Mom's a head-banger but her daughter just keeps on truckin'.

Published October 7, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

| "OK, my turn!" my 19-year-old daughter chirps as the tape comes to an end. This road trip is only beginning and I can see trouble ahead.

"Hey, you know the rule," I remind her. "When I'm driving, I get to pick the tuneage."

"Come on," Erin pouts. "Since we left it's been nothing but Soundgarden, Wilco, Pavement. I'm going nuts! I need to hear Jerry!"

That, of course, would be Jerry Garcia, demigod to all persons tie-dyed. The one who died fat and addicted, I love to remind her, if for no other reason than to watch her nostrils flare. But she wins this one, and pretty soon we're truckin' to "Uncle John's Band" and I'm wincing.

This is an old argument -- one of the few that threatens our avidly affectionate relationship. Music was always a strong part of our bond; I raised her on Springsteen, Neil Young and the Pretenders. As a 3-year-old she could sing the words to "Born to Run" like she could the alphabet song. But in recent years, she began to rebel. As I was rocking into the future, she started boogying backwards. I think we passed each other around 1975.

This is not to say she has not dabbled in modern rock. One of the first concerts we attended together was Pearl Jam, and we swooned jointly over Eddie Vedder's screeching charisma. We went to dozens of shows in the next few years -- Spin Doctors, Green Day, Soul Asylum, Counting Crows. It was so cool: I didn't have to try to find a date who shared my love of the mosh pit, and she didn't mind being seen with me as long as (A) she got to take a friend, and (B) I didn't act like we were related.

Then things started to change. I blame peer pressure. Someone turned her on to a Bob Marley tape and soon she was hooked. For the first time, I had to close her door when a tape was blaring, fearing that if I heard "them belly-full but we hungry" one more time I would go postal. Then it was the Grateful Dead, then Janis Joplin, then Crosby Stills & Nash, then Bob Dylan. Why, I demanded, would she listen to the atonal wailings of the elder Dylan when the hot and hunky (if challenged in the talent department) young JAKOB was fronting the Wallflowers? Her answer was swift and simple.

"It just seems like modern music is about nothing," she said unapologetically. "Like nobody believes in anything. When was the last time you heard a song like 'The Times, They are A-Changin'? It just seems like music used have meaning."

Aha, I got it. I was cursed with offspring for whom a throbbing beat and flashy guitar wail were not enough. Then again, I should not have been surprised that her Alice in Chains CD was gathering dust. After all, this was a kid who planned to major in Environmental Sciences so she could save the planet. She had outgrown the sophomoric cock-rock that I was still addicted to. How embarrassing.

And it caused me to reflect on my own musical history. At what point did I cease looking for a message in a tune? Perhaps when John "Love is All You Need" Lennon was murdered? Or when Neil Young provided a bitter antidote to the utopian promise of "Wooden Ships" with (Four Dead in) "Ohio"? Or maybe it was when I witnessed the beatings at Altamont? Maybe my own cynicism disallowed me to hear any peppy/preachy lyrics and take them seriously anymore. But Erin was not yet cynical. So, honoring her idealism, I backed off and thought of ways to compromise.

Hearing Rage Against the Machine for the first time at the Tibetan Freedom Concert was an inspiration. I called her at college. "You can't believe this band! They sing about Zapatista rebellions and military spending and they also RAWK!" She was unconvinced. So I sent her a tape, which impressed her only modestly. But it began a dialogue. She wondered about singer Zach de la Rocha's political history and I filled her in, told her he'd spent time in Chiapas himself. This fascinated her. Sensing the door was open, I also sent her a tape of Dan Bern, the brilliant and radical new folkie blowing the hinges off that once-cushy genre. And Kula Shaker, the fascinating shit-hot Britpop band who rail against materialism and pledge allegiance to Buddha.

And in turn, she discovered the modern feminist folk-goddess Ani di Franco, and sought to turn me on to her. "She's really not a man-hater," she offered by way of analysis. "She's just very independent and I'm sure that bugs a lot of men. I don't think she has a lot of male fans. I think she's amazing." I listened and fudged a good opinion. When she fell for the Indigo Girls, it was easier to agree to their talent.

The important thing is, I think we've found a middle ground. If it rocks, it also has to have meaning or at least history to raise it to a higher level, or my own highly evolved ovum will reject it. This I try to keep in mind as the road trip progresses. "OK, OK, put on Dylan," I sigh. I can grind my teeth through his wail if she then endures Nirvana's thrash. They say parenting is an ongoing compromise.

By Sara Baird

Sara Baird is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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