Homeschooling was a great way to get to know my kids – having them home, watching them grow up, doing stuff with them, learning along with them, finding out what really makes them tick, what they love, what they hate. When there was a problem, there was always enough time to sort it out; and whenever something good was going on, there was no bell to tell us we had to stop. We just kept on going. And along the way, I encouraged them to always follow their dreams, that if they didn’t, no one else would do it for them; to challenge authority; and above all else to be responsible, to think, for themselves. I’m afraid I was a bit of your peace, love, and understanding kind of mentor; but I figured they’d meet enough other people in the course of their lives who might be more the ballistic missile types, not that there’s anything wrong with that, just I was looking to get my piece in while I had the chance. And in the meantime, we all had a good time: they got a chauffeur and I got to relive my childhood, this time with no gold stars being handed out.
At some point, that seemed to be the main thread running through the years: chauffeuring. The number one question people would ask when we told them we homeschooled was “What about socialization? You don’t see anybody.” I only WISH we didn’t see anybody. It got so we were in the car going this way and that way, for ballet, and art, and computer, and homeschool friends, and doctors and dentists and game club and the park and drama class and the museum and the library and music lessons and the grocery store and the beach, I was thinking a little less socialization might be in order. Let’s stay home one day and build Legos. Or read a book.
But driving did have its advantages: it meant lots of Van time. My kids never had a chance. As the tallest, I got to choose what we listened to. It was that simple. As many Van fans of a certain age will say, the kid years are the lean Van years, lean in the sense that having kids meant there were no nights out going to concerts, you stayed home with the kids and got otherwise distracted with life. It’s a bit different with me…my entire life up until that point had been lean Van years – so having children didn’t interfere with that. But I always had the albums to listen to. In the pre-children years I could slip into an evening with a glass of wine and put some Van on the turntable.
I’m sure I’d remember if I ever had one of those while the kids were young.
So, no, if I was going to listen to Van, it was going to be in the car. And for the amount of miles the three of us logged in the car while they were growing up, I had ample time to listen to Van. As did the kids. It got so they could name a Van song in five notes or less. Even if they hadn’t heard the song before, they knew if it was Van. Which is probably not a marketable skill these days, if it ever was, but my two were up to the task.
I’ve heard the story many times about how, living in Belfast, Van’s father would bring home records to listen to – American music, most of it blues and jazz from the fifties. I juxtapose that with my parents in the sixties, who also brought home American music – Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate those guys half enough either; but one thing for sure, between what was on AM radio upstairs in my room and downstairs in my parents’ record collection, I was certainly steeped in pop, whether I appreciated it or not. With the 45s I was spinning, I’m not sure there’s a lot of room between Shelly Fabares and Bobby Vinton for blues and jazz. Johnny Angel, how I love him, and I pray that someday he’ll love me… Sometimes I look back and shudder over where my musical path would have taken me if Van hadn’t slipped onto my radar back in the Astral Weeks days. I fear my days would have been filled with Three Dog Night and Bread. Hey, have you ever tried, really reaching out for the other side?
I may be climbing on rainbows, but baby here goes. Van did not arrive any too soon.
I think back to Van’s rich musical education: Charlie Parker, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly and John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles, and at the neighbors, there’d be Hank Williams and Jimmy Rogers, Mahalia Jackson and Edith Piaf, and just on and on. I, on the other hand, got Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr. And my kids got Van.
If my kids ever got asked that question – the one about what their formative years were like musically – I think there is really only one answer: “My mother listened to Van Morrison all the time, so we really didn’t get much of a cross-section going. Well, every once in a while she’d put on Neil Young or Tom Waits, but mostly it was just one bloody constant theme. We called it the Non-Variation Years.”
If I’d known there was all that good music out there, I could have done a better job as far as expanding their horizons. But it would be years before I started listening to Van’s influences, and by the time I was getting my own education, the kids were altogether skeptical of anything I might bring to the table. I don’t blame them. They do have a favorite Van album, though: Payin’ Dues. Anybody who could do “Ring Worm” and “Nose in Your Blow” can’t be all bad.