Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Do your parents' passions shape your own? Laura Barton, one of The Guardian's music writers, looks back on her formative years.
In the evenings, after he had set down his briefcase and taken his first sip of gin and tonic, my dad would teach me how to rock'n'roll dance in the living room. I would be swooshed into the air, shown how to twist right down to the floor on one leg, while we played Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, the Big Bopper up loud on the stereo.
Music was a constant presence in my childhood home, soundtracking Sunday lunches, housework, homework, afternoons in the garden. It was a rush of Graceland, Supertramp, Kate Bush; Sgt Pepper, Duffy Power, doo-wop. It was Tango in the Night and Jazz on a Summer's Day, and all four of us crammed in the car, singing a little ditty, 'bout Jack and Diane.
Some moments seem scored on my memory: my dad playing Sixteen Candles on my birthday; a school morning with my mum as she played Phil Collins's No Jacket Required. And when I stop to consider it now, I see how much music has fed and shaped and enriched my relationship with my parents.
I often think it was my mum who gave me lyrics, who gave me Leonard Cohen and Dory Previn: a delight in the sound and colour and weight of words. My dad gave me music: song as a physical experience, as rhythm, as the beat and the off-beat drummed against the car steering wheel. He gave me jazz, and blues, and rock'n'roll, Dion, John Lee Hooker and Thelonious Monk. He would take me to record fairs, where I would stand quietly among the rows and listen to the flick-flick-flick of the vinyl-hunters. He would make me compilations, send me messages about his latest musical infatuation, greet my return home with a casual, "Have you heard the new Kanye?"
My dad and I are still talking about music. When I went home recently we sat at the kitchen table sipping red wine while he explained what he loved about Wu-Lyf's intros. And when my parents went to see Bon Iver play in Manchester this autumn, he emailed me the following morning to rave and to rhapsodise, to try to articulate his awe at the previous night's show.
It was my mum who introduced my dad to the music of Van Morrison: some time around 1970 she bought a copy of Astral Weeks in HMV in Manchester and forced him to listen to it. Ever since, Morrison's music has been a beam, a bolster between my parents, our family.
For my whole life, this is music that has somehow shouldered our relationship; his music has become part of our family language every bit as much as bad puns, Monty Python jokes and references to I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. We'll talk about "gardens all misty-wet with rain" and of being "famished before dinner" and "meet me down by the pylons".
And still, now, some of the happiest sounds in the world to me remain those late-night murmurings – drifting up the stairs, pressing up between the floorboards, the sound of wine glasses, low voices, the muffled lyrics, rhythms, raptures of Into the Music playing on the stereo: "When you hear the music ringing in your soul," Morrison sings, "And you feel it in your heart and it grows and grows/ And it came from the backstreet rock'n'roll/ And the healing has begun …"
Laura Barton is a journalist and author