Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Mitch Myers, MAGNET’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Doctor, gets called into service one more time.
“If music be the food of love, play on.” —Shakespeare
I was at home sitting in my back office one night not too long ago, when the phone rang. No, not my cell phone, but my landline. Now I’ve had this landline with the same number for a very long time, but it hardly ever rings. I’ve had it so long that even solicitors have given up on me. People always ask me why I don’t get rid of it, but I guess I’m old-fashioned, and once in a while—someone interesting actually calls me on the darn thing.
Which is why I answered the phone that night, even though it was from a blocked number. It was a young woman, sounding a bit tentative. The discussion went something like this:
Her: Is this Mitch Myers?
Me: Who’s calling?
Her: My name is ___. I’m calling from Cincinnati. Is this Mitch Myers?
Me: Yes, this is he. What can I do for you?
Her: Are you the same Mitch Myers who used talk about music on National Public Radio?
Me: Well, yes, that’s me. But I haven’t told stories on the radio for quite some time.
Her: Is it true that you were also a psychologist?
Me: Well, yes, that’s true, too, but I haven’t practiced in more than 20 years. What’s this about?
Her: I wanted to talk to you about my husband. I hoped that you might be able help.
Me: Lady, like I said, I haven’t practiced in years and I’m not even licensed. I don’t even know you. If you’re having domestic problems I’m sure there are plenty of qualified therapists in Cincinnati who’d be glad to help you out.
Her: Please, just let me explain. My husband used to listen to you on the radio, and I really think that you’ll understand exactly why I’ve called once I tell you about our situation.
Me: I don’t know—this feels inappropriate. And I can’t imagine being much help. Couples therapy was never my thing.
Her: Let me just tell you. You’ve got the bona fides and I know my husband will listen to any advice you might have.
Her: OK meaning yes? Really?
Me: Yes, OK, yes. Just tell me what it is. I’m not making any promises but I’ll listen if you make it quick. What’s going on?
Her: First, I guess I should say my husband John is older. Much older. But we really love each other, and it hasn’t been a problem for either of us. We’ve been happy together, and things had been going so well that we decided to have a child. John Jr. was born a year ago, and that’s when things started to feel different.
Me: Different how? What do you mean different?
Her: I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. John’s a great dad. He’s a loving, attentive husband and the sweetest man in the world. He’s protective of our son, and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for both of us. To be clear, there’s no abuse or anything unsafe. It’s just that his rules for the boy are starting to feel—I don’t know—a little rigid.
Me: In what way?
Her: Just around the house. It’s the rules for around the house that feel extreme. One rule. It’s just the one rule that I’m really talking about.
Me: What’s the one rule?
Her: The Three Main Food Groups.
Her: The Three Main Food Groups. That’s what he calls them.
Me: This is a dietary thing?
Her: No, it’s the music. It’s the music that John Jr. is allowed to listen to. It’s the only music we can play at home when he’s awake. Just the Three Main Food Groups.
Me: You lost me. What are the Three Main Food Groups?
Her: I’m sorry. This is how we’ve been speaking since John Jr. was born. I know it’s a little weird, the Three Main Food Groups.
Me: Yes, but what is it?
Her: Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed.
Me: I beg your pardon?
Her: Neil, Bob and Lou. That’s all John Jr. is allowed to hear if we’re listening to music.
Me: The Three Main Food Groups are Neil Young, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, and that’s all you’re allowed to listen to at home.
Me: Well, why? Have you and your husband discussed this? Was this a decision you made together? Do you think that this in the child’s best interest?
Her: Obviously, John feels more strongly than I do. I never even thought about the music at home till he brought it up. But he’s got it all worked out and is very convincing. It’s not like there’s anything bad going on. I know it’s a generational thing, but it all seems the same to me. I’d hate to dissuade him, I just want to be completely sure that it’s good for John Jr.
Me: What does your husband say? Why is this so important? What is he trying to teach your child?
Her: It’s kind of like that old, “all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” thing, except it’s more about becoming a man. John thinks that the bodies of work created by these three artists encompass a full range of life experience. They cover the sonic waterfront as far as he’s concerned, from a single voice and an acoustic guitar to rock ‘n’ roll bands or sound experiments, country, folk, punk, whatever. They were poets all—singing out, writing anthems and classics, playing for the masses or maybe just for a handful of outcasts. Knocking out majestic tunes and castoff throwaways that sometimes pour down like silver and sometimes fall short. Their songs are about love, life, loss, rebellion, acceptance, sex, romance, God, gender, choice, race, religion, protest—justice and fate, tragedy and irony, celebration, meditation and mixed-up confusion. For him, these guys are North American success stories. Whether urban, rural, old-timey or contemporary in context, they were always working. They reached high and accomplished much. They were leaders and broke barriers speaking truth regardless of consequence. They played guitar, and each harnessed electricity in his own way. They defined trends, epitomized style, embraced excess, made great mistakes, invoked grand gestures, railed against injustice and sometimes helped other people. They were fathers, husbands, brothers and lovers. They had their own heroes and paid their own dues. They used drugs and alcohol and had their problems. They dealt with legal troubles, illness and death. They played well with others but not always, and left plenty of folks hurt or disappointed along the way. They were rock stars growing up in public, they were laureates and anti-heroes, too. They were fearless, smart, funny and difficult, and passed through generations of cool. They were lost and they were found,. They did things their own way even when it was unpopular. They still stand out and sound like nobody but themselves. They strode upright into the 21st century, and my husband still feels like he’s at his best when he’s listening to these three—these three main food groups. They spoke to him—and they spoke for him as well. John sees it as healthy and nutritional and just wants the best for John Jr.. I do, too. What do you think?
Me: That sounds like an OK place to start. Tell him to add Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone to the playlist and call me back in three months.