I’ve written previously about car trips with my son. He just tolerates being shackled to a car seat, and given that he’s 17 months old, of course that displeasure is expressed through a highly effective, droning whine. I don’t have the heart to tell him that he should get used to it; this only the beginning. So instead we pretend it’s an inconvenience limited to childhood, and fill the space with the distraction of music. “The Wheels on the Bus” is usually more effective than whatever indie tune I’d rather hear, though. He has my ears, but he doesn’t have my “ears.”
Yet? Maybe ever. I don’t know, but I keep trying…
So it was nice this morning when I wasn’t trying. I just coincidentally happened to have Owen’s L’Ami du Peuple playing - I was listening to it this weekend while running errands. It’s a record I keep returning to, as it gradually morphs into one of my favorite albums. SPIN praised its “disarming intimacy,” as man-behind-the-moniker Mike Kinsella reflects on new fatherhood, the disappointment of adulthood, lost love, and the death of his father.
"Is this really all there is?" Kinsella asks on "Coffin Companions," a song that only gets more painfully real as it describes the daily repetition of middle age: take meds to sleep, alarm, work, take meds to sleep, die.
Gone are the smiles and wide-eyed optimism of our 20s. In your 30s is when angst matures into anguish, but by then we’re too old and too busy to be speaking of such things. “Of all the coffins in all the dreadful corners of the world / You chose mine, and I, yours.” It’s the most romantic line on the record.
“Love is Not Enough" is even more direct: "Love is not enough / We need some money / I can see some guys give up / How good apples go bad." There are other musicians who have explored this territory, musing on how adulthood is basically a scam, but Kinsella is particularly effective in revealing how the expectations of our youth require tempering as we beat back against Real Life and its consequences: "May we find a place in Heaven / That doesn’t flood when it rains."
Anyway, back to my son. Thankfully he’s young enough to be oblivious to all of this. But he responds to beat and melody, and he loves to dance. L’Ami du Peuple isn’t dancing music; it stirs a quieter response. And despite everything I’ve written above, it’s actually a soothing album. There is a gentleness to the vocals and the music that belies the lyrical content. So, as the delicate strumming of “I Got High” began, my son forwent the demand for “The Wheels on the Bus,” and quietly flipped through his kids’ magazine. And at one point, I swear it sounded like he was trying to sing along.
Maybe he’s still too young to share my ear for music, or maybe he never will. But if today is all I’ll get - I’ll take it.