Last spring I received a text message from my then 9-year old son Hamad asking me if I knew who Def Leppard were. Hoping he was in the special needs section of a zoo and that his spelling had the better of him, I asked if they were next to the blind bats and the laughing hyenas. They’re a rock band he replied. That put them a couple of rungs above dumb father.
Regrouping my thoughts and being slightly alarmed that my son was turning to 80s rock music I chose to embrace it when I thought of the modern day alternatives. So I called him.
“Did you know that they had a one armed drummer?”
“Yes, everyone knows that Baba! Did you know that their guitarist died from too much drugs and alcohol?”
Did my baby just use the words drugs and alcohol in the same sentence? What was my comeback going to be? Did you know Madonna was like a virgin?!
The intellectual quagmire I was in was unfamiliar territory and the only image I could conjure was that of Tony Soprano’s reply to his son, AJ, when he used the word “existential.”
The smile my son put on my face through nostalgia he wiped away just as quickly with the mention of drugs and alcohol. The sobering effect of his question made me realize that he was growing up fast and that I had to have “that” talk with him. Clearly there were many ways that I could have handled this situation, including avoiding it. But I had made a promise to myself that my children’s first conversation about drugs would be with me. After all, questions don’t go to “Question Heaven” if they are ignored by a parent, they typically get answered by a stranger with an unknown agenda. This was a risk I was not willing to take. So, with Def Leppard playing in the background in our living room, Hamad and I talked about drugs. And, last summer I grabbed the Leppard by the ears and took Hamad to see them live in New York.
Walking into the stadium I took his hand and walked him over to the souvenir stand where he chose a shirt to wear to the concert. Grabbing hotdogs and Cokes we found our seats in the midst of a sea of fans. And then the show began with songs that took me back to high school including Hysteria, Love Bites and Pour Some Sugar on me.
Watching the one armed drummer in action was inspirational to Hamad. I have to admit this was my third Def Leppard concert but watching Rick Allen have the courage and the motivation to play the drums with one arm after losing the other in a car accident is inspirational every time. And watching my son learn that lesson first hand made it worth the trip and almost worth the price of the scalped tickets.
Equally important to his education was the fact that there were two young men sitting within our view who were clearly high. I pointed them out to my baby and we both watched them as one played an imaginary drum (with one arm even though he had two!) and the other an imaginary guitar. In their minds it was clear that the only imaginary part of the concert were the people physically in their midst. Both of them shook their bodies convulsively during the songs, shaking their long hair, sweat flying off into the stratosphere. And though they were there as a tribute to the rockers, their actions were switching attention away from the band and onto themselves.
“Baba, what is wrong with them?”
“Why do you think there is something wrong with them? They look like they’re having a great time.”
“Yes, but they are bothering everyone next to them and they don’t care.”
“That’s what happens when people are high on drugs.”
And just like that, the problem became the solution. By embracing my son’s curiosity I was fortunate to have him gain insight into something that could not have been better illustrated elsewhere.
But on another level (may Mr. Soprano forgive me) an existential one, I began thinking about religion in general and how the very concert was a microcosmic religion itself, complete with it’s “prophets,” “holy book” and “believers.” From the debate happening behind me about what the words to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” really meant, to the sweaty extremists in front who were not only dressed like the rockers but had become so involved with the music they made the rest of us look like heathens.
At this concert, everyone was equally free to enjoy the lyrics and the music from the innocence of my son to the insolence of our neighbors. And that is how it should be. No one group should have a monopoly on who should be the gatekeeper of the concert. No single group should put a filter on those who can attend or how we all must interpret the lyrics to the songs. Each interpretation counts. It is the average that matters, not the extremes. If the extremists muffle the moderates, the normal curve skews and a fake intellectual economy is bolstered by those who scream the loudest, grow their hair the longest and take the most drugs. And in an environment like that, the average moves out of the middle and a new extreme is born while the old extreme becomes the new average.
Hamad’s voice interrupted my stream of thought. “Baba, what are you thinking about?”
I came back to Earth, smiled, pointed to his Coke and said “I’m thinking you’re about to …Pour That Sugar On Me.” While singing the last five words into my hotdog to his delight.
Hamad and I laughed and hugged but out of the corner of my eye I noticed the couple that had argued about the meaning of the lyrics grumbled while one and then the other pointed towards me and shook their heads. My blasphemy had cemented their bond. I had become the infidel.
Good thing the hotdog was kosher.