Steve Wiley on Discussing Your Rowdy Past with Your Kids and a Punk Legend
Steve Wiley is Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood. He's a slightly unorthodox father of five who will weigh in weekly with his mildly-rebellious views and observations. If you'd like to see how he came to write this column, watch the intro video. This week he recalls some parenting advice he learned from punk legend John Doe.
Seattle. April, 2005. The scene is a conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Coalition of Independent Music Stores (I co-owned a record store called Hoodlums Music, and we were a proud member). I was working, but it sure didn't feel like it.
Conferences in the music industry aren't like other conferences. While most record labels (yes, both major and indie) are corporate weasels that have completely fucked up the music business over the past 20 years (don't let the media fool you), their ranks are full of completely cool individuals who know how to throw a party. First (and foremost), they bring artists. Second (and close behind), they bring lots of booze. See Also: - - Parent Hood: A Profanity Lesson with Grandma and Frank Zappa - - Parent Hood: Teaching Kids to Embrace the Moment, Not Fear the Future.
Thanks to our pal Matt Vaughan, the owner of Easy Street Records, this conference in Seattle was the best. My comrades and I had been treated to killer performances, we'd partied hard, and best of all, and this was certainly not the norm, the artists had hung out with us throughout the proceedings. As a fan, it's great to watch 'em on stage, but it's even better to be able to just hang and party.
Pick Your Role Models Wisely? I didn't just go up and ask him for his views on the subject. In fact, I didn't go up to him at all. I'm not even a huge punk fan. Sure, I'm familiar with X and I understand the band's place in rock history, but I wasn't looking for the opportunity to run up and talk to John like some of my colleagues.
John had played for us the day before in the afternoon and he'd sorta just hung around. And it seemed we were destined to meet.
Later that night, after the weekend's pinnacle moment, a private in-store performance with Pearl Jam, we both had ended up on the same late-night, boozed-up, packed-to-the-gills shuttle bus back to our hotel (Pearl Jam had insisted on playing the smaller West Side Easy Street because that's where they had shopped as youngsters, and we were all staying downtown).
We weren't just on the same bus, we were part of six people crammed into the five seats along the back row (if I remember correctly, John had been the one that had suggested the squeeze... and when rock stars suggest stuff, record store geeks say "OK").
As we cruised along smooshed in next to each other, we had a chance to talk about the show (John had joined the band onstage for a version of "New World"). We talked about how cool Pearl Jam was to let CIMS record it for a CD (Live at Easy Street). We also talked about acting (I brought up his performance in the Patrick Swayze classic Roadhouse, about which he laughed and thanked me for mentioning). We did not talk parenting.
Until the next evening.
Explaining The Decline of Western Civilization One of the labels (sorry, I'd give credit but I don't remember) had set us up for dinner at this sweet waterfront restaurant. As we streamed in and grabbed tables, I sat down at the first open table I spotted (it doesn't really matter in CIMS, cause whoever you sit with is cool). Minutes later, I look up and there's John sitting down in one of the empty seats next to me.
Now that's how you get to know a rock star. Forget the backstage meet-and-great jerk off. Ya gotta have time and a looser environment. They can't be honest and in autograph mode at the same time. I had been able to break the ice on the bus, and now we were sitting down to have dinner. I may not have been an ultra-punk fan, but this was cool.
At some point during this fine dinner, the conversation turned to family. John explained to me that he had three daughters, and I said I had a little tribe of my own. His kids were older than the three that lived in my household, so he was ahead of me in the game.
So I asked him, "How do you handle questions about your notorious past?"
Good question, eh?
I wanted to know. You see, I might not be a punk legend... but I've done a notorious thing or two. As I've said many times, I didn't name the store Hoodlums by accident. That's a moniker I earned with some glorious effort (and damn fun results), and it's a worthy subject. In the meantime, I'm a bit more mature now, and being a dad is the most important role in my life.
John understood the dilemma. He said one of his daughters had asked about some sort of questionable scene from The Decline of Western Civilization (Penelope Spheeris' film about the late-70s L.A. punk scene).
I said, "Yeah, I guess sweeping it under the rug is pretty much out of the question when you are one of the subjects of a documentary called The Decline of Western Civilization."
Anyway, it wasn't an interview, so I don't have quotes, but I think it's safe to say that this was his general take: Be as honest as you can with them. You can't entirely hide your past.
Good advice from a road-tested veteran to a hoodlum like me.
May I Add An Amendment, Mr. Doe? I've kept John's fine advice in mind over the past 8 years. Like all things parenting, it's easier said than done (which of course, we both agreed on). You can't just sit the kids down and say, "Let me tell you about the time I broke the law," or "Man, we used to party our asses off" without giving a little thought to the possible repercussions.
But it's more than that. Although it doesn't seem like it most of the time, kids pay attention. They notice things. They think about what you said even though you don't think they heard it. Like it or not, they are gonna emulate some of the shit you do, or did, for better or worse.
So you gotta be careful. When you're a hoodlum, there's some of your footsteps in which you probably don't want your kids to follow.
On the other hand, nothing annoys me more than dishonesty. Telling the truth is one of very most important things on my life agenda. I don't want my kids to bullshit me, so I try not to bullshit them.
Luckily, you can avoid the paradox by just being careful about what you share about your past. You can extract the lessons and leave out the details. Call it propaganda if you want - but parenting is nothing if not manipulation.
If, er, when you get questions (or if you try to write an honest blog), things can trickier. With adults, I'm not afraid to blow someone's hair back with an honest response. With kids, ya gotta have rules. Once they hit a certain age, then you can open the flood gates, but until then, the responsibilities of parenthood trump, and you gotta lead them into adulthood slowly.
Fortunately, I haven't heard many really tricky questions yet, but I know they are coming. Whenever I can, I'm gonna try my best to follow the advice of my "work conference" pal, the punk rock parent, and be as honest as I can be.
But when the questions get too tough, I'll be pulling out a lesson I learned from my own sordid past:
Plead the Fifth.
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