Hey! I’m the guy who has spent a good chunk of his adult life in the company of two very demanding women and I’ve loved every minute of it.
Like my wife, I want to set the record straight on something. Early on my daughter described herself as having “learned English from disciples of the Berkeley Free Speech movement.” I guess that’s true in spirit, but her dates are off. I was still in high school when Mario Savio was doing his thing back in 1964, and my wife was still in France preparing for a career in classical music. We didn’t meet until The Summer of Love, three years later. That doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but when you’re my age and you grew up believing that you were dead once you hit thirty, every year counts.
I grew up in Cole Valley, just south of the Haight. My family wasn’t unusually musical except around the holidays when the whisky-laced punch would bring out the Irish tenor in everyone. The first record I ever bought was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens, on RCA Victor, and I still think it’s a great song. My interest in music took a quantum leap with The British Invasion and Bob Dylan, and I think it had more to do with the energy they brought to the scene than anything else. Things were pretty listless before those guys. After that awakening, most of the money I earned in my father’s construction business went to records and concerts (after the 50% parental deduction for future college expenses).
I met Nique while lounging on the grass in The Panhandle in ’67, while listening to some guy rap over a portable loudspeaker about some bullshit I couldn’t quite follow. She made the first move, of course, coming up to me and asking, “Why are you staring at me?” in that irresistible accent. I was pretty shy back then, but I couldn’t hold back what I was thinking: “Because you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” She smiled, sat down and we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Haight and environs and telling each other about ourselves. Nique really wasn’t that familiar with rock ‘n’ roll, having grown up on classical and jazz, so when we came across a poster showing upcoming gigs at The Fillmore and I asked her to pick one for our first date, she chose Count Basie and Charles Lloyd, skipping right over Chuck Berry, The Byrds and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, That blew me away, but it turned out to be a match made in heaven: she taught me about jazz and I taught her about blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
And what better place was there for music than San Francisco in the mid-60’s? It wasn’t all about The San Francisco Sound—music was a like a religion for us. There were so many new ideas and directions in the mix that you could hear something new every day without even trying. San Francisco had great underground radio stations like KMPX and KSAN that would pull music from everywhere and play it around the clock. That’s how I got turned onto Dave Van Ronk, The Move, Bert Jansch, Stephane Grappelli, The Strawbs and all kinds of great music by people who flew under the radar of the pop stations. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had The Fillmore (both the auditorium and then the Carousel Ballroom) and Winterland. Nique and I spent a majority of our weekends at one or the other until the mid-70’s when the quality started to fade. During the peak, though, we saw Butterfield, Bloomfield (when he decided to show up he was the best there was), Procul Harum, Jethro Tull, The Kinks, Cream (they were booked for like ten shows in a row at one point, first with Butterfield and then Electric Flag), Muddy Waters, The Chambers Brothers, Love, all the classic San Francisco groups—everybody played either The Fillmore or Winterland back then. For some reason, though, that asshole Bill Graham booked the hell out of Iron Butterfly, so we took those weekends off and headed for Tahoe or the beaches.
I remember one gig in particular in, with Eric Burdon & War and a new group called the J. Geils Band playing second bill. Eric Burdon came on stage in one of those tank tops with “Cocaine” in the Coca-Cola lettering, surveyed the crowd and his eyes landed on us . . . well, Nique, especially. Then he looked at me and said into the microphone: “Can I fuck your wife? Yeah, you. Can I fuck your wife? ” Nique stood up and jiggled her tits at him then threw her arms around me. “Guess not,” he said. What was amazing about it is we’d just gotten married the weekend before and we had no idea how Eric Burdon could have figured that out.
As my daughter said, she was a big surprise for both of us (my fault, really), but when Nique decided to go for it, I was really excited. Since she already told you about how we decided to raise her, I can skip that part. My relationship with my daughter has always been more like we’re pals than anything else. She liked hanging out with me and I liked hanging out with her, whether it was walking around the neighborhood or listening to music or going with me to check up on the houses (I became a contractor myself after burning out real quick on the world of social work). She loved sitting next to me watching the Giants on TV and picked up baseball really quickly. I mean, when your eight-year old daughter tells you, “The Giants don’t have a fucking chance against the A’s” in the Loma Prieta series, that’s pretty impressive insight for a kid. Yeah, I know it’s pretty colorful language for a kid, too, but we never thought of it that way (as “disciples” of the Free Speech Movement, I guess). We did tell her to cool it with the language when she was playing with other kids, and she was okay with that.
