It just occurred to me that there is an odd coincidence that ties together Elton John and Jimmy Buffett, however unlikely that may be - they both have songs titled “The Captain and the Kid.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more thankful that I grew up in a household where music was a part of every day life. I’ve realized - from friends, acquaintances, and girlfriends - that this isn’t often the case. For every parent who has musical leanings, there is one whose leanings are either dubious or non-existent. For every mom who loves Songs in the Key of Life, there’s a dad who loves KC and the Sunshine Band.
My parents, for better or for worse, were not vocal fans of Stevie Wonder or KC and the Sunshine Band, though I certainly heard both as a child. My dad was a fan of blues-tinged rock; The J. Geils Band was a fixture, often at volumes that displeased my mom (and probably still is, even as my dad approaches retirement age). Led Zeppelin and The Stones were unavoidable, of course. My mom, as you may have guessed, preferred things on the softer side. Aside fro the previously mentioned Elton John and Billy Joel, she favored Fleetwood Mac and Paul Simon, with or without Garfunkel attached.
(For the record, I am fairly anti-Garfunkel. Sure, he was a talented singer, but he was in the right place at the right time. Anyone could have been Art Garfunkel; only Paul Simon could have been Paul Simon. After all, how many songs did Art write when they were together? None. Just helped with some arrangements.)
My parents weren’t without their guilty pleasures, though. At some point, they both misguidedly started enjoying the oeuvre of one Mr. James Buffett. One of the most vivid memories I have of my early childhood is of Buffett’s Songs You Know By Heart floating around the house on CD. I’m not even sure we had a CD player; the Subaru my parents had at the time certainly didn’t. Either way, my parents owned this CD, and it fascinated me. Not musically, mind you - I was only a toddler - but visually. It had this very simple, sparse cover, “Jimmy Buffett” in fire engine red cursive on an egg yolk yellow background. Between the bright colors and the gem case, it was the best unintentional toy I could get my hands on.
For a time, my parents were regular Parrotheads, as acolytes of Buffett are called. I distinctly remember going shopping with my mom for an inflatable shark, which was to be tied to the roof of whatever the family vehicle was at the time. I think she ended up settling on an undersized tiger shark.
This was the musical environment I grew up in. A steady diet of rock and pop with “Margaritaville” on the side. Weirdly, I was left to discover some things on my own later in life that most people hear as children, even without trying to. The big name on that list would be The Beatles, who were then trailed by every noteworthy black musician from Motown to present. But more about those later.
In the hospital waiting room, as I was being born, the biggest song in America was Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” It had already been a smash all over Europe some weeks before; I suspect its delay in achieving the same status here was solely for my benefit. In fact, I suspect that being born under the Sign of Astley — and in a grander sense the pop landscape of 1988 — is responsible for my preternatural bad luck with women.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. By all accounts, since that day, I have vacillated between hopeless romantic and garden-variety hopeless. My parents did their best, of course. My dad played loads of Aerosmith and AC/DC, to my mom’s general displeasure. She played Billy Joel and Elton John in the car. And while I grew to love the bands and singers my parents favored (as every child does, and to varying degrees, of course), their music could not hope to affect my development the way the radio did when it was left playing unattended, which it often was.
The first year I spent outside the womb was dominated by the kind of melodramatic, often sticky pop the ’80s were great for. Besides Rick Astley - who most people don’t realize had a second number-one hit with “Together Forever,” later that year - my first year of life saw hit songs like “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and the worst song Cheap Trick have ever written, “The Flame.” Sure, there were a few gems, like “Man in the Mirror” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” but there was also “Red Red Wine” and “Kokomo.”
You see? I was doomed from the start. If playing classical music for those in utero is supposed to improve the likelihood of the child being intelligent, what does exposure to songs about unrequited love and heartbreak get a kid?