Shipping to
United States
Illustration by Mr Seth Armstrong


A boy just barely eight years old steps onto the stage of a nightclub on Manhattan's Upper West Side. He sits down behind a grand piano. He's in a short-sleeve, gingham-checked shirt, white jeans and Ray-Ban wayfarers. Fearlessly, he attacks "The Star-Spangled Banner". His left hand bangs out the chords; his right the melody. His voice - not always in perfect pitch - is fierce with love of country. Then the boy shifts into Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline". The crowd joins in on the chorus.

It is a Sunday afternoon, and my son Nicholas is in the midst of his first piano recital. He's the youngest of the seven students performing that day, so he is batting first. As the performances move along, my wife Honor and I are treated to what the future holds if our son sticks with his music: a fifth-grade boy performs a chilling acoustic version of U2's "One". Then a trio of eighth graders delivers a bar band-worthy cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep".

Watching from a banquette, I'm happy that Nicholas has discovered something he can call his very own. I don't play an instrument, so when he heads into his room after an unusually bad day and flips on his keyboard to kick out the jams; he is the sovereign of his own land. The piano is his thing, and I am loath to interfere.

We are similar in many ways. Like his dad, Nicholas can retain vast amounts of data. Hopefully, he will fill his hard drive with higher quality material than I have stuffed into mine. I can't do calculus, but I do know whether to use sweet or dry vermouth in a Negroni or what the letter "T" stands for in Captain James T Kirk. But when it comes to Nicholas' musical tastes, I've tried to avoid being an influence.

'No offence, guys, but this sounds like the music they play at the pool when it's Senior Swim' was Nicholas' response to Burt Bacharach

I follow Starfleet General Order number 1 - what Captain James Tiberius Kirk would call the Prime Directive: don't meddle with developing alien civilisations. Nicholas" music teacher seems to follow this rule too. He's a working musician named Greg Dayton, who gives private lessons to a handful of kids. He's dark haired, in his late forties, and he's managed to teach Nicholas a whole bunch of techniques and theories by letting him select the songs he wants to learn - even if the lyrics are devoid of nutritional value.

However, the last two songs he's chosen to learn - Miley Cyrus" "Party in the USA" and Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" - have forced me into a moral quandary, one that Kirk has faced numerous times: do I violate the Prime Directive?

When I was Nicholas' age, my friends and I sat around each other's rooms burning the grooves off albums from bands including The Beatles, the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band and Elton John. Sure, there were some missteps in there. (The first rock concert I attended was Meat Loaf.) In contrast, Nicholas gets a lot of his musical input from a fleeting glance at a friend's iPad or iPhone, where the visuals are as important as the music. Some of the stuff is just crap.

One Saturday night as Honor was putting away the dinner dishes (and I was putting away the last of a bottle of Burgundy), we decided to play "What do you think'? We were not foisting our musical taste on Nicholas, just letting him sample some of our favourites. Honor had on Burt Bacharach's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" and asked Nicholas what he thought of it.

As the first strains of Steve Miller's 'Fly Like An Eagle' filled the apartment, he threw his arms out into an approximation of a wingspan and busted out some dance moves

"No offence, guys. But this sounds like the music they play at the pool when it is Senior Swim," he said, and I could see his point because they crank up the easy listening tunes at our club when the grannies in their skirt bathing suits do water aerobics. Undaunted, I switched to The Cure's "In Between Days".

"This was a favourite of mummy and daddy's when we lived in California. Picture us in a convertible driving by the ocean."

The result?

A blank stare.

Finally, I had an idea. Nicholas had recently started day camp for the summer, and the different age groups are named after birds: Sparrows are the youngest; Condors the oldest. Nicholas is an Eagle, so I reached way back to a song I dug when I was his age. As the first strains of Steve Miller's "Fly Like An Eagle" filled the apartment, he threw his arms out into an approximation of a wingspan and busted out some sufi-meets-trustafarian dance moves.

"Hey, play that again," demanded Nicholas.

A few days later I returned home from work as Nicholas was wrapping up his piano lesson. Miley and Taylor had been banished beyond the Romulan Neutral Zone. In their stead, I thought I heard some of Steve Miller's blues-rock riffs.

To read Mr Brodie's previous columns, click here. Follow Mr Brodie on Twitter @jbrodieny

Style Notes...