Don’t Let Your Mother Hear You Playing This!

Ok. So this post is going to really date me. Hold onto your time machines. We’re going waaaayyyy back….

The first albums I ever owned (vinyl, 33 1/3 RPM microgroove) were the Jackson 5 (that’s Michael Jackson’s first gig) jackson5

and Donny Osmond. donny6

Safe. Wholesome. Fun pop music.

Then I discovered the Beatles. Sure, I was  a little late (they broke up in 1970) but my uncle had all their albums and I thought my uncle was pretty cool. I started collecting their albums, too. I’d pour over the lyrics, spin the records backward, analyze every word. Was Paul dead? Who was the walrus? Where IS Strawberry Fields? Is there happiness in a warm gun?

The first hard rock album I ever bought was Deep Purple’s Machine Head. I loved the song Smoke on the Water. The lead singer was Ian Gillian, voice of Jesus on the 1970 recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. My parents played JCS in our house all the time. I remember one Saturday, listening to my newest purchase with my hard-earned allowance and being very disappointed. Sure, Smoke on the Water was a great song but the lyrics of the other songs disturbed me. I was  a young innocent. Many of the songs glorified drug use. Sure, the Beatles had alluded to it in their songs – often quite openly -but somehow this was different. A little more crude. Real. With no consequences. I was quite disturbed by this and my father used it to teach me about “wise purchases” and knowing more about the product before I lay down my hard-earned cash.

Eh. I got over it. As long as I liked the music I learned to ignore the lyrics. And so it went and on another Saturday my sister and I were listening to Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog (sometimes referred to as Son of a Bitch because of the line “Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch!”) nazarethMy sister and I, in our room, record player blaring, singing into our hairbrushes. My dad bursts in. “WHAT are you listening to?” “N-n-n-nazareth” we stutter, pointing to the album cover. “We just bought it.” “Oh,” my dad says, realizing this was our latest purchase. “Well, just don’t let your mother hear you playing this. And turn it down.”

As a young adult, because I truly enjoy all kinds of music, I became interested in this new genre, Rap. Ok. Not so new, but finally in the mainstream. I loved the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C. and the first rap song, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. But talk about struggling with the lyrics – Gangsta Rap really turned me off no matter how much I liked the music. And then, of course, there was the portrayal of women.


And speaking of women, and getting back to my love of hard rock, I really struggled when Nine Inch Nails hit the charts. The music? I loved. The lyrics? Not so much. Ok, not much at all. Well, most of the lyrics, anyway. How could I like such an artist? Many of the videos are banned for their graphic visions of violence and torture. But a song like “Hurt?” Gut wrenching and beautiful. When Johnny Cash did his haunting version Trent Reznor (lead singer for NIN) was quoted, “[I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form.”

Now I have children. I’ve censored the music I listen to when they’re around. My love of theater and opera and classical; they’re VERY aware of. We listen to “safe” pop music stations in the car. Tori Amos, NIN, Puddle of Mudd, and friends – I listen to when I’m alone.

But my daughter is now 17. And she’s listening to the same things I am – and then some – for a while now.  How do we keep our children from believing in the damaging lyrics found in some songs? How did I emerge from my teens with a strong sense of self? Have I sheltered them enough, for long enough, until they could come to their own conclusions of how the music should move them? And is it just me, or is sheltering them getting harder and harder?

Music is powerful. And as an art form it’s easier to come by. It’s everywhere. And we’re influenced by it more easily then I think we’re willing to admit.


Filed under Growing Up, Music

20 responses to “Don’t Let Your Mother Hear You Playing This!

  1. For me, music enhances my mood. You can tell what’s going on in my life by the music I listen…or if I am not listening to any at all.

    I love that my son is so diverse in the music he listens to. At this point I really don’t have to deal with censorship, as we download music together and so far he’s prety okay.

    I’m not big on censorshp, but I only have a 9 year old so ask me again in about 3 years 🙂

  2. Music is tied to our memories and the events in our lives. It instantly puts you back into the experience you were having when you first heard it. As far as censorship goes your parents didn’t censor you and you turned out just fine. So did I. Pink Floyd Rocks!

  3. We are so the same age! I thought I was dying each time I saw Donny Osmond (laugh). I loved the Jackson 5 too!
    Unfortunately for me, my musical tastes in my teens remained pretty weenie and cheesy. However, my children (2 boys) are a very different story. I don’t censor too often, because I think that creates more interest. They like what they like, and more often than not, it is appropriate.

