We would be washing the walls and the woodwork or something, and my dad would snap on a record. His favorites were The Stranger and Darkness on the Edge of Town, damn near anything by The Who, The Beatles, or The Turtles. Off the Wall. Zeppelin II. Songs in the Key of Life. Pet Sounds. Van Halen. Madman Across the Water. He didn't gravitate towards the deep cuts or unusual takes, just anything and everything. And with every song, he would tell me something new.
"You know this song? It's about wishing you were still a little kid and causing trouble. Because sometimes getting in trouble is fun." And then he would laugh, loud and roaring, because he laughs at everything he says. "Don't tell your mom I said that, she would kill me. What's your favorite part of the song?"
"Ummmmm...the part about Christmas!"
"You know the part where they say, 'you nasty boy'?"
"You nasty boy," I sing it. I probably shake my butt, too.
"Well, a couple of years ago, this guy's sister," and my dad points to the cover of Off the Wall, "wrote a song where she used that line as the chorus."
"Because Stevie Wonder is so good at what he does that people from all over thought that to prove how much they liked him, they should put parts of his songs in parts of theirs, like a secret just for people who liked him too. And now you know the secret."
At like eight years old, I knew fucking all of them. I knew that JohnEntwhistle wrote "Boris the Spider," I knew that the cover of Pet Sounds was shot at San Diego Zoo, which was the exact same zoo in the commercial with all the people feet walking by a rock and then there are paws instead of feet, I knew that good drummers always die, I knew that "Ramble On" talked about that big red leather book on our fireplace that had a scary map inside and I was not allowed to touch it because it was a big deal and "sometimes, Mom is a nerd."
I had my favorites, which in retrospect are all angrier and sadder than normal eight-year-old music, and I didn't realize it until I started listing them about thirty seconds ago. "Levon" and "Adam Raised a Cain" and "The Stranger."
When I cleaned with my mom, it was different.
"What's this song about?"
"It's about a nice girl named Barbara Ann."
"What's this song about?"
"It's about a boy who wants to hold hands with a nice girl." She wasn't trying to keep me from learning things, she just listened to different music. Plus she's not much of a storyteller, and my dad never shuts up.
So when I'd ask my dad, "What's this song about?" I would get:
"Well about twenty years ago, America started a war with Vietnam, which is a small country in Asia, and lots of people thought it was wrong. So a bunch of college kids thought they would gather together and show everyone they thought the government was wrong for making people fight in a war that they didn't want to fight. Well, some soldiers were there, too, and they were supposed to make sure the students didn't get out of control. But they shot and killed four students. It could have been an accident, or maybe it was on purpose. But it was really sad, and it was all over the magazines, and there were pictures of people getting shot. People all across the country were pissed off. And then Neil Young decided to write a song about it, and he got his three friends," and here is where Dad would count on his fingers, "David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash to help him play it. And they called themselves Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The song is called 'Ohio' because that's where Kent State University is. And now, because of this song, everyone will remember those kids that died."
I think I paid far more attention to my dad's lessons during movies and songs and television shows than I ever did in school.