Thanksgiving with a Fan-ilow of the Manilow

Barry Manilow divides; the Who unites.
Barry Manilow divides; the Who unites.
Album cover

The holidays are fast approaching, which means while you're baking a ham, mashing potatoes, and putting those crispy onions on the green bean casserole, your mother is drunk on egg nog, and your father is going out of his way to push your buttons.

My dad and I don't generally get on each others nerves, despite our differences. Our political views are vastly different. The best Bond film is still From Russia With Love, despite his best efforts to sway me that the Roger Moore years are the golden age. I can ignore his quips about Rush Limbaugh and Live and Let Die, but it's when he starts an argument about my musical taste that I become outraged.

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Everyone had a time when they listened to what their parents listened to. In my house, Saturday mornings would be filled with the easy-going sounds of John Denver, Donny Osmond, or Barry Manilow. I wanted to like them because my dad did. No one knows any better about what music is considered cool when they are 7 years old. It's when we listen to records at a friend's house or hang out with an older sibling we get those glimpses into the outside world and begin to develop tastes of our own. One minute you're jamming with your dad to "I Write The Songs," and the next you're following your sister's advice and listening to Tommy with a candle burning and seeing your entire future.

At some point in my adolescence, the part of my brain that liked cool music kicked in. Like so many others, when I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana for the first time, my world changed. I stopped listening to the AM Gold easy listening that my dad wanted to jam to each weekend at sunrise and wanted to wear flannel and bang my head to grunge. I think my father was hurt by this. When we'd DJ church dances together, we'd argue about what we would play. He thought the kids would want to listen to James Taylor. I knew they wanted to rock out to R.E.M.

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The one album that settles any musical disagreement between us is Who's Next by The Who. I distinctly remember him telling me about Keith Moon's drum solo during "Won't Get Fooled Again," the nearly nine-minute rock opus that depicts a dystopian society where despite the changes all around, you just "get on your guitar and play, just like yesterday" and get on your knees and pray.

My dad was introduced to the album in a different way: by a disc jockey. Much like there were once only three major television networks, my dad grew up with the range of CKLW, an AM radio station out of Detroit that could be heard all the way to Cleveland. My dad was drawn in by the iconic organ part that opens the song and, of course, that famous drum solo in the middle of the track. He recalls it as a protest song, a song he would turn up when it came on the radio, something, like 'Born to be Wild' or 'Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress' best enjoyed loud.

For me, it was the album's finale that helped me love the other eight songs that make up Who's Next, and in the years since I've appreciated the varying aspects of record during different times. I think the album has a great sense of humor, especially during the song "Getting In Tune," when Roger Daltry metaphorically raises his hands up in frustration and sings, "I get a little tired of having to say 'Do you come here often?'" My dad, on the other hand, gives credence to the argument that the days of the album is dead. Although the whole album didn't appeal to him at the time, he did enjoy "Baba O'Riley" and "Behind Blue Eyes." It's that droning synthesizer sound that hooks him in.

I believe that the album serves as a time capsule of how the world was after the '60s, but it's rather timeless, especially as Daltry cries "Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss" and Pete Townsend bellows that "it's only teenage wasteland." The songs have inspired so many musicians in the more than 40 years since. Ultimately my dad still loves Who's Next because the nostalgia he's attached to it and starts to mention other songs and albums I never knew he appreciated. I heard so much of The Osmonds growing up I didn't realize that just like me, my dad also likes early Elton John, Alice Cooper, and "Stairway to Heaven." Could it be we have more in common musically than I previously believed? Are our tastes much more aligned than I thought?

For the time being, we can at least agree on one album, but we can like it for very different reasons. From this, we have started to build a bridge of musical understanding. We're not going to a Barry Manilow concert anytime soon, but we might be able to keep the radio on for five minutes without one of us turning the dial.

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