Today is Oscar’s fifth birthday. We’ve just dumped him up at school. First day. He is wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. Our hero in his half-shell. He is wearing a screaming pink Doc McStuffins t-shirt. He played his Phil Collins CD last night before bed…
I thought I’d republish something I wrote the week he was born. Five years ago…here goes…
I did something new this week. I became a father. As far as Mondays go it was, well, indescribably brilliant; emotionally overwhelming – a long time coming – and just, well, wonderful.
Why am I telling you this? Well, from time to time it’s good for me – as well as you – to remember the blog-function of the title Blog on the Tracks. It’s a very public journal, sure, but it is a daily journal of events. It’s about music – but it’s also about me and the music I experience and what’s happening in my life; the events that shape and change me and the music I listen to. So every now and then I remind myself (and you guys as well) that this is a blog – it’s ongoing. It’s not about definitive articles, just some thoughts and type attempting to cut through the hype. Nothing more, often a lot less.
I’m also mentioning this here, now, because, well, I did mention the pending arrival here. And then asked for your help with baby-names. So you knew that a) the baby was coming and probably b) a post like the one that you’re reading now. Please skip to the end if you are not interested in the baby news. That is – basically – the subject of today’s post.
We were in the operating theatre first thing Monday morning and to calm us both, the surgical team were talking about jobs and hobbies and asking us what we did. Katy told one of the anaesthetists that I wrote music and gig reviews. “Oh,” she said, “cool. So what was the last show you went to?” I told her I’d been to see Eddie Izzard. She asked when the show had taken place. I informed her that it was the previous night. “You went out to review a show the night before your baby was born?!” she half-asked/half-yelled at me. I told her that I did. And started asking her about her job and hobbies. You know, to calm her down.
Less than an hour later I am sitting with a bundle of baby. I am holding my son.
It was the most amazing experience of my life. But I’m not saying anything that anyone with children doesn’t already know.
Suddenly, in the rush to let people know that I’m a father and that Katy is a mother, I’m not only texting and calling people but I’ve announced it – the way all important announcements are made these days. Yes, I stooped to Facebook. Good for the family and friends overseas though.
And so now I am writing about my son here at Blog on the Tracks. My son.
It was suggested that I blog about the Top 10 songs that sum up fatherhood. It was suggested that I blog about my favourite songs that mention children. It was suggested that I write about all the music I plan to introduce my son to.
I can’t promise that, with time, those things won’t happen – but after today it will be back to the music. Some things – like life, as it happens – should be lived offline.
But we named our boy Oscar. And though we did not name him after Oscar Peterson, he is one my favourite jazz pianists. We also did not name him after Oscar Wilde. At least, not that I’m aware. I like Oscar Wilde a bit, sure. We named him Oscar because we like the name. And it suits him.
But I did sit and think about some of the music that I look forward to introducing him to. Of course I did. And The Oscar Peterson Trio’s We Get Requests seemed to sound even better than ever before when I got around to playing it.
In the weekend I listened to The Beach Boys’ SMiLE sessions and thought about how, after my son was born, I was going to just sit and listen to Surf’s Up - and to the whole SMiLE album. Take it in and reflect. I haven’t done that.
I thought about how I was going to enjoy watching Peter Gabriel’s New Blood: Live in London DVD with a whisky to toast the new arrival. He and his mother sleeping in hospital. Me at home and wishing – even if it meant being curled up to dip between two uncomfortable chairs – that I was there with them.
I thought about music – because I always do.
And then he was born. And in my arms. And I thought about anything but music. I thought about how brave my wife was. I thought about how childbirth – conception, gestation, delivery – is incredible. I thought, a lot, about how any of the hurtful things I’ve said to my parents should never have been said. I thought about how amazing they are. I thought about how amazing I want to be as a parent. And how I’d settle – to start with – for capable.
I did not think about music.
And then I got to see Oscar again on Tuesday. Day two of his life. Already a day older and a day wiser. He doesn’t know how to show me that he knows who I am but he does know my voice. I squinted at the tiny screen of my phone and read my blog to him as I held his tiny hand (hey, it’s one reader who is sure, at this stage, to not complain. And if he shows disapproval in any way at all, I will cover it up by telling his mother he’s simply hungry).
