20 May 2015


Talking to You about Big Daddy Kane
(Part of my series on Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls about Duran Duran)

After [my grandfather] went to bed, I'd stay up and watch Yo! MTV Raps for my fix of De La Soul and Big Daddy Kane and Public Enemy. I would switch it back to the Eternal Word Network so he could get the first of his seven daily Masses. If I forgot to change the station back, we'd have the same conversation about it. "I got your jokers this morning," he said. That meant he'd turned on the TV expecting Mass and got Club MTV or Remote Control.

When he tried watching MTV with me, he found it hilarious. The one tape of mine he liked, oddly enough, was The Smiths. His favourite was "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want." He said, "At least that's got a bit of an air to it."

He preferred the radio in the kitchen, which would sing him the songs of the old country, even though when he was my age, he couldn't wait to get out of the old country . . .

The late 80s rap soundtrack aside, this is easily the most beautiful and emotional chapter in Rob Sheffield's memoir. And no, I'm not projecting just because my grandmother, with whom I also shared both MTV and EWTN, died last year--though maybe I appreciate it better because of that.

There are few things better than music for both highlighting the generation gap and helping us to bridge it. I still chuckle at the memory of my grandmother's first exposure to Oasis, my favourite band of the 90s. She thought that Liam Gallagher's voice in Wonderwall was the most annoying sound known to man. (ROFL!) Although she let me watch MTV on the TV in her room, she insisted on control of the radio in her car--and she always picked the station that played oldies from the 1940s and 1950s, the decades when she had been my age. To this day, the sound of Johnny Mathis's voice brings on a mild wave of that motion sickness I always got from her accelerate-brake-accelerate-brake-accelerate-brake driving style. But as with Sheffield and his grandfather, there is one song that we both "oddly enough" liked.

As I said, "oddly enough"

Unlike Sheffield, however, I can't take any credit for my grandmother liking it. Someone else's granddaughters did that. It was after my grandmother came home from dinner at a friend's house that she had what would be 4 Non Blondes' only hit stuck in her head and asked me to buy a cassette tape for the family's music library. LOL! You know, I think she liked it more than I did. =P

But it wasn't really music that bridged the generation gap for my grandmother and me. It was crossword puzzles. * They started with her, of course. For years, my family subscribed to a certain newspaper, not because we preferred its brand of journalism or blend of news and features, but because it had the most challenging crossword. My grandmother also asked friends on vacation in the US to clip the American puzzles to take back for her; and when an adult son and daughter emigrated to California, they made sure to include their local paper's crosswords (which they themselves never did) along with their regular letters home. (No British puzzles, though: as I later found out for myself, the Queen's English and Americanese might as well be two different languages.) Besides these, my grandmother also kept big, fat crossword puzzle books in her bedroom. There were more than she could get through--but she only turned to them as a last resort, anyway, finding them too easy. It was with one of those books that I got my start.

Sharing only goes so far, though. You can share a song, but just try sharing a puzzle. After I got hooked on crosswords, I had to buy my own newspapers. =P My grandmother started her crossword first thing in the morning, and not even her favourite grandchild (Ahem!) could get her to disrupt her daily routine. I eventually learned, however, that if it was still incomplete and had been left unattended by the afternoon, I could grab it and finish it for her.

It was a little ritual that petered off so gradually . . . as gradually as my grandmother's Alzheimer's started taking over her mind . . . that I didn't even notice when we stopped. And I didn't remember until this evening, when my mother said that she would like to start subscribing to a newspaper again, and picked the one with my grandmother's crossword puzzles.

This is the first year that the crossword will be all mine to do. I think I'll put on some Mathis for that.

1 Across: 1959 Mathis Hit (5 words)
Hmmmm, what could that possibly be? =P

* Actually, it was the rosary that really brought us together . . .
but this isn't one of my Annoying Catholic posts.
(You're welcome!)

Your Turn at the Jukebox: Has anything ever bridged the generation gap between you and a much older person?


Paul Stilwell said...

Sweet post.

"...the most annoying sound known to man."

Truly. Exactly. Never met your Grandmother of course, but always liked her.

Sheila said...

Ah, so many good things!

With my dad, it's always been Rush. Heck, all of his music ... it was the soundtrack of my childhood; he always had something on.

With my mom, older stuff that she got from *her* parents -- Engelbert Humperdinck, for instance. I remember one time she and I went down to the basement, where we still kept the old record player, and dancing to "Lonely is a man without love."

My grandma J and I bonded over sewing. She is the one who bought me my sewing machine and taught me to use a pattern.

My grandpa C and I loved flying. Sure, I never got my license like some of the other grandkids did, but I never turned down a chance to go flying with him either.

Great grandpa and I liked swimming -- particularly when the water was much too cold for anybody else. "My little swimmer!" he'd yell, and I would smile and nod because his hearing aid wasn't in.

And crossword puzzles, I picked up from the grandfather of a nannying charge of mine. The mom left for work early but the son slept in late, so the grandpa and I would chill out in the living room and do crossword puzzles.

Got to keep up those chains of history. And now I'm suffering a massive truckload of guilt from the realization that my kids don't know their grandparents very well because we've chosen to live so far away. Sigh.

Enbrethiliel said...


Stilwell -- Last year, I gave a second listen to Oasis's MTV Unplugged performance (You know, the one Liam was too "sick" for) and wished that Noel had been the lead singer all throughout the band's career. Not that he's classically trained or anything, but he gives a bit more of a you-know-what.

Sheila -- Lonely Is a Man without Love is definitely something I would have heard in my grandmother's car as well!

I tried yesterday's crossword puzzle and was mortified at how badly I did. After half an hour of guessing, I switched to the Sudoku puzzle beside it. =P Which isn't actually a break in tradition: my grandmother didn't mind if I solved the Sudoku puzzle as long as I left her crossword alone until the afternoon. LOL!

You're right about the importance of connections. I used to think that only the big ones mattered, but the little ones mean a lot, too. Especially when a third generation picks them up . . . or when they skip a second and surprise everyone by hooking a third!

NoelCT said...

My grandma, with whom I lived in the last few years of her life, was an even bigger Star Wars fan than I am, and she took me to see them all in theaters. The upcoming one will be the first Star Wars I'll see without her.

Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, Noel! *hug* There are lots of Star Wars fans, but not everyone is lucky enough to have memories of a beloved relative woven into its mythical stories.