Besides myself, his mother and his sister, my 5-year-old son Harper has three main role models these days:
- Super Mario
- Luke Skywalker
- John Denver
Yes. You read that correctly.
It started a few months ago when Harper – who much to my delight spends lots of time listening to and discussing bands and songs with me – asked if I knew a song called “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I explained to him that not only do I know the song, I love the song. It has a double-hook and may, in my opinion, be one of the better songs ever written. (Exploration and defense of that notion may be best saved for another time.) I promptly pulled up my Spotify account and after that we made a regular ritual of listening to different versions of the tune.
A few weeks later he asked me about “Rocky Mountain High.” Soon after that he wanted to hear “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Two nights ago, he asked to listen to “Sunshine on My Shoulders” while I tucked him into bed.
I never told him about John Denver. He came to me with those song titles.
At Harper’s recent birthday party, I sat in my living room next to the dad of a girl named Meg with whom Harper goes to preschool. As we made small talk and got to know each other, he suddenly seemed to remember something he’d been meaning to say and turned to me with an amused expression.
“By the way,” he said to me and another parent there. “If your kids are coming home talking about John Denver, I am afraid that is our family’s fault.”
We laughed about this oddity (apparently, a lot of kids in the class had been begging to listen to Denver’s greatest hits recently) and then he told us the full story.
This summer Meg and her family were at a community picnic where a band was playing. The parents and kids wandered over near the music just as the band started into a rendition of “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Meg’s dad said that watching Meg experience that song for the first time was haunting. She became immediately transfixed and from that moment on began asking to hear the song and learned every word. In what I figure was probably a move to save his own sanity after a few dozen spins of “Jet Plane,” Meg’s dad began skipping to other John Denver songs on his iPod and a super fan was created.
If we stopped the story here it would be a cute anecdote about a kid with quirky tastes. But what I LOVE about this tale is the fact that adoring the song herself wasn’t enough for Meg. At age five she was already experiencing the thing I love so much about melodies – they can create communities.
So she headed to her community – a preschool classroom – and began to tell everyone who would listen about her new favorite voice – John Denver.
This is the magic of music. This child-like sense of wonder never goes away for some folks. Others never hear the magical qualities. Music is just a past-time or a soundtrack or maybe just noise to them and that is ok. Magic is by definition can’t be mainstream. It picks and chooses its proxies.
But if you are one of the chosen, beware. The responsibility that lies with you is a big one. Take that sense of magic and form your community. String up your guitar. Find others who love to play and start a band.
Maybe one day you will play the magic onstage to a sold-out arena.
Or maybe you will just play on the weekends with some friends and get a less-than-prestigious gig at a summer picnic where a little girl will walk by at just the right time…