Road trips are tricky in my family. It’s not because we’re particularly prone to car sickness, backseat driving, or general annoyance with one other, either. Well, it’s not only because of those things. Mainly, it’s the music situation, which often becomes a minefield to overcome. It’s been that way since I took over primary driving duties–and with it, control of the stereo–from my dad a few years ago.
I’ve had more than 5,000 songs on my iPod for a while now–30 GB really hasn’t cut it for years–but when my sister, parents, and I packed up for New York a couple of summers ago, I was somehow still at a complete loss for what to play on our 10-hour drive. After deciding to put K’Naan’s Troubadour on repeat–his massive hit “Wavin’ Flag” had blown up to the point where even my mom was a fan–my sister asked with great amusement if that was really the only appropriate selection I had to offer. Granted, she had just stopped telling people about the time I held my key-less parents hostage at our front door on account of playing Young Jeezy’s TM103 so loud that it drowned out the doorbell. I tried Arcade Fire’s wistful 2009 album, The Suburbs, next.
A certain degree of cross-generational difference in taste is to be expected, but I assume this type of musical impasse pops up pretty often with Hip-Hop fans in particular. For parents above a certain age, the language and the subject matter just isn’t going to fly a lot of the time. Sure, you could download a clean version of your favorite album, or better yet, just throw on any Common album from the mid-2000s. But, really, who thinks about these things prior to being 100 miles from home and sweltering on a sun-baked highway.
To top it off, my parents don’t have the time of day for most contemporary music (of any genre, really). There’s a running joke in my family that consists of my mom insisting that she really does know who Drake is. Last time I checked, he hasn’t made an appearance on American Idol or X Factor, so I still don’t believe her.
Swiping through my iPod, I decided to try my luck with Aloe Blacc’s nostalgic, beautifully sung second album, Good Things. I couldn’t see anyone objecting to those smooth vocals. “Good Things”? “You Make Me Smile”? “Green Lights”? That shit is the definition of feel-good music. I figured at the very least “Momma Hold My Hand” would be an easy win with my sentimental mother.
Turns out, the whole album was a hit with the entire car. It even managed to pique my dad’s interest: “What is this, Jazz?” Close enough, I suppose. By the time “Momma Hold My Hand” did roll around, my mom was already giving unprompted compliments about Aloe Blacc’s singing. And it wasn’t even based on her usual criteria of “Can my Kindergarten class sing this?” My sister, strictly an indie-pop fanatic, had no complaints, either. The rich instrumentation won her over, I think. All I know is that they all liked it, and that was more than good enough for me.
It felt like a substantial win for some reason. The warmth and overall depth of feeling on Good Things really epitomized what that trip to New York was all about: family, good vibes, and the end of summer. It’s something that has stuck with me in part because of my failed efforts to bridge the musical gap since.
About a year or so ago, while running errands with my mom, I ran through most of Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore album. It didn’t elicit much of a response. At least until I finally decided to put on something else, at which point my mom offered the following thought: “That was like church music.” I genuinely had no good answer to that.