Death or Glory

Communication between us – people – is taken for granted. We have tongues. We have teeth. We have lips. We have voice boxes.  We have brains to control all of those things together to make sounds that we and others understand as words, but how often do we really stop to…


We think of communication and we think of the creation end of it. Writing. Videos. Speaking. Music. All of it requires someone on the other end who is listening, and not just listening but listening in the way that WE hoped it to be heard.

OK. Too deep? Yeah, probably, but there’s a point here, and on the surface it’s not deep at all.

Just this morning I was bemoaning my not being able to play my guitar enough. I see my son practicing all of the time, and he’s getting really good. Frankly, I’m envious. I miss those hours I wasted away noodling on a guitar in my life before we had kids.

Instead of whining, I took time and came to my office to noodle on my guitar: playing a few chords, and doing music-geek stuff like learning new forms of scales. Thirty minutes later my son came up; I’m sure that he heard me playing, which for him is an open introduction to come in and listen. My heart sank a bit when he came in, because his typical coming into to listen turns into his asking to see my guitar, and then he starts playing it.

I could be a real jerk about it and say “no,” but he’s the one learning. He’s the one with a future in this stuff. For me it’s avocation, it’s blowing off steam, it’s losing myself in the process and in the sound for a moment.

Next thing you know he’s taking out a few of my old LPs, something that I set up in my office recently as much for my pleasure as for his, to expose him to the music I used to listen to and that shaped a lot of who I became as a young adult.

I grinned as I turned around after practicing a Japanese A-chord to see him holding two of my albums by The Clash. Classics. The Clash, and London Calling.

“My favorite on London Calling is ‘Death or Glory,’ and on this one [The Clash] is ‘I Fought the Law.’” he said with authority as he began taking one of the LP discs out of the London Calling album cover.

“Great songs, aren’t they? And do you now hear how Green Day’s version of ‘I Fought the Law’ is an exact cover of The Clash’s?” I added.

Tanner on Guitar

“I know!” he said, “but I like The Clash’s so much better. Can I play this?” He had already turned on the stereo and placed the LP on the turntable.


Even though I had lost my solitary moment of playing guitar, this tangent with my son introduced a flood of so many memories. Old memories like when my sister introducing me to bands like the Talking Heads, XTC, and The Clash, and more recent memories, connecting with old friends from high school, two of whom noted that when they first met me they knew I was different –in a good way – because I was one of the few kids in the school who not only knew of The Clash, but actually liked them… a lot.

I came out of my temporary haze of memories and became conscious that I was absent-mindedly strumming along to “Death or Glory” on my guitar when the line “he who f#*ks nuns, will later join the church” blasted over the stereo speakers. I looked down at my son who was reading the lyrics and bouncing his head along to the beat. I was about to say something about the line, and the revolutionary aspects of it, to tell him that language like that, when used well, can be such a sign of defiance. But I didn’t. I sat and listened, and watched him listen to something that was speaking to him.

We talk: my son and I. We talk a lot. Which is why, when that line was sung, I did not really flinch. Do we indiscriminately swear around the house? No. In fact we try to make sure that overly clean language is used around the house, which is probably why I thought to talk to him about the line after I had heard it.

“Time and place” is my mantra with them. I understand that 11-almost-12 year-old boys swear all of the time: heck, even nine year-olds like his little brother. I remember being caught swearing by my mother in third grade. I didn’t think anything of it since my friends and I did it all day long on the playground. The searing pain on my backside quickly taughtme not to swear at hom.

Even though my boys know they’re dad is pretty loose with stuff when it comes to what I let them do and don’t let them do, I talk to them all of the time about what it means to swear at home with their friends, versus at home when I or their mother is around, versus at school on the playground, versus at school in the hallways. Every little place, and situation has different rules, and different consequences.

And I know the consequences of exposing my oldest to The Clash, and to ideas that buck against conforming.

As he moved the needle to another track, and even switched discs to play different songs, we sat and listened, and communicated through the music. We talked about the sounds, and I knew he felt comfortable sitting with his dad talking about the music, even while the lyrics screamed of revolution.

In the past we had actually talked about revolution – what it is, and how it starts – and about feeling like you don’t fit in, and about being true to your own ideas even when they don’t fit with the majority of people around you.

I just hope that as he quickly approaches and passes the threshold to becoming 12, all of the effort I’ve put into communicating with him pays off, meaning that he understands what the seeds of revolution are within society, and instead of revolting against me in his teens that we can find some form of détent as he looks to do what every young man needs to do: spread his wings.

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