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The Real Thing

Atticus, you need a sport.”

“Is rock ‘n roll a sport?”

We were having a bedtime conversation. But before I answered, I thought about Mick and Keith, who still throw themselves across the stage and do all those high kicks. A sport? Of course it is. You can play rock ‘n roll forever, and it keeps you in shape. Plus, an encore is kind of like an overtime.

There are finer points, of course. I’ve gone on tour as a musician. The road can be like the Wild West. You roll into town with your gang – ready for the night and looking for the saloon. You eat too much pizza and cross your fingers the venue has complimentary beverages and easy parking. Your ears ring, and you pray the new T-shirts bring in some cash. But I didn’t mention any of this to him as I tucked him in. Though his question created a proud moment, I was also conflicted. Shouldn’t Atticus want to spike the ball in the endzone, or yell GOAAAAAL after connecting on a corner kick?

My dad friends tell me, “You’ve gotta do T-ball, then machine-pitch… I know a guy who can get you on the team.” But Atticus would only be in it for the grape Big League Chew. “Sports are boring. I’m going into the woods.”

My remedy has been to take him to see a few local games. But when I do, he’s off under the bleachers and climbing a nearby fence. My intent has been for America’s pastime  to wear off on him. But last time, he befriended another boy, found a lost golden retriever, and chased
seven foul balls into the parking lot. I’ve watched kids his age sit quietly, recording RBIs in their little notebooks with carefully measured pencil strokes. Atticus would rather find the dead copperhead and turn it into a whip. After that, he might jockey over to the snack bar and return to tell me about the Gatorade options.

Music, rather than sports, is Atticus’s thing. I blame myself. When it comes to trick plays, I’m a horrible mentor. For sports, I only turn on the TV for the Super Bowl and a bit of March Madness. Otherwise, I get bored with it all: another win, another loss, another season, another recruit. Atticus and his younger brother follow my lead. They’d rather race me to the creek to catch crawfish or make a bike jump out of orphan bricks than do anything with a ball. In the summer, we do swim team and call it a day.

But Atticus has seen me play in the basement and around town. He’s watched me repair drums and tote my Vox amp to the car. While my dad was a folkie, and gave me The Kingston Trio, Norman Blake, and an allegiance to Martin guitars, Atticus has sprouted from my playlist and grown up around drums and microphones. We started with The Beatles, but after he checked out the DVD, Scooby Doo: A Rock N Roll Mystery from the Chesterfield library, it has been nonstop KISS… the Starchild, the Demon, the Spaceman, and the Catman. Alexa knows two commands in our house: Play The Beatles! and Play “Shout It Out Loud.” 

As a kid playing sports, I wanted more time in the game instead of living on the bench. I envied that arm, that dexterity, and, most of all, that speed. I was so slow. But when I got those first drumsticks in seventh grade, everything changed. I was off making up band names and writing fan letters to Stewart Copeland during Mrs. Ford’s Latin class. I mowed hundreds of yards to get my first drum set out of layaway. Making music consumed me. It still does.

Last month, I took Atticus to the Carpenter Theatre to see The Fab Four, one of those Beatles tribute bands, complete with costume changes and wigs. We were easily the youngest people there. My first concert was in the same venue for the very same band…well, almost. Back in 1988, they were different guys in similar costumes, but the music was identical. Somehow, watching a fake version makes sense. If I couldn’t see The Beatles, then why not go see four random guys, bluffing their way through a set of classics? And if my first concert was a bunch of pretenders, why not take Atticus along for the same thing?

Atticus loved the masquerade. There was a Beatles trivia game before the show, and we finished with a perfect score. From the opening tom roll of “She Loves You,” we lived in an artificial space, digging the farce. The rock ‘n roll imposters feed my musical roots and give Atticus a music foundation of harmony and chord structure. You study the greats to understand the canon.

In the last weeks of school this year, a former student of mine who holds a school record for most points in a basketball game – and lots of other hoops honors – offered my boys his basketball goal. Knowing our record on sports versus music, I considered saying ‘no thanks.’ But in the end, I borrowed my buddy’s trailer, and together, Atticus and I went to pick it up.

Being in the presence of a 6’3’’ Division 1 basketball player did something to my 7-year-old. This wasn’t me pushing him onto the court. Alexander signed the goal and threw in an autographed ball. He wasn’t a pretender, dressing up. When we got home and set up the hoop, Atticus couldn’t get enough. Even the next morning, when the rain caused the James River to flood, he grabbed his rain jacket and went out to shoot.

I can’t teach that zeal. We find a little spark here and catch a flash over there. The fake Beatles and a real basketball star equally impressed. In the end, I don’t care if either of my boys choose a sport or music or both, but I do hope, whatever they find, they will love it forever.

Married for eighteen years, John Morgan is the father of two boys, ages twelve and ten. He teaches creative writing and British Literature at St. Catherine’s School. Other than words, he loves vintage drums, cars, and Ringo Starr’s backbeat. Follow him on Twitter @johnlmorganiv.
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