I heard Rashida Jones on NPR last week as a guest offering her reflections for their series “Mom and Dad’s Record Collection.” You might imagine her to have an interesting memory to share given that she’s the daughter of famed music producer Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton. Instead of offering a predictable story about her father, Jones chose to discuss “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan, a record that her mother used to play.
After listening to Jones, I went to NPR’s site and listened to other interviews where people recalled one song that had a strong familial association. I enjoyed hearing Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ravi Coltrane, and Audra McDonald amongst others discussing their choices and thinking about the music I heard growing up as well as the acoustic memories I am creating in my own home. The music I heard from Ambrosia, the Eagles, Player, Carly Simon, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, and James Taylor was not always the music associated with the inner-city that I grew-up in, but it certainly points to its diversity.
When I was a child, I listened to jazz, R&B, pop, funk, light rock, and hip hop. My three-year old son hears mostly the same. Michael Jackson is the one artist he requests. I tried introducing him to Michael Jackson videos on the iPad one day and had much success until I played “Remember the Time.” I thought he would like the dancing in the video but he protested as soon as the music started, “That’s not Michael Jackson,” he declaimed, “that’s a girl!” “That is Michael Jackson,” I assured him. We went back and forth like this until my husband intervened. “I can see the boy’s confusion,” he usefully whispered to me. “Look at him,” he said. “He looks very different in that video than in the other ones you showed Miles.” My husband was right. I was completely oblivious to my son’s a-historic perception of Michael Jackson from the Thriller years as I had presented them on the iPad and as he had encountered him as an avatar from the Michael Jackson Experience on the PS3. Had I jumped around sonically, it would have been fine. Michael Jackson’s voice didn’t change much between Thriller and Dangerous but his look did. I lived through that history, and this was the first time I ever thought about Michael Jackson’s transformation from the perspective of someone new to his story. Michael Jackson is a complicated figure. I no longer play his videos for Miles; we just listen to the music. Talking meaningfully with a three-year-old about race and gender identity over Michael Jackson’s changing appearance defies my abilities, but the chance encounter is certainly the strongest memory that I have of creating a musical memory in my own home.