Two years ago, I was a music editor at the Dallas Observer, scrambling for a story to run Christmas week. Like any good journalist, I turned to my best sources: mom and dad. Classical music fanatics in their 60s, my parents checked out of pop culture around the time the last Michael Jackson poster came down from my bedroom wall. What would it look like if I interviewed them about the year's biggest hits? The result was so fun, we did it the following year.
And though I'm no longer at that gig, it seemed only fitting to repeat what had now become a Hepola tradition. After all, names that had previously flown past my parents like Chinese algebra were starting to register. Of the year in pop music, my mother knew that “somebody named something like Keanu West” had a great year. My father, who had read a People magazine at the optometrist's office that morning, reported that Seal had gotten married (although he admitted, upon further questioning, that he had no idea who Seal was).
That's my parents. Unlike the glut of critics heaping purple prose and hyperbole on the year in music, they are absolute newbies to these songs. And that is what I love about it.
Bright Eyes, “We Are Nowhere and It's Now,” I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
One of my favorite albums of the year was this folksy Bright Eyes album, which bantered about themes such as spirituality and salvation in such a way as to seem searching and pained rather than pedantic. Though mom and dad liked the song–dad called it “haunting” and mom said the singer sounded “interesting, but untrained”– both mistook it for Christian rock, a moniker that would surely make young, reckless Conor Oberst spit out his Shiner.
Kanye West, “Goldigger,” Late Registration
No artist was more anticipated by my parents than “that West person,” a rapper who honored family above the street, who had principles and a good upbringing. I don't know what they were expecting, but it wasn't “Goldigger.”
After I stopped the music and told them the artist's name, they looked like I'd kicked the family dog in the mouth.
“That was him?” my mom asked, dropping her pen. “Wow. I didn't like that at all. It was very repetitive, very in-your-face.”
My dad rubbed his head, as if to clear it. “No, I didn't care for that at all.”
We can still argue about whether or not George Bush cares about black people. My parents, on the other hand, definitely do not care for Kanye West.
Green Day, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” American Idiot
No album received more air time on my CD player or iPod in 2005 than American Idiot, a massively engaging pop-punk-doowop manifesto with the kind of chutzpah usually reserved for Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. What a shame, then, that the album's singles were some of the lamest of the bunch. Part of me hoped my parents might hear something I'd missed in this ubiquitous, plodding radio single, but instead, my mother was spot on: “No pun intended, but it was pretty pedestrian.” Damn. I knew I should have chosen “Jesus of Suburbia” instead.
Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine,” Extraordinary Machine
My parents' taste throughout these experiments is more or less simpatico. Mom may prefer Alicia Keyes to Justin Timberlake, but no one's embracing, say, Slipknot. It was unexpected, then, that an artist such as Fiona Apple would prove so divisive.
Dad immediately dubbed “Extraordinary Machine” his least favorite: frustrating to listen to and boring.
Mom gasped as though he'd spilled beer on the bedsheets. “I really liked it,” she said. “It had a cabaret sound. She had a good voice. If I'm not wrong, there was basoon in there, which is one of my favorite instruments. All the instrumentation was so interesting. It literally had bells and whistles.” I gave mom a secret smile, glad she had noted the Jon Brion flourishes that make Extraordinary Machine one of the most original, intriguing albums of the year.
Dad, noticing this, shook his head. “I think your mother is leaving me in the dust,” he said, turning to her. “Where are you coming up with all this?”
MIA, “Galang,” Arular
A brief note about this year's musical selections: Due to time and frustrations with my parents' landline, songs had to be taken from my own music collection. I wish I could have included my favorite radio single, Kelly Clarkson's “Since U Been Gone,” or my least favorite, The Black Eyed Peas' insipid “My Humps.” And what would mom and dad have made of R. Kelly's “Trapped in the Closet” series? Sadly, we can only imagine.
As for this beat-busting single from dancehall darling MIA, mom and dad seemed as basically intrigued but ultimately indifferent as I was. “The initial beats were good, but she was hard to understand,” my dad said. “I liked it, but I was expecting more.” Galang-ga -whaaat?
My Chemical Romance, “I'm Not Okay (I Promise)” Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge
If I were 16 years old, working at a comic book store, and wearing black eyeliner only a shade darker than my suicidal depression, I might not feel a twinge of embarrassment admitting to my love of My Chemical Romance. But fuck it, you know? This song taps into something as deep and fundamentally adolescent as John Hughes movies for me. There were days when it was the first thing I heard upon waking and the last thing I played before going to bed.
The verdict? “That was my least favorite,” my mother said, scrunching her nose. “There was something driving about it that I didn't like. I wonder if that's just something masculine.” She's got a point: Guitar squall and thundering drums aren't exactly what little girls are made of. But then again, My Chemical Romance shows are about 75% girls, and they aren't just there for Gerard Way's nerd-goth swagger.
“That was my favorite,” my father said. “It had a good, long introduction that was really interesting. I missed some of the words, but the music was key to me.”
And that made me feel better. My father and I may argue about politics or how late I should stay out at night, but we'll always have My Chemical Romance.
Pimp C, “Hogg in the Game,” The Sweet James Jones Story
Despite being incarcerated since 2001 for drawing a gun during a dispute at the mall, the Port Arthur-born Pimp C released this debut rap album last year on Rap-a-Lot records. Never heard of him? Me neither, until the assholes who jacked my mom's Honda Accord left the CD in the player. After the car was recovered, there was blood, a court summons, and a burned copy of The Sweet James Jones Story CD.
“That wasn't bad,” said my mom, after the song ended.
“I liked it more than most rap,” said my father.
When I told them where the song came from, they burst into laughter. “Are you kidding?” my mom asked. “I liked that song better than Kanye West!”
So who knows? When car jackers and their victims can agree on pop music, maybe we really can all get along in 2006. Peace out, playas.