  4. I keep reading this post saying “Me, too! Me, too!”…..and when you mentioned the Sugarhill Gang I was all “Man, this woman rocks!”:)

    I, too, am moved by the rythmns of what I hear…and not necessarily the words. I think there is a link to your level of sense-of-self development that determines how much you will be influences by lyrics you hear and how they may or may not desensitize you. Determining where a child is in relation to that line is beyond me, though.

    Maybe when the stop just doing and start questioning before they “just do”.

    Great Post!

  5. I knew I liked you! Rocker Chic who was raised on Donny Osmond…awesome.

    I know, it’s hard with the lyrics sometimes. Love Guns-n-Roses but “I used to love her/but I had to kill her/I had to put her/six feet under/and I can still hear her complain…” is just a little disturbing, dontcha think?

    My kids beg for me to play my Pink cd in the car, and I do, but I always turn “Funhouse” down when she says “I’m gonna burn this FUCKER down…” That’s my one concession…but they certainly DO listen to the lyrics because they’re always asking “what does she mean in this song?”

    Not sure whether to worry or be proud that they’re thinking…

    • Rocker Chic! My husband calls me that! I’m with you when they start asking what it means – it’s tough. When my daughter was younger I’d open the conversation with, “You know we don’t use those words.” I’d get the eye roll and she’d say, “Yeah, Mom. I know!………but what does it mean?”

  6. Interesting post. I hate that I censor my music when the kids are in the car. Before I had kids, I thought I would be one of those parents who understood that art, music, were forms of expression and that should be valued. My kids would grow up understanding that. That was until my 3 year olds started singing “I’m bringing sexy back, yeah…” It was around then that Ralph’s World entered the CD player.

  7. How could you choose Donny over David Cassidy!! 😀

  8. Steven Harris

    I had no idea Gillan was the voice of Jesus for Superstar. No wonder it was such a powerful set of vocal chords. Everyone needed an aunt or uncle to lend them Beatles records. Paul, incidentally, is not dead. 😉

  9. I was extremely sheltered growing up… to the point that when my dad found my Stephen King books, he destroyed them. When he discovered my NIN, Metallica, and 2Pac CD’s, he broke them into pieces. The more my parents tried to shelter me, the more I rebelled. Of course, quite a bit of sheltering is necessary in today’s world. Seriously, I see the point my parents were trying to make… but the way they went about it (with brute force) was an epic failure. In my opinion, it’s a good idea to just sit down and talk to your kids, try to get them to see things from your point of view. Talk, talk, talk. Talk to them about everything. That would have worked for me anyway, but instead, my parents were pretty crazy-strict about keeping me from EVERYTHING they deemed… “sinful.” (They were pretty hard-core religious.) I was just a kid, and I did what kids do, and their efforts backfired on them. The more of-limits something was, the more I wanted to read it/listen to it/do it.

    It’s a fine line. I think children need to be sheltered in a way that they don’t know they’re being sheltered.

    And nowadays, sheltering is even harder than it was when I was growing up. Children are forced to grow up way too fast in today’s society. It’s sad, very sad. They are losing thier innocent outlook on life at younger and younger ages…

    • That’s sad the approach your parents took. But you turned out ok, in spite of it, right? And I agree with you about our kids being forced to grow up so quickly. I about had a conniption when my daughter wanted to dress like Brittney Spears at age 8. Yikes!

  10. Tori Amos is prohibited? I need to listen more closely to her lyrics.. 🙂

  11. ck

    I loved NIN! I can only imagine how that music made my mom sick. (Damn, that means I’m really in for it later, doesn’t it?)

  12. This is a really powerful post because it’s the music we grew up with. My parents very much censored our music. If they didn’t like something we bought, it was their’s. I was coming to age when “Cop Killer” was out, and I remember watching the video, trying to understand the lyrics when my dad roared in, yelling at me for watching it. When I admitted I didn’t know what the song it was or what it said, he explained that lyrics were more important than the beat. From then on, I always looked up the lyrics of songs. I love the poetry behind songs, so I never understood how someone could glorify dark things. When I became a huge Tool fan, it was in college, but I never play it around the boys. I plan to teach them that every part of the song is important, music and lyrics, instruments and voice.
    As for “Hurt,” Johnny Cash totally made the song. The power of his voice just made the song so much more powerful and moving.

  13. Mel

    i still have that Nazareth album from my teens, we could hang out!

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