When I was a child, almost every Sunday morning after bagels, my father drove me to the bar and grill he managed in Newark, NJ. It was called the P.O.N., which stood for the Pride of Newark. One of the things I remember about the P.O.N. is its jukebox. My father gave me coins and I played my favorite song, over and over, week after week. The song was Lloyd Price’s “Personality.”
My only public solo musical performance as a child in the 1950s was at a “swim club,” also in Newark, a place with a huge pool and activities for adults and kids. I attended a day camp there. My counselor was a dancer who decided that his campers would put on a dance show for the entire membership of the club, a few hundred parents and kids. I didn’t want to participate in the dance project. Instead I convinced the counselor to let me give a solo performance of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” I practiced and practiced, listening to the song over and over on a 45 vinyl turntable record player, performing in front of my mother, who helped me to transcribe the lyrics from the 45.
Music is an unforgettable part of our family life, and it brings back great memories, from growing up into adulthood.
Now I am a father of two boys, young men today, who played instruments in school and garage bands throughout all of their teenage years. There was never a time I can recall them not listening to music.
Jamie, my older son, played trumpet in jazz and Dixieland bands. My younger son, Darren, played the drums. He, together with a few classmates, formed a punk rock band, D.I.Y.-style. Because Darren was the drummer and we had the drum set, the band practiced for many years on the first floor of our house in Long Beach.
One autumn day, when Darren was about 14 years old, he asked my wife and I if his band and some fellow bands could have a concert in our side yard. We conferred and then said, “Sure,” providing he sought and received consent from our neighbors.
On concert day, scores of kids flocked to our yard, spilling out into the street. My wife, Dale, a high school art teacher, and I served as “security” for the concert. One neighbor (there’s always one) called the police. A uniformed police officer rolled up in a cruiser and told me that we had to “shut it down.” I offered to approach the complainant and make an appeal to him. I cajoled him into backing off and rescinding his complaint. The neighbor told me, “Just ask them to turn down the volume, my house is shaking.”
I promised the neighbor, but then as I turned to walk back down the street to my house, a van pulled up in front and some older teenage boys proceeded to cart out a set of speakers four times the size of the ones that were already in use. Needless to say, it was a memorable Sunday afternoon.
In Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run, he discusses many aspects of his life, from early family experiences to his love of music to his first steps as a musician to forming a band to becoming a rock star, husband and parent. He also talks about his ongoing battle with depression. Music was the constant in his life, whether in good times or in bad.
In a new book titled Handbook of Music, Adolescents and Wellbeing, for which I wrote the foreword, Tia DeNora writes, “To the extent that it is always possible within music to be ‘young,’ music affords connection and reconnection with all of our aged-selves, all our days.” Springsteen epitomizes that in his music and writing.
My friend and music therapy scholar Katrina McFerran stated, “The pairing of music and emotions is natural and to a certain degree, unavoidable.”
Although I rarely talk about the musical memories I’ve shared here, each carries deep meaning for me. From supporting my boys’ appreciation of music to singing along with “Personality” on the jukebox in the bar with my dad to practicing “Great Balls of Fire” with my mom, I relish the way music has captured precious moments of time. Let the band play on.
Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.