My son has always been a bit of a hoarder. Ever since he could walk, he would collect things while we were out and about—sticks, rocks, discarded toys, little pieces of plastic, empty cans… whatever. Going for a walk with him was always an adventure because you never knew what you would come home with (and would subsequently spend the rest of the week picking up around the house or finding underneath his pillow!). To this day, his room is a cluttered mess of “treasures” that he has discovered whilst walking to and fro about town.
Among the gems that my son has recently came home with is a scratched up Nickelback CD. Nickelback! For those fortunate enough not to be familiar with this Canadian treasure, Nickelback is hard rock band from a small town in Alberta who have parlayed an astonishing lack of musical talent and lyrical imagination into an equally astonishing degree of commercial success. There’s nothing particularly mysterious about their formula for success: learn six or seven chords on the guitar, apply healthy doses of distortion and pyrotechnics, add in a generous dose of raunchy lyrics (with a few power ballads and songs about world peace every now and then), top it off with a good marketing strategy, and—presto!—you have a few bestselling albums and a lengthy career.
I think my son’s first exposure to Nickelback came at the hockey rink. The kids (or was it their parents?) liked to hear music during the warm ups for hockey games, and often it would be Nickelback songs blaring through the speakers prior to game time. Nothing like a couple of 10 and 11 year olds skating around with the strains of songs like “Burn it to the Ground” ringing in their ears. Nothing like the poetry of lyrics like, “We’re going out tonight, to kick out every light, Take anything we want, take everything in sight” or “We’re screamin’ like demons, swingin’ from the ceiling, I gotta fistful of fifties, tequila just hit me” to inspire and motivate a bunch of youngsters toward fair play and sportsmanship.” As I watched the warm ups I would often look around at the other parents and wonder if anyone else noticed the irony of telling our kids to play fair and encouraging the love of sport on the one hand, and then smiling as they marched out as if to war to a tribal, anthemic paean to every form of bad behaviour we hoped they would avoid as adults.
At any rate, since hockey season has ended my son’s ears have perked up whenever he gets a whiff of a Nickelback song on the radio, and he was certainly very excited to have his very own Nickelback CD! Needless to say, his enthusiasm for this discovery was not matched by his father’s. Of course, we have had conversations about the lyrical content of most Nickelback songs (I’m leaving the conversation about musical taste in general, lyrics, aside, for a later date), but my eloquent reasoning about ethics and entertainment is no match for an aspiring rock star who just wants to listen to loud music with cool drums and guitars.
So, wanting to honour my son’s freedom, and not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm for rock ‘n roll, and remembering my fondness for Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crüe, and Metallica in my younger days (not a lot of lyrical profundity there, either!), and desperately hoping that his taste will improve as he gets older (people do outgrow Nickelback, right?), we have agreed that he can listen to some of the songs on this CD. On the rare occasions when Nickelback can think of something to sing about other than getting plastered or stoned, or about various parts of the female anatomy, or about a general life of chemically induced pursuit of sex, brawling, and the avoidance of anything resembling adult responsibility, my son can listen. Admittedly, this does trim the list of options pretty dramatically, but a few lonely songs remain that my son has been pleased to share with me, at top volume, whenever he can.
Last night we were driving in to a church meeting and my son, predictably, loaded up one of his few Nickelback songs on the iPod and cranked up the volume. As I alluded to above, Nickelback seems to basically have three genres of songs: 1) Full-throttle, aggressive raunch; 2) Ridiculously cheesy romantic “power ballads”; and 3) Pop-ish sounding hybrids about world peace, feeding the hungry, and everybody just loving each other. An interesting combination, but one should not, I suppose, expect anything like consistency or coherence from a band like Nickelback (how, exactly, does advocating a life of unrestrained hedonism fit with a social conscience, again? Ah, never mind…). Anyway, as we were rocking along down the highway to “If Today Was Your Last Day” (category three above) and as I was choking down simplistic platitudes (and bad grammar) in a song about, ostensibly, living life to the fullest, we heard the following line:
And would you call those friends you never see?
Reminisce old memories?
Would you forgive your enemies?
“See, dad, they’re not so bad! They’re telling us to forgive our enemies? That’s good, right?! That’s what Jesus told us to do!”
Yes, yes it is. It is good. Amazing where a glimpse of goodness will show up, for those with ears to hear.
After the meeting I drove home alone. I thought about listening to something edifying like public radio or one of the podcasts I subscribe to or some progressive indie rock more befitting my “sophisticated” tastes (none of this “music” for the unwashed redneck masses for me!). In the end, I turned on the iPod and scrolled down to that Nickelback song again. My thumbs drummed on the steering wheel and I sang along extra loud on the chorus. I smiled, and thought about my son desperately hunting for something redeeming in a Nickelback song so that his insufferable father would allow him to rock on. I thought about the interesting cracks in the darkness where light occasionally shines through in our world, and I prayed that my son would keep his eyes open for light. That he would get better at finding and celebrating it. That we all would.
And then I turned up the volume.