News & Politics

First Person: Mom Rocks

When I started secretly listening to the music of my kids, I rediscovered the fun of rock ’n’ roll that I thought I’d lost.

Photograph by Matthew Worden.

There was a time when a guitar riff could spark a charge of desire and expectation in me, when a heartache song and a beer spoke of all my losses. I dyed my hair purple and spent hours at Tower Records, flipping through albums. The night started close to midnight, and I thought the music would never die.

Sometime after I met my husband, I stopped listening to new music. I set my radio to classic rock and listened to songs I’d heard many times. When they played, I wasn’t feeling so much as I was remembering what I used to feel.

The contentment I’d found in the years since had robbed the music of its power. Rock ‘n’ roll is all about the yearning.

My son, Levi–whose name is pronounced like “drove my Chevy to the levee”–is eight. One day while exploring the computer, he discovered iTunes. From jazz to country to rock so alternative it’ll never be played on the radio, Levi’s musical explorations became voracious. He played music for me that I’d never heard or truly listened to. I liked it.

His sister, Becky, is 11. She listens to pop and Top 40. These songs were a harder sell for me. “What are they saying about women here?” I’d ask.

“I don’t care,” she’d say. “I like this song.”

I started playing my children’s music when they weren’t around. Their CDs were in the car, and the radio was tuned to their stations. After taking them to school, I’d crank up the volume. That familiar climb in the music through heartbreak, love, and more heartbreak began to matter again.

I caught up on the years I’d missed between Nirvana and Fall Out Boy. The songs that rang true I played over and over. As my kids were discovering the possibilities in a song, I rediscovered the same excitement.

A typical dinner conversation starts with Becky saying, “My favorite band is Green Day.”

Levi says, “Green Day has a version of ‘I Fought the Law’ that’s even better than the Clash’s.”

I point out that the original version by the Bobby Fuller Four is the best of all.

Rock may be youth music, but it isn’t children’s music. So many musicians have danced along the razor’s edge, a journey I never want my children to romanticize.

One night Levi announced, “Guess what, Mom–Jimi Hendrix died by choking on his own vomit.”

I decided not to let the moment pass. “Jimi Hendrix was one of the greatest guitar players of all time,” I said. “But he died in his twenties because of drugs. Isn’t that an awful waste?”

I tucked the tales of Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and other sad stars of rock-‘n’-roll heaven away for future use.

Another time, Becky announced that Levi had downloaded a song with the “F” word in it. Also the “A” and “B” words. I scrambled to decide what kind of mother I was. I finally said, “It’s okay to listen to the songs. But if you sing those particular words out loud, you are in big trouble.” That’s what kind of mother I am.

My children haven’t seen how a roomful of sweaty bodies can be levitated by a strong backbeat. They’ve never gotten behind the wheel for a long drive on an open road with the music blaring. For them, it’s only about the songs. The rest is all ahead.

Deborah Lewis ( is a native Washingtonian, former lawyer, and aspiring writer.