Nebraska

Bowie and My Boys

(Some language as always be a little salty and slightly NSFW. Just so you know.)

My kids know quite well who David Bowie is.  Because I’m that kind of dad.  There are other dads who make their kids know football players better than their own relatives.  Or soccer stars more than Star Wars characters.  Or basketball players who take the rock to the hole instead of rock stars that make life whole. 

That’s where I am.  More than anything else as a dad, I have always taken it upon myself to introduce them to the music that means (and has meant) so much to me.  Not to force them to love what I love.  But to expose them to wide variety of music and hope that it takes hold. 

My kids are the ones who’ve had to suffer through playlists and mix CD’s since they were born.  And it’s not like those mixes are filled only with high-falutin’ Beatles and Bowie and Dylan.  There’s a hell of a lot of Styx on there, too.  (Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.)  My sons are the ones who have to (and willingly surprisingly) watch The Monkees with me (my first concert, during their 80s resurrection due to MTV) and know that Davy Jones is the reason we have David Bowie.  (Because Bowie’s real name is David Jones and there couldn’t be two of those in rock.  There just couldn’t!  And what other nine-year-olds and five-year-olds know that bit of useless but slightly interesting information?) 

One of the big ones though in rock that’s always been important for my sons to know of was the Thin White Duke.  Nobody did an opening of a song better than Mr. Bowie.  Think of the start of "Queen Bitch" or "Under Pressure" or "Little Wonder".  What other song starts like "Modern Love"?  It’s like a box of springs dropped off the planet Mars by spiders and bounces to happiness like no other.  But those songs, especially those songs and videos of the eighties that so shaped me were only the beginning. 

As I got older, I drifted into his seventies work, while continuing to follow him forward in the nineties where he was appropriately afraid of Americans and even to now.  He was a time and space machine that went backwards/forwards and through different galaxies.  Which fits perfectly now where everything exists all at once.  Where my kids can instantly get music and movies and anything else that’s been made in the far past right now where it co-exists perfectly with the arty canvases of today and the future to come.    

When my boys were quite young, I did the proper parent manner of introducing Bowie to your kids the way you should do.  I showed my kids the film that can bring him to them in a way that appeals to kids. You know...

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

No, just kidding.  Twin Peaks is only for teens.

I clearly mean...

The Last Temptation of Christ.

david-bowie-as-pontius-pilate-in-the-last-temptation-of-christ-1988.jpg

No, not that one. I'm talking about...

The Hunger

Because kids do love vampires. 

This is either before or after he decides you have to "slap that baby, make it free."

This is either before or after he decides you have to "slap that baby, make it free."

No, it’s clearly Labyrinth

And my kids dug it.  More than I thought they would.  And more than I ever did.  It’s one of those films that I didn’t see right when it came out and thus it never really has held much allure for me.  The same goes for The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story, The Last Starfighter, and a few others.  If I had seen these at the right time as a kid, it might be different, but seeing each of those later did me no favors.  (Although I did love one kid in The Last Starfighter shouting in surprise, “What the shit!”  In fact, if at some point when it’s not too age-inappropriate if my kids can shout “What the shit!”, I’ll be terribly proud indeed.)

Every time Bowie comes up on my shuffle, I ask my kids who it is.  (I do this not just with Bowie, but other music that means a lot to me and makes me happy.  The Pogues, Bob Dylan, New Order, the Who, the White Stripes, etc.)  My youngest for some reason frequently says Bob Dylan when he means David Bowie.  I guess there is a reverse symmetry to their names with B’s and D’s and it doesn’t help that sometimes a song called “Song for Bob Dylan” by David Bowie comes up.

(Speaking of that, it’s odd that Dylan’s outlived him.  Oh, hell, that Keith Richards has.  Or that Shane MacGowan has outlived the majestic Bowie and has a new set of teeth besides is one of the most unpredictable never-not-surprising wonders of life.) 

Bowie is such a part of all facets of my life and my kids life that I can’t conceive of an existence without him.  Each Christmas, we watch the Bing Crosby and Bowie singing Little Drummer Boy.  It’s so lovely and generation jumping from Crosby to Bowie to my kids now, I can’t imagine a Christmas without it.  The fact that’s it’s wrapped in a 70’s Christmas show reminds me of that time and the Star Wars Holiday Special and makes it even more spectacular. 

But it goes beyond that.  Because Bowie is in everything with his music, his presence, his influence, his acting, his style, his everything.  From Guardians of the Galaxy to Twin Peaks to Extras to all that’s inbetween. 

As a young teen, one of the biggest moments of teen glory was when we got MTV.  We’d heard Mr. Bowie and others say I want my MTV, but in our house in my town in Nebraska, we had to depend on Night Tracks and Friday Night Videos for our music videos.  Like animals!!!

We couldn’t have videos all day.  And when I’d stay up and watch Night Tracks, Bowie’s songs charged through me with a power unlike anything else.  (I also hold a special spot for “Our House” by Madness there, too, but that’s a weird bit of me-joy.) 