She also picked up on music pretty quickly, since she heard so much of it growing up and her mother was so good at it. I can play guitar okay, but I’m the only one who likes to hear me sing. Anyway, I remember we’d be hanging out in the living room with the music on, playing games or coloring, and she’d always ask me “What was that sound?” when she heard an instrument or effect she didn’t recognize. I remember when she was about nine or ten she wanted to play in the school band, but wasn’t sure what instrument she wanted to play. When we got to the music store, she made the clerk take out every instrument he had so she could try it. I remember when the guy tried to play the trombone, she stopped him and said, “You’re not very good with that, are you?” I should have known right then she’d be a music critic some day. The upshot was that she wound up learning Nique’s instruments—flute and piano. In her teens she taught herself how to play guitar, but she was into the hard core punk scene then, so it was all white noise at high speed to me. What she hasn’t told you is she has a beautiful singing voice and she used to sing all the time around the house when doing chores or homework. I really miss that.
As far as her reviews are concerned, I think she’s a damned fine writer but I have to confess some of her reviews have been pretty painful for me. Like I said, music was a religion for us baby boomers, and to read someone attacking the music of our heroes and the albums we all thought were unquestionable masterpieces is kind of hard to take. The worst part about it is that she’s often (but not always) right—some of the music I revered really didn’t stand the test of time.
But I still think she has some blind spots. Trying to get her to appreciate Dylan has been like pulling teeth, although lately she seems to be coming around a bit. You may have noticed that most of her classic rock reviews cover British bands and artists, and a lot of the people on her no-fly list are American artists (or American-Canadian). I’ve never been able to get her to appreciate The Band, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Tom Waits and a few others who I think have made pretty significant contributions to music. I’ve never figured out how we can be in total agreement on people like Mike Bloomfield and Joni Mitchell and be totally at odds about others who aren’t that far off. Well, it does lead to some pretty entertaining debates, so I guess that’s something. Lately I’ve been trying to get her to appreciate Neil Young a little more, nudging her to start with a little Buffalo Springfield and see where that goes. She’s an independent little cuss, though, so it may take some time.
I just read her post where she described me as an over-the-top enthusiast about music. Guilty as charged. She’s mentioned my music collection, and I have to say it’s either impressive or excessive depending on your perspective. I have around three thousand LP’s (what they call “vinyl” today). It was a bitch to move all of it overseas and make sure nothing got damaged in the process. I tend to be a pack rat, so I’ve kept a lot of things I haven’t heard in years, and though I have some pretty embarrassing moments in my collection, sometimes I get a nice surprise. The other day I stumbled upon Pamela Polland’s debut album—she was a singer-songwriter and pianist from Marin with enough cachet to have Taj Mahal appear on the record—and it’s still a damned fine record.
I think the most important thing about the collection is that my daughter heard all of it and it gave her an understanding of and a love for music that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. You can always tell when someone’s passionate about something because they do it for free. I know she puts a lot of time and energy into the research and the repeated listening, but I also know that she’s doing it only because she loves music and wants to understand it better. Once we had some friends over—it was during her last trip to see us in San Francisco—and one of them suggested she should send some of her stuff to Rolling Stone and earn some real money for her work. She looked at the guy like he was the dumbest motherfucker on the planet and said, “Now why in the fuck would I want to do that? Don’t you see—it would ruin everything!”
For an anti-materialist hippie father, that was a moment of parental nirvana.
Hello, I am Véronique, the mother of the woman you know as The Alt Rock Chick.
I am writing this because she has written little stories about our family that, while true, may give the wrong impression about us. I am very proud of the way we raised our daughter, though it may seem unconventional and sacrilegious to most. I will also say that I am very proud of the woman she has become, not so much for what she does but the reasons why she is who she is.
She has described us, somewhat carelessly in my opinion, as “flower children” and “hippies.” While it is true that both my mari (sorry, but I detest the English word “husband”) and I participated in many of the events associated with that era in history, I have an image of flower children and hippies that does not square with who we were and who we are today. There is an American word that accurately describes how I felt about most of the true hippies we knew, and that word is “airheads.” Many of them had no idea of the words they mouthed or the sources of the philosophy they pretended to espouse. Both my mari and I take knowledge and education very seriously, a character feature we passed on to our daughter. We are both very well read in world literature and philosophy, and while we certainly enjoyed the intellectual, sexual and spiritual freedom that marked that era in our development, I think we used that freedom more wisely than many of our peers.
This is important, for though my daughter’s birth was a complete accident (we succumbed to passion without protection), once I decided (and it was my decision) to have the baby, my mari and I thought very hard about how we were going to help this new being make his or her way in the world. We did not consult the experts on the subject, for much of that literature is faddish and often dangerous. After lengthy discussions, we concluded that the best advice on raising a child came from (though I doubt this was his intention) Jean-Paul Sartre. Quite simply, he transformed the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am” to “I choose, therefore I am.” We believe very strongly that to choose is to exist, and we decided we would raise our child on that principle. As soon as she was able to make conscious choices, we encouraged our daughter to make them and experience the consequences of those choices. That is how people learn.
