The Same Old Controversy

For generations, it has been a rite of passage for young people to zero in on a given form of music and for their choices to annoy or even alarm their parents. Sometimes teens and parents will practically battle over music. Nothing personal, Mom and Dad, but it’s almost a point of honor for the music to annoy or even alarm you. Consider it a small declaration of independence.

It’s music therapy

The good news is that these musical choices are healthy. Music gives voice to the youthful emotions and a safe way to vent them. For example, I’m embarrassed to report that I loved Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy.” This song was not the artists’ favorite, and it did not pass the test of time. However, this song was briefly my feel-good anthem. In contrast, I recall bellowing Carly Simon’s “You’re so Vain” with a certain narcissistic boyfriend in mind and was not the worse for it. Finally, in a time of loss, James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” voiced my grief. To conclude, the need and the intense focus on these songs passed, but they provided a cheap, effective and healthy outlet.

A musical badge of membership

Kids bond over music and a young person’s choice may reflect group membership rather than his or her ultimate personal taste. In fact, there’s a certain security in being a part of a group that likes something. However, today’s musical choice may be tomorrow’s memory of times with old friends. In A Thing of Beauty, Jessica follows her gal pals’ obsession with Disco music and the Bee Gees, and she and her mother squabble over her choice. Despite this temporary inclination, Jessica is musically gifted and I foresee her tastes becoming broader and deeper. However, one thing is certain: just hearing the intro to “Staying Alive” will bring her back to a certain place and time. Music also binds us to our memories.

Musical insight

To tell the truth, a young person’s music can give a parent a window into their child’s emotions and issues. In fact parents can have no better opening than asking their kid to tell them about a favorite song or what a melancholy song means. You only have to access your own memories of songs and what they meant to you to appreciate the power to reveal hopes and longings. If songs express less than healthy messages, you will still have no better springboard for discussion. On the other hand, a young person can fast-track understanding, by sharing a song, when words fail to communicate to parents or grandparents. Gifted artists have a way of crafting messages that go right to the heart. Parents and teens do not have to battle over music; they can also bond.

Rebecca and Outlaw country music

In the late seventies, a startling musical trend, Country Outlaw music emerged. Bucking stale, confining Nashville conventions, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings brought a whole new sound, now centered in Austin, Texas. Suddenly, these these outlier musicians produced a platinum album and long-scorned cowboy hats appeared everywhere.

In my historical novel, A Thing of Beauty, a defiant Rebecca Ramey stomps through school hallways in boots and jeans. Furthermore, she bellows lyrics and sways to Willie’s tunes on her mix tape. Her parents are only beginning to understand their daughter’s grief and anger. However, just reading one title on a Willie Nelson album could have revealed Becky’s feelings: “Take Me as I Am (Or Let Me Go).”

Outlaw Willie Nelson’s music

“On the Road Again” is emblematic of the heyday of Nelson’s music and it has stood the test of time. Here’s vintage footage of a live performance.

Making Music with his friends…

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