However, one day we got MTV.  And the big news was there was a world premiere video to air.  And not a regular video, but a long video, which was something I’d never even known could be done.  It seemed like someone was doing something exciting and new on a channel that was designed to be exciting and new.  And yes, it was Mr. Bowie.  The video was for “Blue Jean” and I was entranced.  It had a filmed story with a hell of a song and I made sure to be back and watch it again when they replayed it later that night. 

(I don’t know why I didn’t just record MTV on our Betamax.  Yeah, we got cable way late and had Beta.  Don’t be so jealous of me being the 1980s equivalent of Laura Ingalls.)

Being a boy in the eighties in Nebraska meant wallowing in a cesspool of homophobia that’s astonishing to think of now.  Every day – especially if you were different from the football loving other boys – you would be called a “homo” or “gay” or a ton of slurs that were meant to make alpha dogs feel more alpha-y.  And no matter how much you liked women (so much you could barely talk to them), it didn't matter (and it shouldn't have mattered one way or the other.)  But in Bowie we had a Diamond Dog.  For all us weirdos and aliens and strange beings that didn’t fit in, he did what he did and looked so damn cool it offered a way out.  A hand up to a galaxy we never knew existed nor dreamed we could ever be part of.

More than anything, Bowie’s passing off the mortal coil has reminded me of how much my parenting is about sharing the soul-inspiring, life-changing music that I love and hoping my kids love it, too.  If they don’t, that’s fine.  But with my oldest, he’s clearly digging music in a profound way.  Some of it not my kind of music – he’s recently been digging some grunge he started playing on Rock Band – but the fact that he loves any music is huge for me.  My youngest doesn’t seem to care as much about music and I’m considering trading him for a Tribble.  (An old school one at that!)

As I told my kids that David Bowie died, I told my son about how great Bowie looked in his final days.  My oldest asked what he looked like and I showed him the pictures of the man that we’ve all seen now.

I showed him those pictures.  A man on the verge of his final transformation, looking far better than anyone ever had.  So while I’ll have the 300 plus Bowie tracks I have playing constantly for the next week or two, it won’t be as any kind of dirge.  It will be a reclaiming glory.  Because as many times as he inspired us to be a hero “just for one day”, he will be ours for eternity.

So long,

Patrick T.

The T stands for Oddity

Episode VI: Paris With Kids

(Some language as always will be a little salty and slightly NSFW.  Just so you know.)

A lot of parenting is filled with not knowing what to do.  This past week defines that in ways to horrific to really comprehend.  I don't know what to do.  Crushed and gutted and still shaking my head in confusion, sadness, and anger days after the violent insanity in Paris, I don't know what to tell my kids.  

That's not entirely true.  The five-year-old will definitely not know anything.  Right now, he's having enough fear and separation anxiety every day he's being dropped off at kindergarten so we're not going to throw in the fact that someone with a gun or a bomb or a knife or a car or whatever might take him out into the mix.  That's definitely too much for five.  (Hell, it's too much for grown-ups to be honest.)

But for my nine-year-old, it's a different ballgame.  Last year, one of the books in his class library dealt with 9/11, so it's definitely on their radar.  Plus (and this is thing that really hits me hard), he's got two French classmates in his class.  One of the students is one of his best friends and while this kid's totally Americanized and into Minecraft and Terraria, his parents are fully French with the dad always at school waving around his long French hair, cool accent, and the whole she-bang.  

The other kid in the class is a girl who just moved here this year from Paris.  Fresh from France, I've spoken to her mother a number of times through the year and found out that her daughter came in speaking virtually not English.  So with this girl still not fluent in English, I can only imagine how tough it would be not only to be the new kid at school but to be the new kid in a new school where people don't speak your language.  

In addition to overcoming that, to find out the horrors of home in a way that makes no sense to any one, it must be devastating.  So my nine-year-old's probably going to know.  Or not.  

I don't know what I knew when I was nine, what news I found out.  Looking back at the news of when I was nine, I don't think I knew there were other terrorist attacks in France at that time, that time by a dude called Carlos the Jackal.  (By the way, if you have a nickname like that, please understand, it's a top indicator that you are probably an asshole.)  I might have heard about Carlos the Jackal later, but not at nine.  I might have heard of the Chicago Tylenol murders.  That was a big deal.  And maybe when the embassy in Beirut was bombed.  But I don't think I really knew.  In fact, Spock dying in Wrath of Khan probably damaged me more than anything in real life.

But in the end, I just don't think I really knew about what was going on in the news.  I don't think my parents sat me down and explained how the world is a scary place.  Of course, this didn't happen probably because those things seemed far removed.  They could have been event on different planets, but with us all in connection with each other it's not the same as the 80's.  

What I remember most as a kid was John Lennon getting shot.  I remember being an insensitive dick to my mom who was rightfully upset about it.  I remember Reagan getting shot, too.  But those incidents - while being huge events - didn't really scare me because those both occurred to famous people.  Not regular ones.