Of course, we had to educate her on certain basics so she would not make choices that would limit her ability to make future choices, like running out in the street or getting too close to the fire. After all, it is wise to respect certain physical realities! Even when she was a little girl, we encouraged her to choose by not automatically saying no to her impulses and ideas, but by talking with her and helping her think through possible consequences of her actions so she could make an informed choice. We were aided in our efforts because my daughter (it is so difficult not to refer to her by name!) was a very precocious child with advanced intelligence at a very early age. I remember when we read to her she would concentrate on the text while we were reading, sometimes touching the words with her little fingers, as if she saw something magical in them. She could read many things by the age of four, in both English and French. I recall one morning I came in to the living room and saw our little girl resting on her elbows with her head in her hands and her little butt scooched up in the air reading an encyclopedia! “Do you understand what you are reading?” I asked her. She frowned and said, “Some of the words are hard but I go backwards and around to read the other words and guess.” She has always been a ravenous learner, and over the years we fed her appetite with volumes of classic and contemporary literature, history, philosophy, music and the social sciences as well as the many baseball histories in my mari’s library. However, we were careful to temper her education with the caution that elitism is an ever-present danger for those fortunate enough to receive higher levels of education, and I have noticed in her writing a very strong effort to avoid that tendency.
To facilitate her development and ability to make choices, we were never less than scrupulously honest with our daughter. We did not “talk down” to her or insult her intelligence by denying the ugliness or trivializing the beauty that exists in our world. As she has described in her post concerning her sexual development [note: this post has been moved to my erotic blog on Tumblr], rather than engage her in a vague discussion of “the birds and the bees,” I was quite precise and explicit in my descriptions of various sexual acts and the powerful emotions that sexual desire can generate. Some of the most important choices young people make in life have to do with sexual exploration, and to allow our daughter to enter into those situations without any awareness of the possibilities and the dangers in such liaisons would have been grossly negligent.
When I moved from Nice to San Francisco to attend university, one of the aspects of the culture I found astonishing was the American attitude towards children. For all the silly talk about family values, Americans treat their children like possessions, investments or second-class citizens. They are often embarrassed to be seen with their children in public! Until she was old enough to be left on her own, we took our daughter everywhere, to concerts, plays, baseball games, and fine restaurants. We rarely felt the need for a babysitter unless we had things to talk about like finances that would bore her. We treated her with respect and never allowed ourselves to act in a condescending manner. I believe this practice gave her a store of confidence to help her ride out the storms that are a part of everyone’s life.
Both my mari and I were raised in Catholic families, but that was a part of our personalities that we shed in our teens. Still, we encouraged our daughter to explore religion if she chose to do so, and in her early teens she went through a phase when she studied various faiths and attended services. Although we never would have interfered had she chosen otherwise, I was secretly relieved when she concluded she had no interest. She had concluded that all religions engaged in the oppression of women and could not believe that any system claiming an advanced level of knowledge could adopt such a crude and inhuman belief. “I don’t understand how they could say they have the truth and treat us that way” is how I believe she put it at the time.
The absence of religious indoctrination did not preclude us from teaching her certain values, while always explicitly reminding her that she had the right to reject those values. I believe she came to share many of our values because they resonated with two of her own philosophical leanings: one, that all people on earth should have equal access to the benefits of life; and two, that any belief had to stand the test of rigorous logic and critical analysis. Despite her passionate nature and her intuitive gifts, my daughter is an intensely logical person, and to her, the hateful elements of humanity such as racism, elitism, sexism, violence and prejudice make no practical sense whatsoever.
Her description of our house as one “filled with music” is no exaggeration. The first thing we do every morning is turn on the music, and it remains on all day unless we choose to watch something on the television. Though my daughter was trained in both classical and jazz styles for the flute and has a very good understanding of music theory, I think that the experience of listening to a diverse collection of music throughout her life has been more valuable to her in her quest to understand the historical development of music than formal education. We do argue over her exclusion of classical music in her definition of “popular music,” but that is a very pleasant debate to have with one’s child.
So, yes, even with all we have in common, we have our differences. She has never quite mastered the art of subtlety, and her willingness to share her sexual and erotic experiences is far too exhibitionist for my tastes. I personally believe she has made a terrible mistake to continue to work in the business world, for despite what many would call her remarkable success, I believe she is wasting her talents on trivial matters. As I wrote that, I found myself smiling, for the last time I broached the subject, she told me, “Fuck off, maman.” I am very proud that my daughter feels she can curse at me like an old friend.
I am also very proud of what she has accomplished through her writing, although it frustrates me that because of the strange norms of the business world she is unable to use her name without fear of being sacked. It is hard for me to judge without parental bias, but I thoroughly enjoy her writing and find it far more intelligent and perceptive than most music criticism. While I wish she would pick up the pace on her reviews of the great jazz artists and I completely disagree with her low opinion of Abbey Road, I continue to respect her choices and beliefs, and I believe it is that respect that has helped make her the wonderful young woman she is today.
Thank you for attention, and I now return control of this blog to ma chère fille, The Alt Rock Chick.