My dad really likes this mug. I’ll admit, The Beatles have never been my favorite band, but I do enjoy their timelessly catchy tunes as much as the next average joe. Of course enough has already been said about them and the deep imprint they have left in the history of modern music and culture–I couldn’t possibly say anything new about all that. But for me personally, when I hear The Beatles (or drink coffee out of their yellow submarine), it brings back memories of all the music my dad and mom listened to… Especially the music they listened to when I was a kid, and the stations they would tune into during long trips in our family’s old Astro mini-van. I remember hearing as much Elvis and Creedence Clearwater Revival as I did The Beatles. Sometimes my mom would bring her cassette tapes and Amy Grant would all the sudden find herself doing an encore for The Beach Boys. I was too young to understand or care about the differences. My parents’ music all blended together. One moment we’d be listening to John Denver sing “Rocky Mountain High” and the next we would be hearing tunes from the traveling Gospel quartet who had been visiting our church a week earlier, peddling their cassette tapes along the way. My parents religiously (pun intended) bought the tapes of every person and group that came through our church–I’m not kidding. A few years ago I found a box that had close to a hundred cassettes in it–all from people who had visited our church over the years to share their music.
The point is… My parents didn’t play music, and they didn’t sing either, but they loved to listen and they loved to collect it. And they taught me to explore the art form on my own, and to discover for myself what I liked and what I didn’t. I think I was in 5th or 6th grade when I started really getting into music enough to want to own the stuff I liked. My parents would buy me blank cassettes, and then I would record stuff right off the radio. I remember hearing the DJ on 99.5 WZPL announce a song that was about to come on, and I would dash across the room so I could hit Play & Record on the tape deck. And my older cousins had tapes that they would let me copy. My cousin Toby introduced me to Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” — changed my life. That was back when Jon Bon Jovi was an actual rockstar, before someone kidnapped him and removed all the testosterone from his body.
My early musical tastes were widely diverse. By the time I was in high school I was practically in love with Amy Grant, because I had been hearing her sing since I was in kindergarten. But that didn’t stop me from listening to Soundgarden or Metallica, and REO Speedwagon when no one else was around. I remember one time I was in an IRC music store with my dad, and he was letting me pick out an album for my birthday–I chose “Appetite for Destruction” by the infamous Guns N’ Roses. He just shook his head and said, “OK, but don’t show mom.”
Like I said, my parents really let me figure the whole music thing out on my own. When I was young, I heard what they liked, and as I grew older, they gave me the freedom and independence to decide what kinds of music I liked. Just because they didn’t like something, or because some dumb televangelist like Jimmy Swaggart said it was evil, didn’t mean they would stop me from listening to it. And I’m so grateful for that now. They never bought into all the crap about “christian” music versus “secular” music, and how non-Christian music was all from the devil. My youth pastor and his wife were the opposite of my parents when it came to music. They were good people, and I learned some good things from them, but their views on music were not among the lessons I chose to retain. I always thought it was kind of funny that they cared so much about it. I mean, at the outset of every trip we took, they would assign a student to go around checking everyone’s music to make sure no one had anything non-Christian with them. It was fascist and imperial. And we all know the proper response to something imperial–(thank you, Star Wars.) So I made it my mission to sneak as much non-Christian music as I could on board the church bus. And I was successful at it too. I was a supplier for the handful of other “rebels” as well. How did I accomplish this? How was I so great at smuggling contraband past the music police? Simple. My parents would let me use the outer cases of their Christian music CDs and cassettes to camouflage my music on the inside. When they came around to check my music, they would just see Michael W. Smith, Carmen, and of course Amy Grant… Never knowing that inside was Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and The Doors. Well, ok… Some of the Amy Grant cases actually had the Amy Grant cassettes in them.
Of course when I journeyed off to Christian college, things were on a whole new level. There was no actual rule against having non-Christian music, just a heavy fog of rampant judgmentalism toward those who did. I discovered this firsthand when the worship leader who lived next to me in the dorm almost had a stroke after seeing the Led Zeppelin poster on the outside of my door. I discovered it even more when during my second semester, my room was broken into and all the band posters (including a 6 foot Sgt. Pepper’s display) were all ripped from the walls and replaced with notes warning my roommate and I about our impending journey on the highway to Hell. But we had fun with that sort of thing. A few of my friends got together one night and did a live cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze for the entire campus. That didn’t go over too well. But anyway… “we all want to change the world.”
And it’s great, what kind of memories a coffee mug can conjure up.