Night two away from the two most important people in my world: I do sit down to watch Peter Gabriel. It’s not the smartest move, but a necessary one. I will be reviewing the disc on the telly next week – it’s (mostly) great by the way. But as I’m having my nip of scotch to wet the head (where did that expression come from?) I’m reading Facebook comments about our son, looking at photos of our son (our son!) and Peter Gabriel is singing Don’t Give Up. It’s never been more of a tear-jerker than right then.
It’s decided that there is a need for music in the hospital room where Katy and Oscar are spending all of their days and I am spending most of mine – squeezing some writing (and washing) in and around where possible.
It’s likely that I made the decision for music – and that Katy is too elated to argue. She’s also a bit sick of the wallpaper-TV that you pay $7 a day for. So it’s iPod and docking-station in tow for day three and I make Oscar’s first playlist (it’s called Oscar’s First Playlist).
I have Brian Eno and Dirty Three and Richard Thompson and all sorts of music – music that’s meant a lot to me. Music that Katy might enjoy too (songs from the new Feist album, some Everything But the Girl, Suzanne Vega, this gem from the great My Life in the Bush of Ghosts album). I have always had fairly strong views on music for kids – but I have never been a father before. So much and all as I’m not ready to blog about The Wiggles, it might happen. I won’t mind if it’s The Wiggles or some other musical baby-crack that he gets addicted to – he will have a choice of so many other things also.
Lullabies – sure, why not? But do they have to actually be lullabies? Juvenile and embarrassing lullabies? Can’t they be beautiful pop songs and enchanting folk melodies and anything from post-rock and ambient through to classical and, well, anything? I mean, that’s my plan. Oscar’s First Playlist has Anika Moa’s In the Morning and The Lull by Cat’s Eyes and Aimee Mann’s Wise Up. Sad, but beautiful songs. Well, they don’t have to be sad at all. I listen to all three and find them to be lovely and powerful and affirming and wise. But then, I’m feeling all of those things when I look at my baby. Such feelings radiate from him. Oscar might only hear noise that he can’t make out. But one day he might re-listen to them and hum along, then sing along; he might – like so many of you do – mock me for my shocking taste.
He can do what he likes when it comes to music. Just as he can with so many things in life – when able. He can make his own decisions. And I’ll be there to support and help and guide and appreciate.
I get to hold Oscar a lot during the day, sometimes when he’s sleeping, sometimes to rock him to sleep. It’s a pretty special job. And it was good sitting there, with Oscar’s First Playlist, telling myself that my son was already enjoying Sufjan Stevens’ Djohariah. And that he was chilling out to The Album Leaf.
“Look,” I said, “he’s really getting into this”. His eyes were shut tightly. There was no evidence that he was getting into anything. It was Forever by Gate.
“No he’s not,” Katy said. “He’s three days old.” Good reminder, mum. Thanks. It’s me that’s getting into all that. And if Oscar does too – cool. If he doesn’t, no biggie.
He might only have been three days old but I’ll remind him that he flinched in an appreciative manner, flailing his hands as if to say “yes Pop, superb!” when Yo La Tengo’s Black Flowers wafted into the room yesterday.
I still love so much of the music my parents played when I was growing up. Mostly because they told me about it, continued to play it – and gave me the space to explore my own options.
Each day this week that I’ve left the hospital I’ve thought about so many musical first-times for him. And I’m just talking about the first times that I will inflict. Sitting and playing him Daniel Johnston singing Story of an Artist; letting him discover The Beatles – with a bit of a prod in the direction, of course; wondering if he’ll be blown away by John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme when he first hears it; will he dig Steely Dan or will he first have to enjoy the John Mayer of his day? Can’t it be both? Maybe it can? Does it really matter? No, not really. But then, yes it does!
I’m up to write this at night – away from the hospital for the third night. I’m listening to Mike Oldfield’s Ommadawn. It’s a far better experience – these days – than Tubular Bells. I can show Oscar the way; he can hear albums in the order I might like to have discovered them in….hmmm…
But the good news is that today is Thursday. Katy and Oscar come home today. I will drive in and collect them. There will be no music travelling home. The ambient noise will be provided by the duetting nerves of Oscar’s parents on that first car-trip.
And then he’ll be home. Home to one day bash on conga drums and pick at guitars and hammer at the piano – if he wants to. Home to hear about Sibelius and Captain Beefheart. Home to sleep and eat and grow. To read and play. And live. Home.
Tonight he’ll be asleep in my arms and I will play Surf’s Up.
Child is the father of the man – and all of that.
“I heard the word/Wonderful thing/A children’s song.”