The other day, my 6-year-old son asked, “Daddy, what kind of music did you listen to when you were a kid?”
It felt like a dangerous question. Like asking: “Daddy, what do you think about tattoos?”
Would I tell my son that Dad, a child of 1970s England, liked to gyrate to “Top of the Pops,” the British equivalent of “American Bandstand?”
Or that, in a mini-me imitation of my southern Italian father, I wore white bellbottoms and a skin-tight polyester shirt, with the top four buttons undone to expose a tiny, hairless chest?
Or would I share a darker secret? That my mother, who came of age in 1960s London, somehow escaped the influence of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and instead had a collection of vinyl and eight-track tapes that included Dionne Warwick, The Carpenters and Broadway musicals — lots of Broadway musicals.
It gets worse. My mother sought out the goofiest, most barf-inducing songs that seemed to find their way into American musicals of the 1950s. And would I tell my son that his dad used to sing along to those songs with his mother?
Here’s a sample from “Oklahoma!”: “To you I was as faithful as can be — fer me. Them stories ‘bout the way I lost my bloomers — rumors! A lot of tempest in a pot o’ tea!”
“So, Daddy?” my son said, growing impatient.
I decided to tell him the truth.
“Well, Daddy really, really liked Elvis Presley,” I said.
Totally true. I worshiped the King. I smeared Brylcreem in my hair, fashioning it into the only ginger pompadour on Fox Hill, my street in southeast London. I used to play Elvis’ albums on my parents’ turntable, lifting the needle every few seconds to scribble down the lyrics to “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Return to Sender” and many more so I could learn each song by heart.
One year, when the BBC played Elvis movies every morning during the 12 days of Christmas, I watched them all. In 1977, when the King died of heart failure, I cried. I was 10.
“Can we watch Elvis on the computer?” my son asked.
“Of course, little man,” I said.
I bypassed the puffy-faced, barely lucid Elvis — the one who was all twitches and wisecracks.
“Let’s try this one,” I said, choosing a grainy, black-and-white film clip.
There stood a young Elvis, in faux prison scrubs, his convulsive dance moves mesmerizing to my son. “The warden threw a party in the county jail! The prison band was there and they began to wail!” Presley sang.
Lucca wanted more. He gorged on Elvis the same way he devoured ice cream for the first time, astounded that such music existed in a world of Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi — which now, to Lucca, were the musical equivalent of boiled kale.
I’d opened Pandora’s music box.
Lucca wasn’t content just with Elvis. My wife foolishly mentioned how much “fun” she’d had as a teenager listening to the English rock band Queen. And, before I knew it, “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” and “Baby Beluga” had been tossed onto the garbage heap of utterly worthless music. I can only imagine what Lucca’s Montessori teacher thinks when she hears him growling the lyrics to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
I’ve noticed other changes in my son’s behavior, too. He greets me with a Ninja-like flying kick instead of a hug. Surely not a coincidence. Lucca takes violin lessons and has taken to wielding his miniature violin case like a Capone-era gangster.
Maybe I shouldn’t complain. After all, he’s 6. His first “big” tooth is starting to poke through. How much longer can “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” satisfy a child whose brain has been infected with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Fat Bottomed Girls?”
FATHERHOOD: AN OCCASIONAL SERIES
This is one of an occasional series on fatherhood by Sun-Times staff reporter Stefano Esposito, the dad of two young sons.