The only thing that could possibly match this fear now back then would be the threat of World War III and the delightful thought of thermonuclear war.

Shall we   play a game   ?

Shall we play a game ?

Throughout my childhood there were constant talks of how the Soviet Union would bomb us and that we in Nebraska would be particularly at risk because we had SAC (Strategic Air Command) in our state.  Not only that, there was a TV movie called THE DAY AFTER that scared the crap out of everyone when I was in elementary school.  I didn't watch it because I was and always have been a coward.  And a true coward knows not to expose one's self to things that will make you more scared.  

Yet I still heard from other kids the night after about THE DAY AFTER.  And what I heard and how we were all going to be obliterated in a nuclear winter chilled me.

For a day or two.  

Because the greatest weapon against cowardice is ignorance.  And I can ignore like a champ.  (Like how I'm ignoring the fact here that I should say that I ignore better than some sort of big ignoring thing and I'm ignoring that I should do that.)

So really for the rest of the 80's, I never really thought for a second that I was gonna get done blown up by the Russkies.  I even went and saw a movie with a young Joaquin Phoenix (then known as LEAF Phoenix) called Russkies.  I even went to the Soviet Union in 1989.  I was more scared of never having a girlfriend than a Cold War heating my insides out.  

Leaf me alone or I'll shoot you with a Red Rider BB gun.

Leaf me alone or I'll shoot you with a Red Rider BB gun.

But now's not then.  

We've had 9/11.  We have school shootings.  Mall shootings.  College shootings.  Movie shootings.  

And I can't really bring myself to tell my kids, to tell my oldest son that this is the world, here you go, pal.  Good luck with this turd of a world we've given you.  It used to be that we could blame the Baby Boomers, but my generation ain't helpin' much either.  

What makes this tear me up more than anything else is that most of the horror was at a rock concert.  

I love music.  More than maybe anything - movies, books, whatever.  And I could have been there at a concert like that.  I've never wanted a superstar athlete for a son, but I have desperately hoped some day my kids will feel what I feel about music and go to concerts with an unfettered glee, especially as there are few happinesses I've had greater at a show than seeing the Pogues live.  

So I have to figure out what I want for my kids and I've come up with two things.  

One, I want the Doctor from DOCTOR WHO to be real and come in and save everything.  To show us the error of our ways with wit and intelligence and no guns but a sonic screwdriver.  To materialize the TARDIS and solve everything while showing what idiots we really are.  Then maybe take me and the fam on an adventure, possibly against the Cybermen.

I had this poster up in my room when I was a kid.  Because that's what all the cool kids in Nebraska in the 80's were into.

I had this poster up in my room when I was a kid.  Because that's what all the cool kids in Nebraska in the 80's were into.

But that's not going to happen.  So, instead, I'll try to teach my sons to live as best they can in this world.  To know how to live with fear.  To always live with hope.  To live life as best you can with what it is.  

Violent and peaceful.  Dividing and uniting.  Mean and kind.  To be more of a decent man than an asshole. And realize that life is unbelievably messy and unpleasant.  That there are so many tears in it.  And so many laughs.  And most importantly that at times life can be truly sublime and extraordinary.  

Because they are my sublime and extraordinary.  

My TCM-ing

Recently, I'd DVR-ed and watched a bunch of French films off TCM before any of this tragedy happened.  And these films actually worked on me in splendid ways.  

I watched a couple Godard short films.  The first I saw was All the Boys Are Named Patrick - which I watched first because I clearly love myself too much and it had my beautiful name on it and I'm a terribly wanky guy that way - and it instantly reminded me of the films of Whit Stillman, whose stuff I've loved forever and deeply influenced my first play Four Guys Eating Out. The other film - Charlotte et su Jules - was funny and dealt with the end of a relationship in a clever and charming way that made it far more timeless than it probably should have been.  

I also viewed a few films by Agnes Varda. The short films Diary of a Pregnant Woman and Du Cote de la Cote led me into her work, but then I watched her feature Le Bonheur, which dazzled - yes, dazzled! - me with the colors and story about marriage and fidelity in ways that you'd expect from a French film.  Truly captivating and darned visually sumptious (I just wrote "visually sumptious" and feel like such a pretentious wanker of a turd).

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Final Thoughty-Thoughts

Thanks for reading.  And if you have any thoughts on how and when to tell your kids about tragedies like Paris and Beirut and everywhere else, feel free to share.  

Also, while we're busy fixing the world, something that doesn't exist but should are elves that come in and clean waffle irons.  

Recently I remembered, one time when my oldest son was quite young, he was helping at breakfast.  Proudly, he brought me my cereal bowl and proclaimed, "I didn't wipe my penis on your bowl this time!"

So proof people can change.  And that things can change.  And we can all hope to have cereal bowls of peace, untouched by dicks.

(Wow, went a long way for that one.  And although I'm glad my son doesn't do that any more, I kinda always wish I didn't know he didn't do it to begin with.)

So long,
Patrick T.
the T stands for peace