Due to a ratherlongerthanI’dliketoadmit disco phase and an enduring fondness for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, my iPhone music collection does in fact feature a few ABBA songs and a certain Gloria Gaynor classic. Most of my music these days tends to be somewhat harder hitting – a bit of CCR, Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles (late Beatles, to be precise), and a heavy layer of Paul Simon – with and without Art.
The kids are in the car with me a lot these days, heading for a camp half an hour away. This means that there’s a bit of censorship, and I think Zachary just assumes there’s a silent moment in the middle of Jill Sobule’s “Nothing to Prove,” right in the spot where I turn the volume down so she can curse in peace.
Benjamin, who has excellent taste in music, often gets to pick the first song, because if I let Zach choose, we’ll end up listening to Katy Perry and thankyouverymuch to my husband for putting that damned song on my phone. Ben picks things like U2’s “The Sweetest Thing” or Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon.” Lilah gets no say in the matter, because when she’s alone with me in the car, we listen to one of two songs on repeat for the entire drive: “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” from Hairspray or the theme song from Laverne and Shirley. Shlemeel, shlemazel, Hasenfeffer Incorporated.
After that first song, it’s up to the shuffle, which is how we ended up listening to “Go West.”
“What does this song mean?” Ben asked, as he so often does.
As I was at a red light and had nothing better to do, I launched into a long explanation of the westward expansion – because kids need historical information to properly appreciate the Village People – ending up with, “Like when Laura’s family kept moving west.” There was silence in the car for a moment, and I probably could have stopped there.
Because there’s also the more recent history to explain. “But, there’s also another meaning. You see, the men who recorded this song were a band called The Village People. They were gay, and it was a time when gay people weren’t accepted like they are now… in some places.”
“Were they all gay with each other?”
“They were all gay. People aren’t gay with each other; they’re just gay. But you want to know if they were all in love with each other? I have no idea, but there were four of them. That’s a lot of people to be in love with each other.” Truly, I have no idea about the love lives of The Village People. “Anyway, during that time – and now in some parts of this country – gay people weren’t treated well, so people hid the fact that they were gay. It’s called being ‘in the closet.’”
This was, by the way, the longest red light in history.
“So, they were telling gay young men to ‘Go West’ to California, where they could be themselves without hiding it. Zach, can you think of anywhere where people can’t really be themselves and have to hide it if they’re different?”
“Mountain Lakes!” he answered. Yeah, probably good we moved if the kids were noticing.
At this point, I wasn’t sure whether I was proud of myself for making every moment a teachable moment or appalled that I was having an intellectual discussion deconstructing The Village people with three kids. At least no one was hurling camp backpacks at anyone else, so intent were they on getting the full explanation.
“Oh! He wants his love to go west with him.”
“Right. His love wants to go west, so they’re going to California together. People used to go to make their fortunes.” Whereupon I started an equally muddled lecture on the gold rush.
“Can we have this song on repeat?” Ben interrupted. My punishment for trying to describe the many deep, complex, and delicate layers of a disco number – twenty-one minutes of the Village People on repeat.