John Porter runs Mood Indigo Entertainment, an artist management company that specializes in artist, career and legacy development.
With both of his parents in the music business, my son Brendan had no chance of not being exposed to music. His Mom noticed while he was still in her belly that he seemed to respond to Cannonball Adderley when they heard his music on WVGO (the great jazz station based in New Jersey that thankfully reaches into NYC). We didn’t own any of his music in our own collection at the time, but we quickly bought him his first CD. And yes, he kicked when it was played. Upon birth, during those late nights of comforting when he wouldn’t sleep or wanted attention I learned that pretty much any song by The Beatles could be sung as a lullaby. And as he grew older, many of their songs became sing alongs as he rode in the back seat being toted to and fro. I even purchased a paperback lyric book of their songs so we could try to not butcher the lyrics too badly (I have to note this particular book had many errors, which was frustrating).
Early on when he was 2, we determined he was a “pop” kid. He heard and fell in love with an advance of Hanson’s “Mmmm Bop” and soon, so did a lot of the rest of the world. He proved a great little barometer: if Bren liked it it was pretty much destined to be a “hit”. He often earned his keep hearing his Mom’s company’s songs on TV and notifying her immediately. Very often it turned out the song hadn’t been licensed properly and the errant party was made to pay a full rate. He still performs this valuable service for her but as his viewing habits have changed he’s busting fewer people/companies. Nickelodeon and Disney in particular, have to be glad he’s no longer policing their licensing departments.
I was less involved with “pop” stuff than his Mom. I played lots of singer-songwriters and Americana type music in my apartment (he lived with me most of the time after his Mom and I divorced, in the early years) I have to admit to playing lots of Alison Krauss’ music and he always seemed to like it. At Newport one Summer he flirted shamelessly with her - not knowing who she was. When she sang, he made a beeline for the stage and was 3/4 up the steps when I grabbed him. He would have no doubt run right up to her to watch her sing. Later that day, I was startled by Lyle Lovett starring at us both, very close up (his nose inches from mine) - as we napped in the shade. Bren, wasn’t startled at all. His eyes opened briefly, then he went back to sleep.
When he was in elementary school, he charmed me along with an entire subway car of jaded New Yorkers when he - having borrowed my iPod, suddenly started to sing along with John Lennon’s “Imagine” on our morning commute. The entire, very crowed and loud car suddenly grew silent, as everyone listened and watched my little boy singing with his eyes closed. When he stopped singing, he opened his eyes to the applause and smiles from our fellow travelers. Yes, he was embarrassed and buried himself in my underarm to hide. It was a miracle his head could fit there, my heart was so swollen with love for him - and that moment. As he grew older, he became a hip-hop kid. The Beatles have remained one of the few common musical denominators between us.
While still in elementary school, but older, he wandered onto the Late Night w/Conan O’Brien set to be closer to his favorite band of the moment, Switchfoot. Their tour manager hand delivered him to me in the green room, with a smile - telling me he almost made it onto national TV. Those guys were always so sweet with him. A year later when I took him to go see U2, he very defensively stated that Adam Clayton was stealing Tim Foreman’s moves. He also fell asleep five or six songs in. So, I tried to introduce him to that kind of experience a bit too early. A tad costly, but all these years later he still loves U2’s music too.
He's attended the SXSW Music Festival and been “babysat” by a new band at the time that was hanging out at the swimming pool - nice chaps: Oasis. I kidnapped him at Jazz Fest one year because the rest of the group was lolly gagging. He and I ended up with a great view of Stevie Wonder. When we rejoined the rest of our group (and his grumpy Mom) at the end of the set, she exclaimed that “I can’t believe you stole the baby”. My response, “I can’t believe you didn’t think that I would” (we had different priorities, she and I - our shared love of our kid is our common denominator). When he was born,Songs In The Key Of Life became dubbed Songs In The Key Of Brendan. I wasn’t not gonna get up close to Stevie with him ;)
In middle school, he gravitated to a few songs I also loved like “Brighter Than Sunshine (by aqualung) & “Sad, Sad Song” (by M. Ward). But my allegiances to a artists, not so much shared by him. He liked certain songs. No longer wanted to be bothered by albums. So, around the house I changed my listening habits to cater better to his short attention span and the iPod playing on “shuffle” slowly became the norm. And, his listening habits veered more to his own music on his own iPod. Still, I hoped some of the good stuff would get exposed to him via osmosis.
We both had fun with Gil Scott Heron’s ‘Whitey On The Moon” & Bruce Springsteen’s version of “War”. We’d sing along to “War” and to get the “ugh” part before “what is it good for” he’d hit me in the stomach. And he totally got that Gil Scott helped pioneer the rap that he loved. A girlfriend helped turn him on to The Beastie Boys and we lived in Brooklyn at the time, so it was fitting. The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated” was introduced one Halloween as “I Wanna Be Pirated” and stuck. When he discovered “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugar Hill Gang he was really surprised that I knew the words (I sold a bazillion of those 12”s when I worked at music retail - hell, I was in charge the 12” section).
By the time he’d become a teenager, his tastes were definitely his own and were so skewed towards hip-hop that common denominators came along less and less with new music. He loved all the new dances associated with songs of the moment and at his Bar Mitzvah as he and all his friends lined up to dance along to Soulja Boy's “Crank That”. I couldn’t resist the temptation to line up and join in. By the time I had done all the moves from it I actually knew, he saw me and screamed, “Ba, no!”. My job done, my son shamed - I left the dance floor beaming.
In high school, Otis Redding whose music his father has played around him for years suddenly became hip, courtesy of Jay-Z and Kanye sampling him on “Otis". Ray Charles became likewise via “Gold Digger” (Jamie Foxx provided cool vocals mimicking the legend). And some classic rock stuff like Bob Seger has become cool to him. Some stuff I thought he’d gravitate towards as he got older, like Prince - not so much (yet anyway, he has issues with the “production"). His favorite group in the last few years has been Imagine Dragons. He “discovered” them early compared to his friends, and has now gone to shows in mid-sized clubs, to seeing them graduate to Jones Beach (thank you, Mom). But unlike his Father, who once he discovers something he likes, goes in search of back catalog and their history - he is only about them in the present.
He puts up with my Bob Marley, Willie Nelson and R.E.M. jags. But he loves “his” music more than he likes “mine". Which, is how it should be. The importance of music is enough. His excitement about sharing new songs he’s ‘discovered” is infectious. He’s made me reassess my opinions on several artists I hadn’t paid enough attention to. Others, I get why he digs ‘em - but they just aren’t for me. Musical taste is subjective. He’s his own person now. But I think we’ll always have the common denominators - those songs between us.