Hard to believe but still true. Today, our son graduates from high school, nearly 34 years after my own high school graduation, or three cicadas cycles (1987, 2004, and 2021). In between has been “my second childhood” of Pittsburgh, undergrad and grad. In between was learning how to be comfortable in my own skin, dating, marrying. In between was my beginning to reject so much of the fear and bs that my parents and idiot guardian and others fed to me. Otherwise there would be no graduation of our soon-to-be 18-year-old son to celebrate, no reason to work to be an example to him about building and walking a path, no misogynoir or misogyny to give up.
I have only been alive for four cicadas cycles (1970, 1987, 2004, 2021), our son in the middle of number two. Most humans in this part of the world don’t get to see more than five cycles (I’d have to make it to 85 to see my sixth cycle, and who knows what the US would be like by then).
But there’s symmetry here. I was in my first year of life when I likely saw but could not possibly remember my first cicadas. So was our son in the late spring of ‘04. I graduated high school in the middle of the cicadas’ mating season in ‘87. I vaguely remember them. I walked so far and so fast in those days. My headphones and my Walkman were practically glued to my ears and left hip and belt. I may have noticed the unceasing chirring and flying and crunches a time or two. But I walked at Warp Factor 3 or 5 blasting Genesis, White Snake, Whitney Houston, or U2 through your ears down one Mount Vernon street or in Co-Op City or somewhere in between. The cicadas’ were mostly a crunch speed bump on my way to obsessive heartbreak and on my way to college and Pittsburgh.
Our son’s path has been bumpy, and not just because he walks at a tortoise’s pace. He’s not a big fan of school. Nor does he have the fight-or-flight instincts I had when I was his age, well-honed from years of trauma and living in a place where no one cared how broken I was. His musical tastes barely register on the decibel meter. He often claims he likes “nothing,” but I’ve found him bopping to The Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23” and Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes” and Haddaway’s “What Is Love” in recent years. He apparently does like one indie rock band, Bloc Party, a UK group.
Music has changed so much over the past three cicadas cycles. So has our world. When I graduated nearly 34 years ago, Cameo’s “Candy” and “Word Up,” Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” U2’s “With Or Without You,” Luther’s “Stop To Love,” Europe’s “Final Countdown,” and Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” were the sappy hits of the moment. Yet some songs were subversive, and deliberately so, like “With Or Without You” (who thought this song was about romantic love? — certainly not me!), Genesis’ “Land of Confusion,” and Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times.” And there was the music that as a 51-year-old I’ll admit I knew was wack and lame even at the time, including anything by Glass Tiger or Starship. The cicadas must have loved it when I warped by blasting this schlock.
Our son might not like much music, but it isn’t because we don’t play any at home or in the car. We play the music we grew up around, the music of our adult choices, the music we listened to despite and because of our parents. Blues, gospel, real R&B, rap, hip-hop soul, punk rock, heavy metal, ‘80s pop, ‘90s pop, grunge, jazz, smooth jazz, emo, country (that’s my spouse, definitely not me), and yes, even BTS. All are welcome to the eclectic music party. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t feel the need to pick a genre. Our family is a jukebox, er, iPod, no, um, iPhone and Spotify of sounds. That’s not something a Walkman or 700 billion cicadas can duplicate.
But I also keep in mind two things. One is that from our son’s perspective, JLo’s On The 6, Coldplay’s “Clocks,” even Kanye’s The College Dropout is the growing-up-as-a-zillennial equivalent of The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” Diana Ross & The Supremes’ version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye did the original), and Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” via his What’s Going On album was for me at 17. It took me years to appreciate the music, understand what it was always trying to say to me. Hopefully, with enough luck and time, our son will get there. Hopefully with enough cicadas cycles, so will our world.
Especially with the second issue. Have you heard the music of the past decade? BTS is fine, but will peak as all glambands do at some point. Between SZA and RZA and Sia and H.E.R. and Lizzo and J. Cole and Lil Nas X (love him, btw) and so many others, I’m longing for the days of Solange. I know, so five years ago. No instruments, no good lyrics, and aside from Lil Nas X and The Weeknd, not much subversiveness, either. A wall of sound that seems indecipherable, like the cicadas this morning. Hopefully, our son will decipher it all, for himself, if not for any of us.