We’ve been fortunate to have a series of good live shows come through the Detroit area in the suburb of Pontiac over the last few months. My parents still live in Clarkston, so we manage to coordinate a visit and seeing a show in the same weekend. I’d been waiting to take both kids to an outdoor show somewhere like Pine Knob or Meadowbrook where they could stretch their legs and wander off within a greater margin of safety, but these shows don’t seem to happen. So I made the call to let Gabriel our eleven year old come to these two shows.
Last month we saw The New Pornographers and Okkervil River at the Crofoot Ballroom. And this weekend we saw the National. Both shows were excellent, but for the first time we decided to take our eleven year old son to the shows. The Crofoot is not a kid friendly venue. It is a nightclub. Plain and simple. Smoky, crowded and with a full bar.
My parenting instincts were plainly in conflict with one another through the whole experience. The two sides of parenting, are protect/expose. And this is a constant battle from the day you have a child. Gabriel, our eleven year old son has been curious about music since he was small. He is now playing the saxophone at school and keeps talking about starting a band, (which I would encourage).
I keep imagining myself at his age, and wishing I could have seen some of the bands that were coming to Detroit in the early 1980s. I mean how cool would it have been to see U2 in a club when you were eleven years old? Or maybe the Clash, Elvis Costello, or the Smiths? Granted I saw some pretty out of control shows when I was in High School and College, Fugazi, Skinny Puppy, Ministry, The Jesus Lizard, that I don’t think I would take Gabriel to see any of those shows considering the content, or the danger of the crowd.
All three of these bands were of the fairly tame and upbeat variety, but still very good music with a very low probability of riot or crowd dissent. (Nevermind that I witnessed a fistfight at a Camera Obscura show in Kalamazoo). The club is pretty new and is pretty low occupancy. Gabriel was pretty typical as a kid, he came in, explored, got bored for a bit, when the music starts he stays focused for a bit, then becomes unfocused, then refocuses. And then it’s time to go. People are smoking, using inappropriate language, drinking, and generally having a good time. But it is not meant for kids really. Except that my kid knows who the bands are and can sing along to the music.
Certainly I don’t think my son is going to become a drug addled rock star because I took him to see a punk rock band twice when he was eleven. Nor do I think he will become a musical genius just from seeing a few shows. I also don’t believe I will become the cool dad for taking him to a show. Trust me when I am coercing him to stick nearby in a crowded club he is rolling his eyes at me already.
But I do hope he will see that his parents who aren’t going out and getting loaded at the show, are getting excited about music, are engaged, and present in the moment. That just because you’re old, (34 is old to an eleven year old), doesn’t mean you shrivel up and die.
I’ve noticed some fellow parents give me an odd look when we tell them we took our kid to a New Pornographers show. Granted they had never heard of them before, and assumed it was naked women with guitars. I guess I am not sure what the right decision is either. I certainly felt on edge at both shows, and I had to make sure Gabe was nearby before I could really feel I was having a good time. And I had to keep watching him to make sure he was sticking with the show. And for the most part he did. He also seemed to take cues from me. When the National played Abel, (my favorite tune by The National) I sang along, clapped and hooted, and Gabriel seeing my enthusiasm, cut loose a little too.
Gabe had a unique opportunity to meet Okkervil River due to our position sidestage. The band as a support act had to load their own equipment. Gabriel being eleven walked right up and started talking to the band without fear of being uncool, or their rejection, and luckily the band, not used to seeing an eleven year old at a show warmed to him. The drummer gave him a drumstick and had his photograph taken with him. He still has the drumstick and he whips it out as a cool factor whenever he feels cheeky. Also Neko Case winked at Gabe during the show!
Okkervil River and The New Pornographers were really excellent, good tight live shows. The National was a really awesome show, great sound, great band. They played nonstop for almost two hours. They dedicated another fan favorite to Barack Obama, Mr. November
I have tickets to see Wolf Parade at the beginning of July. That show may be less tame than the last two, and I may have to make a judgment call that Gabriel won’t like. But it may be what is right for him now.