You know that kid you see in some urban playgrounds? The one–it’s usually a boy–with the long, gender-bending hair, the red Jack Purcell sneakers, the name like Wolf, perhaps–or Jagger–and the black, faux-aged, old rock band tee shirt? Worn ironically, of course?
I take issue with him. Or actually, with his parents.
The reasons for it are complex, and probably go back to my childhood. Suffice it to say, though, that one thing I swore I’d never do as a parent is try to make my kid into a mini-hipster. Specifically, I’d never put her in a tee shirt for a band she’s too young to remember, let alone enjoy. No Metallica, Led Zeppelin, or Pearl Jam emblazoned across her chest. I don’t want her knowing about those bands, let alone advertising them. Not at this age, anyway.
That was before David Bowie.
It happened by accident. I really do try to protect MJ from music I consider “grown-up.” This effort, of course, has been hampered by my husband, who insists on inundating her with Sun-Ra concert videos and Japanese punk rock. Still, she’s mostly heard kid’s music. Tom Chapin, Raffi, some country…occasionally, though, I do let something adult slip in if I consider it educational.
Which brings me to the astronaut video. You know the one. It’s the guy in the space station–the one singing a santized but haunting version of “Space Oddity” while floating in zero gravity and doing cool tricks with his guitar. My sister showed it to me, and then we showed it to Mike, and finally it got to MJ. She’s had a thing about space for a while now, (recall the solar system lessons of last year?), and has, as well, a keen interest in gravity. Probably because her father has taught her to:
“Waaah! Why did I fall down?”
“Remember what we talked about?”
“That’s right, sweetie.”
Anyway, so we showed it to her. And she was rapt. She asked for it again. And again. Why not? It’s mesmerizing. I cried. We all did. Well, that’s not true. In retrospect, it was just me. My sister might’ve said “wow” once. Mike? He just said “Isn’t it enough that he’s a young, handsome astronaut? Now he’s got to make a viral video, too?”
Then one of us mentioned, in passing, that the song was a cover. Myra-Jean asked what this meant. The original singer, we told her, was a man named David Bowie. Mike pulled up a video of him doing his version.
And voila, a zealot was born. Talk about rapt. I think, if she could have, MJ would’ve crawled into the computer and eaten Bowie’s dyed-orange head.
Since that day we’ve been on a regular rotation. Every day, sometimes twice or more, we screen all three versions of “Space Oddity.” First the astronaut. Then the Ziggy Stardust rendition. And finally “the fast one,” an earlier, also Bowie-starring version in which the singer resembles nothing more than a mad scientist in dire need of new teeth.
I watch her watching these. Each time my mind is blown a bit, like a small but dying star. What does she see? What entrances her so about the song, the man, the concept? What is going through her mind as she mouths those words she doesn’t understand:
“Take your protein pills and put your helmet on…”
It’s hard to say. But it makes me love her more. And want so badly to be inside her mind. Which, in turn, makes me feel sad, for I know I can’t, and increasingly won’t. David Bowie is only the first of six gazillion ways that her thoughts will take their own path and leave me cordially, firmly, behind.
This all makes me forgive, quite a bit, the hipster parents with their odd-named kids and their rock-n-roll gear. I think I get it. I think I understand. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe their minds are closed to me too. Maybe I’m Major Tom and I’ve lost contact with ground control completely. Maybe I’m here sitting in my tin can.
Or maybe not.
Either way? She’s not getting a Bowie tee shirt. I may be getting soft, but I’m not lost yet.