My latest blog for skirt.com about Mom, Metallica, MTV and the moment when she became cool.
My Mom is a classically trained singer and organist. I grew up listening to her practice for hours the various arias, art songs and master works she was paid to perform around the area. I tagged along to New York City on occasion when she lessoned with a famed tenor, the cassette tapes to which she still warms up to in the morning. I was there when she performed at the opera, charity events or concerts. I was also fortunate enough to sing duets with her as well as be in the chorus or small group when she was the soloist. Now with her solo career behind her, she teaches voice at the Lovett School, a private school in Atlanta. She loves to teach. She loves her kids. And after nearly 15 years, many of her “kids” come back to sing with her at a local church in Midtown. ”I sang with Mrs. Soper!”, they say giddily. I should make up tee shirts or something. They know her as Mrs. Soper, the kind, gentle lady who doesn’t always get the joke the first time you tell it. A fun-loving, charming yet modest woman, unaware of her enormous talent. What these kids don’t know is what a musical badass my Mom really is and how fortunate they are to have trained under her. And what’s more, she knows it. But like them, I didn’t understand how much my Mom really had to teach me. I mean, she’s my Mom. Mom’s are annoying and tell you things you don’t want hear like clean your room, don’t date that boy or some day you’re going to have kids just like you! Really Mom? Wait…ok true.
In the 60s, she listened to bands like Jefferson Airplane with its trippy, drug-induced melodies and white rabbit rock and roll. Then there was Joan Baez and Ravi Shankar, two vastly different sounds. There were so many albums in our home, jazz, blues, gospel, classical, rock, and broadway. Any one of these could be playing during the evening. I listened to these records incessantly as a teen trying to figure out my Mom’s musical tastes. I guess I needed to relate to her somehow and music was one thing she and I had in common. She once told me that to truly appreciate music, you have to be willing to get beyond the top layer to really HEAR the complexity or simplicity of the chord progressions and phrasing. The real music is what you don’t hear naturally. The music behind the music. You have to turn off the filter and hone in on that one note that holds it all together, that repeated phrase that allows you to tie into the next chord, even the dissonance. Just be alone with the music. Well, I thought she was nuts. Who wants to work at listening to music?! And thus, the Metallica moment.
During the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, Metallica was up for an award with their new single Enter Sandman. They had crossed over into the mainstream with their latest album. I wasn’t a fan, I was watching for other acts and of course, the fashions. But it was this moment that made me realize how badass my Mom, the musician, the master craftsman, really was not to mention the fact that she was watching MTV with her teenage daughter and enjoying it! As the repetitive opening chords of Enter Sandman began, my Mom stopped talking, turned her head toward the TV and listened. Something caught her attention. Something in the music. I’ve seen her do this before. Then without hesitation she said, “I do believe that is a classical guitar rift in there and someone is trained, listen, do you hear that progression? The chords? It’s beautiful. I like this song. They’re really good.” I was like, WAH? All I heard was noise and the guttural vocals of James Hetfield. But no, my Mom heard music, she heard the classical renderings of a trained musician. It turns out she was right. Cliff Burton, an original member of the band in the 80s, was a classically trained guitarist who eventually turned to jazz and then rock. His classical guitar stylings heavily influenced the band’s sound. How could she pick out that one small layer of music amongst all of drum pounding, bass strumming and heavy baritone vocals? I mean, it’s heavy metal not Mozart! She turned and smiled at me as if to say, see, I’m not nuts. I told you so. Dammit, Mom! I hated when she was right.
I remember telling my friends about the conversation with my Mom the next day. “Your Mom likes Metallica!? That’s totally cool!” was the response I got. I knew they had missed the point of what my Mom was actually trying to tell me. In one brief moment, my Mom had not only related to me on my level but I in turn began to relate to her on a much deeper level than ever before. A new-found respect for one another was forged that day. I mean, I always knew she was cool. Wasn’t the Jefferson Airplane album proof of that?