Through various quirks in the universe, I ended up taking my mom to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss perform Sunday night at the Palace Theatre in Louisville.
Mom has a vague recollection of this Led Zeppelin band Plant used to sing with, knowing mostly that they played a large collection of loud songs in the 1970s. She’s pretty sure Dad listened to them, although she said she can’t fully remember. The only thing she’s certain he listened to back then is an eight-track of Three Dog Night she bought for him as a gift, and that’s about as far away from Led Zeppelin as music can possibly get.
Alison Krauss, though, is a more familiar name for my mom, both because a) Krauss’ music is a little bit closer to her stylistic tastes; and b) Krauss is friends and sometimes musical partners with one of mom’s friends, the Grammy-nominated Rick Wasson.
As we began the trip northwest, I thought I’d share some music with Mom, helping expand her horizons a bit. I’ve recently helped her develop a fondness for Bruce Springsteen’s music (and to be fair, she knew he was and liked some of his songs before I made the musical introductions). At age 57, my mom is a fairly hip woman (and I realize that has nothing to do with liking Springsteen, although I like to believe that’s what makes me cool), and this trip would be a perfect time to play a few selections of my iPod.
Mom is an exceptionally devout Christian woman, and she’s pretty old-school with it, too. She can be fairly tolerant of some foul language being dropped here and there — hell, she’s been known to utter “damn” or “sht” (the “i” is left out in her version) every now and then – but she doesn’t go out of her way to hear things featuring swear words.
So, combining my interest in Mom’s Musical Horizons Project and Mom’s Religious Background, I decided to finally fulfill a long-standing desire of mine: I had her listen to Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks.”
Look, I know the song isn’t “gospel” per se, but I find it to be deeply meaningful in the world of pop music, as Kanye, who at the time wasn’t really a big deal at all, boldly professed his love and need for God’s guidance in times of need. In a career that has since been made of bold moves, this initial move might have been his boldest and most brilliant.
I warned Mom that it contains a few swears, but I asked her to listen to the lyrics and really try to get the message that Kanye is driving home.
For three minutes, we rolled up Interstate 64 to the deep bass chorus of “bomp bomp bomp ba da bomp bomp bomp,” and when it was over, she offered this review: “I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”
How do you mean?
“I can’t tell if he’s being serious or sacrilegious.”
I explained that I think Kanye is being completely sincere, which soothed Mom’s worries a bit. She admitted that she couldn’t really make out too much of it, but now that she knows he’s loving the Lord, she’s cool with Kanye.
Mom then tells me that although she enjoyed the song, she just doesn’t understand some of today’s music because there’s just so much noise and yelling and screaming. This became the perfect segue to play her some samples of bands I’ll be seeing at Lollapalooza 2008.
Here are the bands, followed by her comments afterward:
“Bulls on Parade” by Rage Against the Machine: “I can’t hear any words. Only pounding.”
“Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead: “That’s better. There’s not so much of the pounding.”
“Sky Blue Sky” by Wilco: “Now this I like.”
Hey, as long as she’s cool with Wilco and Kanye, that works for me.
And I’ll give her credit: she seemed to enjoy Robert Plant’s voice. I explained to her that he was one of the biggest names in rock history, and I’m pretty sure she clapped along to the beat a few times. Granted, she was much more impressed with Alison Krauss, but there’s no shame in that.
(A quick concert aside: I realize now where I got my smart-ass nature. I like to think my mom is a quiet, polite woman, but she fired off some one-liners throughout the night that had me cracking up. There was this Incredible Hulk-size dude sitting two rows in front of us, and his arms must have been 20 inches around. We noticed this primarily because he came to the show wearing his “Louisville Fight Club” shirt with the sleeves cut out, but to be fair, he probably couldn’t squeeze his arms through such tiny arm holes. “Look at that guy,” Mom said. “His arms are big.” At that exact moment, an unfortunately shaped woman walked by in a sleeveless dress, prompting Mom to elbow me. “Her arms are big, too,” she said.)
At the concert’s end, I received a text message from a friend alerting me to the fact that John Mellencamp and his family were sitting in front of her. I shared this with Mom.
“Who’s John Mellencamp?”
“‘Small Town.’ ‘Jack and Diane.’”
She shook her head.
I will forever get great amusement out of knowing my mom, God love her, was familiar with the works of Kanye West, Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine before knowing a song by John Mellencamp.
And that, friends, is yet another reason I love music.
And my mom.