As a parent I view the modern era of hyper-connection as an infinite opportunity for teaching moments. My children humor my pursuit, bless them. I do worry that they perceive their father’s aspirations as random outbursts of unconnected insights, barely distinguishable from the indecipherable utterings in Ezekiel’s visions, and vested with much less authority. Yet, I persist.
On a recent Saturday I became a taxi driver for my oldest son, and drove him home from the gym. Something by Gil-Scott Heron came up on the bop jazz channel on the car’s satellite radio. Heron’s rebellious expressions made him famous, but today the radio played themes of love. It was one of Heron’s earlier and milder pieces.
The jockeys experiment on this channel on the weekends, taking the music to the edges, though this hardly qualified as an edge. Though Heron is not regarded as a jazz pioneer in most circles, the beat poets influenced him, and he borrowed many of their rebellious forms for individualized expressions.
My son stared out the window, rendered silent by one of those adolescent moods in which sentences never exceed three words. Sometimes the mood can last for months.
Looking for an opening, I faked surprise. “Well, look at that.” I said with an upbeat tone, “It is Gil Scott-Heron.” This registered nothing from the passenger seat, not even a curious question, such as “Who is Gil Scott-Heron?” Was my son listening or descending into a month-long silence? He remained motionless.
A father has to be intellectual resourceful at these moments. I gambled, and issued an overstatement that I hoped might catch his attention. “Some people regard Gil Scott-Heron as the father of Hip-Hop and Rap.” If my son was at all paying attention, he would regard this sentence as a stretch, at best. The present song more closely resembled a male rendition of something acceptable to Ella Fiztgerald. Nothing about this love song would suggest such a radical interpretation. Still, the music contained enough rhythm to be catchy. My son stirred, and I sensed he was listening to me.
If the hook was in, then perhaps he would take the bait. “His most famous song was something called ‘The revolution will not be televised.’ Have you ever heard of that?”
“No.” My son shifted his weight while answering. Maybe I had him. This is what passes for a teaching moment in the suburbs.
“I will play it for you when we get home.” I promised, “You might like it.” No sound came from son, and we drove on. (more…)