To make it happen, I sought advice from a Harvard psychologist and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy.
“Daddy, why do you only listen to singers with allergies?”
My 6-year-old son Charlie posed this question about midway through “Over Everything,” the new single from indie rock darlings Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile. It was not the reaction I’d been anticipating. I’d carefully curated the playlist for our 20-minute commute to school, and I was pretty confident that I’d nailed the perfect mix of adult eclectic and kid-friendly. Apparently not.
“That stuff you were playing the other day,” Charlie said, shuddering from the memory. “With the guy with all the phlegm.”
He meant The National, whose new album Sleep Well Beast is on constant repeat on my iPod. For Charlie, their songs are like being punched in the ears. “Every singer you like either has hay fever or just needs to blow their nose,” he said, rejecting (with extreme prejudice) the songs I was convinced would blow his mind. “Can we listen to Kidz Bop now?”
Many years ago, back in 2004, when I was still childless, I listened to a comedy record by another (at the time) childless man, Patton Oswalt, and gleefully agreed with his description of responsible parenting. “I’m going to be the most boring, hateful father on the planet,” he said. “I’m going to do what fathers should do.” He wouldn’t bully his future son or daughter into listening to the same music that had shaped his worldview. Instead, he would pretend to be a “boring, square asshole parent.” As far as his offspring was concerned, his favorite album would be Phil Collins No Jacket Required. And when they’d sneer at his crappy taste in music, Oswalt would “smile quietly to myself. Because I’ve saved the future by having a cool kid that hates me. That’s your duty! Never forget it!”
It seemed like a perfect template for responsible fatherhood at the time. I promised myself that if or when I ever became a dad, I’d embody the Oswalt vision of parental selflessness. But it’s easy to be selfless when you can blast the Pixies in your car without some tiny version of you in the back seat shouting “Boooo-ring!” Being an endlessly patient dad isn’t a big deal when it only exists as a fantasy in your head. But when it’s a reality, and your kid is an actual human being with his own thoughts and opinions and preferences, and he wants to hear “The Gummy Bear Song” over and over and over and over and over again — until lines like “Beba bi duba duba yum yum/ Three times you can bite me” become indistinguishable from your own memories — it can take every ounce of willpower not to shut him down the way Jack Black did to that middle-aged dad in High Fidelity.