waves of fast-paced punk music reverberated off my wife’s belly, creating a mosh pit effect in the womb. For thirteen years I have waited for the opportunity to re-introduce my son to the mosh pit, a place I have loved since I began my lifelong obsession with underground music.
I have an ulterior motive in pro-actively shaping my children’s taste in music; I did not want to be condemned to listen to kid’s music in the car on the way to/from soccer practice, etc. I started several years ago by introducing them to funny songs they could relate to, such as the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for your Right to Party” which is about not wanting to go to school and not wanting to get a haircut. I also got them into the Dead Milkmen, who sing about big lizards in their backyard. Most recently, we stumbled on a genre called “Laptop rap” which features songs about Star Wars, video games, and ninjas. So when I noticed that two such rappers — MC Chris and MC Lars — were coming to a club about an hour and a half away from our house, I jumped online and bought three tickets. It was an all-ages show. I was in luck.
My children had already forged a connection to Chris and Lars. Chris’s song Hoodie Ninja was played over the speaker system at my nine-year-old son’s swim meets last summer after one of the coaches overheard my son nicknamed his relay team “The Hoodie Ninjas.” Lars has a super-catchy rap version of Edgar Allan Poe’s 150-year-old poem The Raven that my kids now know all the words to. My plan to get them listening to my kind of music, and later taking them to my kind of concert, was working brilliantly.
The club we went to was located in a slightly sketchy neighborhood of Baltimore. We entered through the back door, a plain entrance with no markings of any kind. The ticket taker checked my ID and wrote large “X”s on my kids’ hands as a signal the bartender that they were too young to drink. I joked that if they ran to the bathroom to wash their hands, they could get the X off before the permanent ink dried and get a drink.
My 12-year-old and 9-year-old were the only kids at the show. Several other people looked at them and smiled at me. One guy even came up and told me, “You must be a cool dad.” “Either that or a really bad one,” I told him. My 12-year-old felt self-conscious and stood with his arms crossed. My youngest, however, sang along and participated in the call-and-response initiated by one of the rappers who encouraged the crowd to “meow” while he sang about kitties.
Lars closed his set with The Raven, and the entire place erupted. I have always loved the feeling of listening to a song over and over your iPod and then seeing it performed live in a small venue where you can almost reach out and touch the musician. I also wanted my kids to understand the appeal of underground music that I had long appreciated: that is you develop a private, personal connection to songs that none of your friends know and then share the concert experience with a room full of people who have also stumbled into the same obscure corner of the music universe as you.
After Lars left the stage, I noticed his green A’s hat emerge from behind the backstage curtain and make its way to the merchandise table. I asked the kids if they wanted to meet him up close. My oldest took a pass, but my youngest jumped at it. We went up to Lars’ together. I shook his hand first and then stepped aside so that he could see my little wing man. He came out from behind the merchandise table and knelt down on one knee to talk face-to-face with son. As I lined up the camera, Lars told my son to make the handsign for heavy metal.
MC Chris opened his show with a funny monologue about xbox games that my sons love to play. Most of his songs are about Star Wars and pizza, and my kids hung on his every word. My self-conscious 12-year-old started to loosen up. When Chris introduced the next song by saying, “This song is about ninja’s” my kids were completely hooked.
After the show, Chris and Lars both hung out in the club talking to fans, taking pictures and signing autographs. This is something that fans of Taylor Swift or the Black Eyed Peas will never get a taste of–a direct personal connection. As the people in front of us snapped their pictures with Chris and moved on, we stepped up. Chris seemed really excited to meet his littlest fans. He even pulled out his iPhone and took a picture of my kid wearing his sweatshirt. He spent time talking to them about what they thought of the show and which songs they like and whatnot. As I lined up my camera, my oldest son put on a ninja mask attached to his sweatshirt, Chris followed suit by flipping up his hoodie and the two of them stood shoulder-to-shoulder, arms folded, looking like tough guys.
In the car on the way back, the kids both raved about what a great show it had been. I felt a certain satisfaction that I had nudged them down the same road that I have been traveling on for the past 25 years–just as I had planned it since that Green Day show way back when.