A few months ago I was at a music festival in Cincinnati, Ohio, and about to watch one of my favorite bands, The National, perform one of my favorite albums, Boxer, from front to back. I somehow talked my way into the VIP section, squeezing into a sweet spot just off stage left. I had hit the bathroom a few minutes earlier, followed up with a quick stop at the booze tent for some red wine. I was set, fully prepared for what was sure to be one of the prime shows of my life.
Then I looked to my right and saw a guy holding his daughter, who I’m guessing was about 3. It was an adorable sight — he was clearly thrilled to share this special moment with his kid, and the little tyke gurgled excitedly while playfully pulling at the headphones that her daddy had preemptively placed over her ears to protect her hearing. How thoughtful!
Aw, that’s so sweet, I thought to myself. It’s so heartwarming to see this, though I can’t help noting that an even better way to protect your child’s hearing is to leave her at home. Also, it’s almost 9 p.m. — why isn’t she in bed? Didn’t you notice those bros smoking weed over there? My god, how irresponsible are you for exposing an innocent child to this, you monster? P.S. I hate you. Love, Steve.
As a concertgoer, my biggest pet peeve is when some cool dad or mom brings a small child to a show. Because kids don’t belong there! A kid at a rock show makes me feel self-conscious about the things I like to do at rock shows — drink, swear, scream my head off, dance awkwardly. But as a parent, I really loathe this practice.
When it comes to practically anything else, I don’t judge other parents. If I see a parent lose their cool at a screaming kid at the grocery store, I feel an immediate surge of empathy. I can only imagine the steady stream of misbehavior precluding THAT, I’ll wonder. Because I’ve been there. Every parent has. But taking a kid (let’s say under the age of 8) to a concert is such an epically (and in my mind obviously) misguided decision that I simply can’t abide it.
That’s a mistake on my part, and I apologize. This is another situation in which I should feel empathy. So, instead of being judgmental, I’m going to try to be helpful, and offer what I believe is prudent advice.
So, cool dads and moms at concerts everywhere, please hear my message rooted in love and understanding: Leave your damn kids at home. Your heart might be in the right place, but you are out of your mind if you think this will turn out well. Your kid won’t have fun. You won’t have fun. The people around you will have less fun. Just don’t do it.
As far as I can tell — again, I would never bring either of my beautiful children (ages 5 and 17 months) to a show, so I can only speculate — there are two reasons why parents do this. The first is that they want their kid to have “good” (i.e. their) taste in music, and they believe that exposing the little one to loud noises in a crowded space a couple of hours past their regular bedtime will achieve this objective, when in fact it will probably only traumatize them against loud noises and crowded spaces.
From time to time, I’ll hear from music fans who have recently become parents, and they’ll talk about the anxiety they feel over the music their kid will one day love. This derives from a positive instinct: If you love music, and see it as a force for good in the world, you also want your children to appreciate this wondrous art form.
This is what I always tell those people: Stop worrying. The best you can do is make music available to your child. Play it around the house. Make fun mixes for the car. Make music something that your kid can choose to participate in. Because you can’t control what your kid likes. Besides, what your kid likes right now won’t be what your kid likes six months from now. My son used to love trucks. Then it was dinosaurs. Now it’s Block Craft. I’m fine with him not yet having the time to fully absorb Songs In The Key Of Life or The ’59 Sound. He’s young. He’ll get there eventually. (Or he’ll discover his own thing that he loves, and that’s okay, too.) The harder you push your preferences on your kids, the more you’ll ultimately be disappointed.
At the National show, the daddy-daughter duo hung in for side one of Boxer. The little girl was captivated by the explosion of sound and light during “Fake Empire” and bobbed her head to the swinging backbeat of “Mistaken For Strangers.” But soon the inevitable occurred — she got bored. She squirmed in her father’s arms. She wasn’t receptive when daddy tried to Skype with mommy during “Squalor Victoria.” This little girl was a great sport — far more patient than either of my kids would’ve been had a bookshelf fallen on my head and I temporarily thought it was a good idea to take them to a rock show. But that patience only went so far. When I looked over during “Apartment Story,” they were already gone.
The source of my visceral irritation in situations like this is related to the second reason why I think parents take their kids to concerts, which is vanity. You want to be viewed as the kind of parent who has raised a kid who is already a pint-sized connoisseur, because that clearly reflects back on you as a person who isn’t lame like most parents.
Allow me to take a deep breath and offer more advice in the spirit of empathy: Don’t treat your precious offspring like a Pinterest board.
Occasionally you’ll see these Pinterest parents out with their kids at the park. You can spot them pretty easily, because the kid will be wearing a Remain In Light T-shirt. I always want to walk up to these people and attempt to one-up them. Your kid likes the most popular Talking Heads masterpiece? That’s cool. My daughter is into Fear Of Music, the slightly less obvious Talking Heads classic. I know this because she hit herself in the head with a Lego once while “I Zimbra” was playing the background. I think that was her way of saying that David Byrne’s collaboration with Brian Eno hit an early peak with that song, and was sort of played out by the time the Heads recorded the more famous “Once In A Lifetime.”
This is ludicrous. Buying your kid a cool rock shirt does not mean your kid has cool taste in music. It means that the kid has a parent who is using him as a form of personal expression.
Consider this my early Father’s Day present (or late Mother’s Day present): I am liberating your from the need to look cooler than you really are by pretending that your kids are cooler than they are. The next time you go to a show, get a babysitter. Enjoy the time away from your kids. And then go home and tell them about how fun it was. Make them want to go — one day, several years from now — without being dragged against their will.
Give a little kid a pile of sand and a stick and that kid will have more fun than if you hand him backstage passes to a Springsteen show. That’s just nature. Making a kid go to a concert before he’s ready will not change that. It will only, in fact, make the concert less enjoyable for you. And isn’t being a parent already a 24/7 headache?