I don’t hear enough now to try to get attached to new music, so I console myself by reliving my teens whenever I’m driving. I have quite a few CDs burnt to disc—thank you, Apple—and the marker-penned scrawl on two of them is a fair warning: Severe Cheese 1 and Severe Cheese 2. Just about any soft-rock anthem you can think of from the late eighties and early nineties is represented on those two discs.
My little boy has become quite attached to Severe Cheese 1. His particular favourite is ‘holding out for a hero’, and he likes to howl along with Heart’s ‘Alone’. He’s also become quite conversant with the volume control knob. I’ve had some interesting driving experiences when the mid-song scream in ‘Alone’ has coincided with me arriving at a particularly tricky roundabout. But, for all the alarming moments, I’ve been warmed through and through by his acceptance of the music his mummy grew up with. One of his favourite songs happens to be ‘You’re the Voice’ by John Farnham. It’s a classic of its kind, all urgent vocals, fierce and revolutionary lyrics, hard drumming, and random bag-pipey breaks in the middle of the song.
My father was slightly unhappy to learn that my teen music preferences were making a cameo re-appearance into his life. He discovered this when he found Bas and his two cousins using my iPad to create their own Severe Cheese 3 playlist. As a proud technophobe with Victorian notions about the acceptable forms of entertainment for the male under-10s (ie Ludo, marbles, throwing mud or poking icing on cakes), he regarded their DJ preparations over the top of his newspaper with silent, grave misgivings.
I can hear my father’s silent misgivings from the other side of the house. They’re quite powerful.
I knew, the moment I heard Def Leppard’s Hysteria booming through the lounge that there was going to be some kind of generational impasse. The boys have been urged to consider the lounge as their own. My father urges himself to consider the lounge as his own. Peace was unlikely to prevail. For the sake of controlling my blood pressure, I stayed in the kitchen with my head down as Hysteria gave way to ‘You’re the Voice’. My sister Phili, who operates on the basis that there is always going to be some kind of small-person scene in the house, was at the back of the garden, chopping blocks for firewood. So it was left to me to absorb my father’s billowing clouds of disapproval through the seventies service hatch between kitchen and lounge while the three cousins bawled along with the song.
It’s no mystery to me that Bas has the lyrics down pat—he’s heard it often enough. It was slightly surprising to find that his two cousins were almost as fluent. But then again… Phili and I always did have the same taste in music.
I could feel dad’s knuckles tightening around the edges of his newspaper as the song barged its way towards the second chorus, the vocals of my son and nephews in hot pursuit – perhaps only half a beat off – and fairly tuneful, as far as I could tell with my limited, deaf expertise. They were certainly putting some effort into it.
“You’re the voice, try and understand it,” they chorused, “make the noise and make it CLEAR OH WOAAHHOHOH!”
My father turned round to the hatchway, meeting my eyes in painful, pointless remonstration. I had my hands full of soup, tuna sandwiches and hotdog cans, and gave him a thin, barely-remorseful smile.
“WE’RE NOT GOING TO SIT IN SILENCE!”
“So I see!” My father flung down his newspaper and fled the room.
“WE’RE NOT GONNA LIVE IN FEEAR! AAAH! Whoa! Waaaa-oooo-ohohoh!”
“This is cruel and unusual,” my father pointed out, as he came into the kitchen.
“It’s horrid. Make it stop. It was bad enough twenty five years ago.” Dad groaned and headed outdoors, where he could be frozen in peace.
I spent a few minutes seething while I organised three different sets of lunches, wondering how he could be such a stick-in-the-mud. I shared this reflection with Ray, who wondered (quite reasonably) why I was slamming hotdogs into buns like hated people into geographical faults, and he made a very good, gentle point. The most recent track on any of my CD’s is Kylie’s ‘Can’t get you out of my head’, which isn’t exactly…current. There’s a lot to be said to attachment to one’s past. It just so happens that my fond musical past and my father’s didn’t exactly overlap.
I hope my son and my nephews keep up the accidental influence of the Severe Cheese and develop it in the name of musical history. I’d be delighted to hear them inflict those songs on their kids when I’m in my seventies. Then, it wouldn’t be cruel and unusual punishment – it would properly be ‘culture’.