“I quit the band,” he said.
“You quit?” I said. “But you can’t quit.”
“I quit dad,” said my 4-year-old son Spencer.
And then he left the room.
We had just launched into a skronk fest: He on mom’s trumpet, his 15-month-old brother on drums (or shall we say cymbal) and myself on bass.
As a stay-at-home-dad going on year four of my tour of duty, there are often times of the day when jam sessions occur. The instruments have always been lying about the homestead although I’m not quite sure how the band actually started.
Or why it stopped.
But I can tell you that it all pretty much began with Thin Lizzy. Before Spencer’s younger brother came along, I’d always force a trip to the record store when out running errands. If there’s one thing you learn when you become a parent, it’s that you have to steal back your personal time or it will quickly vanish in a haze of family duties. Oftentimes I’d duck into CD Alley on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and browse. One day I bought Thin Lizzy’s classic Jailbreak. When we got back in the car, I slipped the disc into the CD player and off we went about the day’s business.
As the weeks passed, Spencer soon began to request Thin Lizzy. He loved the “Cowboy Song,” “The Boys Are Back In Town,” and “Emerald.” He would incessantly listen to this CD to the point where my wife wanted to ban it from the car. I quickly pointed out that it was better than listening to The Wiggles or Barney.
Once Jailbreak was worn out (with Spencer usually referring to the album-closer “Emerald” as the “fight the fight” song), on the next visit to the record store he asked if Thin Lizzy had any other records.
So I got him Black Rose (favorite songs: “Waiting For An Alibi,” “Get Out of Here”) and then Fighting (most requested: “Fighting”).
Before long his young, feeble mind couldn’t fathom the band pictures on the CDs and he yearned to see the men playing the songs he heard. So I bought him a DVD of Thin Lizzy live in Australia in 1978.
I think soon after watching that was when the family band started.
Sometime after the inaugural viewing Spencer started to strap on my guitar and began to mimic Gary Moore’s guitar licks. He’d stick the guitar pick in his mouth and clap his hands above his head to an imaginary crowd or jump up, spread his legs and then ape doing hammer-ons.
I quickly used his interest in music to capitalize on my own wanton needs. If Spencer liked listening to music and he liked watching music then that’s what we would do: There was Devo’s The Complete Truth About De-Evolution DVD. And Zeppelin. The Who’s The Kids Are Alright (which was a mistake because shortly after viewing Keith Moon play drums Spencer began to try an incorporate some of his more famous moves like playing with his feet or hitting the cymbals with his hands).
Not wanting to short change punk rock, I tossed in Black Flag live in Europe from 1948, Fugazi’s Instrument, Minor Threat live at DC Space, and even the first Turbonegro documentary. With songs about making pizzas, Spencer was instantly gratified by Turbonegro, although he wondered why they looked so creepy.
Devo won his over completely for the sole fact that I was able to explain that front man Mark Mothersbaugh was the guy “from Devo who does the theme song from Rocket Power.” Nickelodeon’s animated cartoon Rocket Power is set to a backdrop of skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding and features a zine-making junior high girl named Reggie and her shredding little brother Otto.
It appeared that my son was on his way to a life of rock’n’roll. At first, he flirted with the drums, then the guitar, and then back to the drums. The guitar was fun because I’d plug the axe into my shitty Peavey amp and turn it up. He’d pull the mic stand over and started making up songs. I quickly learned to keep my Fostex X-14 four-track within arm’s reach for just such circumstances. Back on drums, my wife taught him the basic intro to Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and again he was off and running in dreams of rock’n’roll grandeur.
Soon after, he discovered that other kids were into the rock. Like Rick Davis, son of local musician Ben Davis (formerly of Sleepytime Trio, Milemaker, Bats & Mice and now fronting Ben Davis and The Jets). Rick had a band and that band even had a name – The Take-A-Rides. Rick played his first gig at age four sandwiched between Bringerer and Merge Recording Artists’ The Rosebuds. According to Rick’s dad, he has since retired the name Take-A-Rides in favor of the Secret Sea Turtles. ‘He’s into heavy, slow music now,” explained Ben in an email.
The days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months and soon I was living out Jack Black fantasies of School Of Rock proportions, teaching Spencer how to throw the goat and how to wield a mic like Iggy Pop. One day before I headed off to practice with my band the Chest Pains, he asked me if we were ever going to play live.
“Like on stage,” he said.
“Sure,” I replied.
But won’t you get nervous?” he asked
“Probably but that’s natural,” I said. “A lot of people get nervous – actors, athletes, musicians – before they perform,” I explained.
“Well, when you get to practice tell your friends you know the world’s greatest drummer,” he said.
“Who is that? Mom?” I said.
“No, me dad!” he said.
When my wife came home from work that one fateful night – the night my son quit the family band – I told her I had bad news.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Spencer quit the family band,” I said.
“Dad!” hollered Spencer when he overheard the news.
“When I said ‘I quit’ I just meant that I was dome playing for the day,” he said wiggling his head and holding his hands up in the air flashing traces of the goombah I-talian bloodline he got my side of the family.
And so the band isn’t “officially” broken up yet, we’ll just call it on a hiatus.
*Versions of this essay appeared in Raleigh's The Hatchet and Australia's Monster Children