Dude, you should see my CD collection. It’s twenty times bigger than yours. And that doesn’t even count all the digital files on my hard drive. (I don’t have time or space to explain that to you, but trust me: it’s awesome.) I know how important your music is to you and that your devotion is limited to music that is at least fifteen years older than you are. You’re a die-hard classic rock fan and you eschew all the music that is currently popular among your peers. That will change. You may be surprised to know I have the entire catalogs of Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins. Metallica has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The artist formerly known as “Prince” is once again known as Prince, in addition to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, and still manages to bring the funk. Madonna is still the trendsetter she’s always been, only now she’s been outflanked by dozens of bad imitators. Green Day has released an album not only catchy and tuneful, but terribly intelligent. U2 is still the biggest band on the planet. And that band Radiohead, that released that one song “Creep” that everyone was talking about last year? Oh, you just wait to see what they’ll do.
But your musical tastes will expand far beyond simply appreciating in retrospect the music that’s popular now. You’ll come to love jazz and attend a jazz festival in the south of France. You’ll discover classic R&B and funk. Believe it or not, you’ll come to love country music. You’ll weep when Johnny Cash dies and you’ll spend the last weekend of every April at a community college listening to bluegrass. And you’ll come to love rap music again.
Yes, I said “again.” Although it embarrasses you to remember, I haven’t forgotten how much you loved rap in middle school. I also haven’t forgotten how your peers made fun of you for listening to De La Soul and Public Enemy. It will soon become cool for white suburban kids to listen to rap, but it wasn’t when you did it. So when your tastes changed, you began listening to music that had already been safely branded as cool. Of course, classic rock is awesome, and I still have all those albums you have: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Cream (all of whom, by the way, have done reunion concerts in recent years). But your dedication to that music is more than just appreciating timeless tunes; it’s a safe way for you to distance yourself from your peers. I know you don’t want them to think you need their approval, which is why you disdain any currently popular music, even if it’s brilliant. That’s why when Kurt Cobain killed himself two months ago, you pretended not to care: it gave you a reason to be aloof to your friends who were shocked and saddened.
I’m sad that you’re missing out on some amazing music. Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub, Uncle Tupelo, Kyuss – these are bands you would love now, if you could open yourself up to listen to them. But I’m even more sad that you need to protect yourself by keeping your peers from knowing that you want them to like you. I know you need that protection, and I’m not going to try to talk you into making yourself vulnerable. But as your musical tastes open up, so will you. You’ll learn to admit to yourself, and eventually to others, that you want people to like you and accept you. And when you do that, you’ll learn to love the things you love without caring what anyone else thinks. Because, paradoxically, people will learn to love and accept you when they see that you already love and accept you.
You know where I’m learning this right now? With my child. That’s right, I’m a parent now. You’ve got another sixteen years to wrap your head around the idea of being a dad, but I can tell you that it will open you up to yourself and to other people in a way you can’t even believe. My beautiful child loves me and my spouse with the kind of purity that only children can love with, and it’s so beautiful to experience that it’s almost blinding. When my child looks at me and smiles, I see myself in a completely different light. I don’t need to protect myself from him or her (I might as well leave you a little surprise, right?). My child needs me and I don’t begrudge that at all; and if I can find it in my heart to give my child the grace to need other people, surely I can do that for myself. I’m not always as helpless as my child is, but we don’t ever get too far from that. And that’s perfectly acceptable. The love I have for her is so fierce it’s scary, but I’m coming to realize that she’s not any more deserving of love than I’ve ever been. Also, my child loves every kind of music I play with a completely unprejudiced delight. It’s inspiring, even if I can’t help but hope that s/he develops discriminating tastes. But let’s just say it will split your heart open with joy to see your child dancing to the Beatles at the age of ten months.
I love and accept you, even more than you do. I know that’s impossible for you to believe right now, but you’ll learn. As you let other people love you, you’ll see yourself the way they do and you’ll see yourself the way God does, and you’ll learn to accept who you are. You’ll see that it’s good to need other people. It’s going to be tough, buddy; I won’t lie to you. I’m still working on it to this day. But there is so much beautiful music out there! I can’t wait for you to hear it all. But I really can’t wait for you to experience the grace of not only being yourself, but being yourself around other people. It turns out to be less like “The Fool On the Hill” and more like “All You Need Is Love."
-- Sincerely, 33-year-old you