One of my nephews is 14, and for the past two years, he’s visited me for a whole week all by himself. Every time he comes, I get carried away and think, “It is time I help this young lad feel the magic of Prince and Bowie!” And by the end of the trip, he’s played me lots of EDM and fallen asleep during “Space Oddity” and nicely asked if we can stop watching Purple Rain so he can go back to How I Met Your Mother and New Girl.
Obviously, I’m gunning for cool uncle/musical sensei status too eagerly. My love of records came from my oldest sister, who played me Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Earth Wind & Fire and Chic and Steely Dan and Off the Wall. (I shudder to think how I’d be had she preferred the Osmonds to the Jacksons.) So when my other sister started having babies, I was poised to return the favor. But my niece quickly became a Disney scholar with Broadway taste, and my oldest nephew and I were too busy trying to beat each other at ping-pong. Their little brother, this 14-year-old, represents my last chance.
And there’s definitely a chance. This is a kid who, at the age of 7, spent a whole afternoon staring out the window and singing along to Emmylou Harris. When his mother told me about that, I knew he was “one of us,” but if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past two years, it’s that I have to keep that excitement inside. I can’t run up to him and shout, “You’ve got to hear this! It was one of my favorites in high school and you’re gonna love it!” I tried that with the first (and, I assumed, kid-friendly) They Might Be Giants album, which put him to sleep even faster than “Space Oddity.”
Along with keeping my mouth shut, patience is key. The chance of an immediate spiritual experience is slim, but sometimes it clicks in on the second or third play. It happened with a synth-y disco tune called “Mopedbart” by Hubbabubbaklubb, a dance group from Norway. I played it for him on the way to see Jurassic World, and again on the way home, and we haven’t stopped listening to it since. (It helps that it’s got a good beat, a catchy “da-da-da” refrain, and a singer who keeps saying “fart,” the Norwegian word for “speed.”)
Naturally, I get the best results when I’m not even trying. My partner and I were cooking dinner one night, so I put on 1st Wave, the alt-’80s channel on Sirius XM, just to have some music playing. And guess who’s suddenly dancing his butt off to Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” and The Cure’s “Why Can’t I Be You?” Talk about your proud-uncle moment.
I have managed to score one direct hit. Knowing his love of “Wish You Were Here” (taught him how to play guitar) and “Free Bird” (shut up, Smith, the boy needs his moment), I played him Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” one of the greatest guitar solos ever. The moment Eddie Hazel’s first lick flew, my nephew took a sharp breath and said, “Wow,” the way any normal human should. The next morning, he asked, “Can I put some music on the vinyl?” And when he went to the turntable and dropped the needle on “Maggot Brain” all by himself, I knew my work was done.