Part One – Wubba Wubba Wubba
When I was in seventh grade, cable TV came to my part of the world. No longer did we have to rotate the massive antenna above our house to pick up one of four dreary local TV channels.
MTV gave me eyes into the world awaiting me beyond southeastern Ohio. It was before the first season of The Real World and a few years before 120 Minutes introduced me to the concept of “alternative music.” Club MTV reigned supreme for me.
I would sit, transfixed on the couch, studying the clothes and moves of the writhing people in a New York club. When no one else was around, I danced along with abandon and seriousness. I’d mouth, “Wubba Wubba Wubba. Good Bye. God Bless,” back to Downtown Julie Brown as she closed each show.
I told friends my dream was to go clubbing in New York City.
Part Two – Woody’s in Philadelphia
By 18, I hadn’t made it yet to New York City, but instead to college in suburban Philadelphia. Thanks to older students with the know-how, the LGBT group occasionally borrowed a campus van so we could drive into Philadelphia late on Wednesdays for Woody’s 18+ night.
It was everything I wanted it to be. The heat, intensity, and abandon of being in a gay-majority place. The pounding music that drove me to move without thinking about it first. The experience was larger than life.
Part Three – Me & Miles Together, Stars 4-Ever
Miles has been a tyrant about music, especially in the car, since he was about 15 months old. When the right song comes on, his face immediately softens and his eyes widen. His body grows still until the song ends. Then, he asks for it again. And again. And again. With willful insistence and shrieks if I refuse to comply.
For over a year, we listened, virtually nonstop, to the Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal every time we got in the car. Miles learned to say, “Papa, will you please put it on ‘Repeat?’”
On the move from Wisconsin to Ohio two summers ago, with Travis behind me in a moving truck, I must have played that song 80 times. I complied with Miles’ command because it kept him satisfied on the long journey. We are all lucky I didn’t drive us into an oncoming semi to make it stop.
It’s our fault for indulging his preferences with little resistance in the early days. It’s just that he adores music so much and seems so fully entranced by it. When he’s listening intently, I can see his mind taking apart the lyrics and the rhythm.
In the past year, I’ve tried my best to resist his backseat DJing and introduce him to new music. After painful months of what I consider impulse control training, lately he’s much, much more flexible.
On the way home from bowling with friends one evening this summer, I tried Robyn. Travis found her first, and I was skeptical of what sounded like clichéd gay dance music, something I haven’t really enjoyed since my time at Woody’s. But the more I listened, the more I decided it was different and really good. It even had me shaking it in my kitchen.
I popped in the CD, hoping Miles would roll with it. At first, he refused, shouting from the back, “A different song please!” I cringed.
I forwarded it to the last song on the album, one I hadn’t heard yet called “Stars 4-Ever.”
You and me on the hood on my car
Watching the stars…
It hit it. For both of us.
It was the perfect song for late summer driving, pulling me in from the tight, opening beats, then building and soaring. The lyrics are sentimental but not cheesy (at least not to me, not in that moment). With the windows down, I jacked up the volume louder than what’s appropriate for a three-year-old.
I didn’t hear–and really couldn’t hear–any sounds from the backseat. I waited a minute or so to glance at Miles in case it broke the spell. His face had transformed into music trance mode. He was clearly in deep.
It was one of those moments when you’re in the present while simultaneously watching yourself from the outside. When someone filming the movie of your life starts the right song at the right moment. Just like how I felt when I danced in my family room with Club MTV and just like when I got into the groove at Woody’s.
There are so many times that being a parent has meant packing up older parts of myself and setting aside things I enjoy for the sake of my kid. But that evening in the car, I could feel my past selves coming together with who I’m becoming now, with Miles, who is no longer a toddler but instead a being with the capacity to share such moments with me.
Under the spell of the song, I could also see myself into the future, looking back and remembering that evening with Miles and Robyn in the car.
When the song ended, Miles piped up from the back seat: “Papa, will you please put that one on “Repeat”?