My father loved music, Latin rhythms, crooners, classical symphonic compositions by Beethoven, Chopin, Stravinsky; essentially anything of the European old school or anything American one could dance to on a Saturday night. He hated the music his sons loved: rock and roll. Elvis, the Beatles, Stones, whomever I had on the box to the Old Man it was all horrible nose. There was one exception to this utterly hard and fast rule: Dad loved the Johnny Cash tune ‘A Boy Named Sue.’
The concept of a father giving his son a woman’s name never failed to provoke fits of laughter from a man who notoriously had no sense of humor. “Fucking goyim are so strange,” he’d say as Cash spun his story out of whatever blaring radio was near.
As I got older, our differing musical tastes became yet another issue for us to scream and yell about in when we were locked together in a car. The screaming matches were bad enough when I was just some fan staring at my stereo holding on every nuance and inflection of Dylan’s voice in ‘Visions of Johanna’ but when I started working at SPIN in 1990, our angry interludes took a very nasty turn. “I’m spending $35,000 a year on your education so you can write about rock and roll,” he’d start.
I’d remind him that all writers had to start somewhere. “Rock and roll is shit,” was his standard response, which in turn would provoke a hearty fuck you Dad from me and then the games would begin. We were having that exact argument in January of 1991 as my parents drove me to the airport to catch my flight back to New York and my last semester of college. We fought through the airport, past the metal detectors and right up to the gate. I boarded the plane in a near rage, a rage that helped cover my fear of flying.
It was a bitterly cold January morning. The brilliant sun threw crystalline shards of light off the frozen encrusted snow. My parents decided to go up to the outdoor observation deck and watch my place take off. They joined another couple stuck at Metro Airport on an extended layover as they traveled to California. My mother and the other woman immediately complimented each other’s fur coats. The Old Man, decked out in his gold chains, pinky rings and large gold Star of David, used to opportunity to bash my musical tastes to the lady’s husband, a musician.
After a few minutes of small talk, Mother stroked her chin and looked at the lady she was talking to, her husband and then the lady once again. “You’re June Carter Cash, right,” Mom asked.
“Yes I am,” she replied.
Mother looked over and just in time to listen to the Old Man disparage Bob Dylan and his singing and songwriting. Johnny Cash nodded and smiled.
“How’s your husband holding up,” Mother asked.
June Carter Cash looked over at the Old Man. “Don’t worry. He’s holding his own,” she said.