Family affairs

A few days ago, I happened to be discussing with my mother some of the vinyl I had been tracking down over the last few months. I mentioned that I had recently found nice, clean used copies of the few Sly & The Family Stone records that had been missing from my collection. My mother -- who, when I was growing up, seemed to have a collection primarily made up of Judy Collins and Tom Rush records (okay, and yes, The Beatles too) -- responded with a great deal of enthusiasm: "Oh, I used to love Sly & The Family Stone!"

Now, I know it's not like Sly records are super obscure, having as they did quite a few number one hits -- but I was still taken by surprise. Never once growing up did I see or hear a Sly & The Family Stone record, or anything else remotely similar. When I was given what was left of the family record collection (much of which had been lost over the many, many moves before I was even born) it consisted mainly of a bunch of classical records, The Beatles' White Album and Best Of: 1967-1970, Cat Stevens' Teaser And The Firecat, and my sisters' Doctor Who picture discs. It certainly didn't include There's A Riot Goin' On or Stand!

My folks have always enjoyed music, but they can at times make that fact very easy to forget. My dad -- despite having hearing troubles -- used to be a hi-fi addict, piecing together the best possible stereo equipment he could afford (basically all of which was sold during the leaner years -- much to my, and my dad's, sadness now). While living in New York City, he and a friend used to build bizarre electronic music devices and do avant performances together. (Side note: when I sent my mom a tape of the noise rock band I played in when I lived in Virginia, her first reaction was "This reminds me of the stuff your dad used to do. How fun.") However, despite living in New York, he and my mother declined to go to Woodstock "because it was raining, and that didn't seem like it'd be much fun." My sister and I like to tease them about that.

My favorite music growing up was always The Beatles. I can't even guess at how many times I listened to the White Album. I loved singing along to that record -- even if the songs didn't always make much sense. ("Why don't we do what in the road?") One of my favorite songs was "Rocky Raccoon." There's something great about thinking about the six or seven year old version of myself running around the living room while reciting lines like "The doctor came in / stinking of gin" or "Rocky had come / equipped with a gun / to shoot off the legs of his rival." The latter is especially funny to me, as my sister and I were both expressly forbidden to play with toy guns. Even pointing sticks or fingers and yelling "bang!" was frowned upon, though it was tolerated.

I remember eventually the family retired the record player when they bought, as a Christmas gift to themselves, a CD player. I have the recollection that one of the first CDs opened that Christmas morning was Genesis' We Can't Dance -- though, perhaps that one came a bit later. (I may mock now, but I do remember quite enjoying it at the time. Hey, Patton Oswalt has a whole bit about how he used to love Phil Collins' No Jacket Required, so I'd like to think I'm in good company. I was young. Cut me some slack.) I remember them re-buying a lot of The Beatles discography on CD. There was also lot of Enya. No Sly, though.

Over the years, I've enjoyed introducing my folks, particularly my mom, to new music. Some of the first successes were Low and Morphine. (There's something very satisfying about being able to say the sentence: "Yeah, I got my mom into Morphine.") Interestingly enough, when Mark Sandman, the lead singer of Morphine, died, it was my mother who called me with the news. Sigur Ros and Belle & Sebastian have also been big hits. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings also went over really well. I think Headlights and Camera Obscura were also enjoyed, but I'm not sure if they've entered her collection yet. Neutral Milk Hotel was one of the few that didn't go over quite as well as expected. ("It's interesting, but I don't know if I like his voice.") I'm thinking that the next time I have an occasion to give a gift though, it'll have to be some Sly.

"Family Affair" by Sly & The Family Stone


2die4 said...

My first stuffed animals were:

A nearly life-sized walrus, and
A raccoon.

My parents were shameless fans. No Sly though. Mostly Fleetwood Mac, CCR, Carly Simon, and even some (shudder) Grateful Dead. I've always hated the Dead - even before I had really heard their songs. But when one of their songs was playing on the radio, and I had no idea who it was that was even playing, I knew the words.

Evil. Evil. Evil.

¡Tony! said...

On of the better things my father taught me, besides how to play music, was that Sly is a bad mother fucker.

2die4 said...

Tony and the Family Stone...he's a bad muthu-shut yo mouth!

Ben said...

I have almost no knowledge of Carly Simon -- other than the fact that I always thought the album cover of 'Playing Possum' was kinda hot.