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The Good Listener: Parents Just Don't Understand?

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince said it themselves: There's no need to argue.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince said it themselves: There's no need to argue.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the gigantic bottle of Marmite we probably shouldn't have ordered on a late-night whim is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on getting your parents into your favorite music.

Erik writes via Facebook: "How do you get your parents to respect the music of today?"

In the nearly two years I've been writing this column, I've heard several variations on this question, all of which boil down to, "How can I compel a loved one to love the things I love?" There's nothing inherently wrong with that line of thinking — with wanting people we care about to celebrate our favorite works — but I'd strongly encourage an inversion of your thinking. If your [parents, romantic partners, mail carriers] wanted to get you into their favorite music, what would be the best way to go about it? Should they even bother?

As frequently as folks toss around words that challenge the authenticity or relevance of people's tastes — "hipsters," "poseurs," "fogeys," et al — most people really do come about their tastes honestly. Some put less thought into them than you do, while others obsess more than you could imagine, but most of us are out there enjoying the things we enjoy because, well, we enjoy them. To get your parents (or anyone) to stop dismissing contemporary music, I'd start by interrogating your own openness to the music they love. Taste-making, like so many human interactions, is a two-way street.

Then, I recommend putting that open-mindedness into practice by offering I-will-if-you-will trades. Look for gateway records that might ease your folks in to sounds you enjoy — think in terms of, "What of my music would they love if they'd only give it a chance?" — and ask them to give one particular album a try. Accompanying that request is a genuine plea for a homework assignment of your own: They get to pick out an album of theirs, and you promise to listen closely for the things they want you to hear. In a few days, or in a week, or on Thanksgiving, or whenever, you all promise to sit down and offer your thoughts. What did you each like, dislike, and want to hear more of — and why?

Speaking as someone who's done an awful lot of intergenerational music-sharing — in both directions, across three generations — I can tell you that most parents would go wild for such an arrangement, especially if they know you'll stick to your end of the bargain. The greatest gift you can give your parents is your time and respectful attention. Hand that over, and they'll likely take anything else you're looking to give them.

Got a music-related question you want answered? Leave it in the comments, drop us an email at allsongs@npr.org or tweet @allsongs.

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