It doesn’t take much to get my mom, Eileen, going about music. A nurse and perpetual music enthusiast from Wanaque, New Jersey, she loves Sirius satellite radio, seeing live music in her North Carolina beach community, and meticulously adjusting her sound settings for the optimal listening experience. I routinely head home or turn in before her friends and sister at parties. I have even taken her to see a basement show in Pilsen in Chicago (sorry, mom), bar hopping on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, and we’ve scaled the swinging bridge over Grandfather Mountain. In her 60s, she can still hang.
I’ve heard some of her favorite stories before. However, she surprised me when she mentioned her first listening experience was plucked from one of her older brother Tommy’s shoe boxes of 45s. Bo Diddley. This is how I became interested in vinyl and certain music as well - my mom’s records that were stashed in a closet at home. My mom also reflects on the concert that her aunt Irene took her to that changed the way she thought of and heard music. Side note, our aunt Irene deserves an interview as well. Seeing Sinatra, road tripping in the 50s and 60s, being on a plane that caught fire over Ireland, etc. She isn’t boastful but when prompted, she has great stories to tell.
After reading Jeremy Larson’s interview for radio.com with his mother, Kathy, I was inspired to ask my mom similar questions. See how her answers were different and, even more interestingly, how they were similar.
Emily: Hey, whaaat’s up?
Eileen: Nothing much. Nothing much. Sooo, what is this “mother’s rock” or whatever you’re talking about, what is that?
Em: Without giving too much away, there is a genre- or what people call “dad rock” which is music a Dad would listen to. Well, not my Dad obviously but certain Dads. So, there should be or is a genre called “mom rock.” What do mom’s listen to?
Em: and why? But. I was going to lead up to that and ask a few other questions.
Ei: You know I have no memory, right? (laughs) Smoked too much pot!
Em: What was your introduction to recorded music or was the radio more important?
Ei: My brother, Tommy, had shoe boxes of 45s and the kind of record player where the lid lifts up and it had the round disc that the record would go over for 45s. He had a lot of stuff in there like Bo Diddley, I really liked Bo Diddley. When he was at work or whatever I would go in his room and play all of his records. That’s kind of what started me liking music.
Em: I wish I could have seen what was in those. Do you think he heard [the music he liked] on the radio?
Ei: Probably. He was in high school at the time.
Em: What do you think was the first music you independently chose to listen to or tell me about an early show experience?
Ei: My Aunt took me to see The Supremes maybe in ‘68 but I had appendicitis attack so I don’t remember a lot about that concert except my side really hurt. A lot. So I don’t remember the music too well but we saw them in Newark. Then she took me to see the thing that blew my mind which was Donny Hathaway. So, you know back then… the music now sounds so good and everything you play - the speakers we have now, the music sounds like you’re right there.
Ei: Well, I didn’t have that. The radio sounded like the radio. So when we saw Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack I was transported. To another land. I said, “this is so amazing.” That kind of, really did it.
Em: Was that Aunt Irene?
Ei: Yea, me Aunt Irene and Sally. I think it was the three of us that went.
Em: Where was that?
Ei: It was on the Garden State Parkway, like a concert thing. When were Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack hanging out, the early 70s?
Em: That’s about right
Ei: Oooh, that electric piano he had, oh my God. We were close, too. We were really close for the Supremes, we were in the chairs in the front. We were also in the front for Donny Hathaway. That was cool, cool.
Em: So, you didn’t go to any house shows, you didn’t go to many shows when you were in high school?
Ei: Well, look where I lived [Wanaque]. I was close to New York City but like, George [my mom’s friend] saw everybody. Everybody. He was at the Fillmore East constantly but nope, I didn’t get there. We had our own little things. We had Wayne [Yesse, another friend and musician] (laughs) and Peter and everyone we knew kind of played music. We used to put on the records and sit around and listen to all the stuff, like that was our night. That’s what we did. We didn’t have those things that plug in your ears which is kind of crazy no one else can hear your music.
Em: I mean, I still get together with friends and listen to records.
Ei: Yea, fun, right? I went to see, what was that guy I went to see… he died, too. Frank Zappa. In Boston, that was a good show.
Em: It sounds like when you moved to Boston, you went to see more music.
Ei: Yea, well, I was in my 20s. I was mobile and had my own money. And [when I lived at home] my father didn’t go for that stuff. I wanted to go to Woodstock - I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t go to Woodstock. [sarcastically] I was a freshmen, c’mon! Denise and her sisters going, why can’t I go?
Em: What else did you see in Boston?
Ei: Humble Pie. They put on a really good show. And once again, we had our own entertainment. We had Bernie and Hector, they had a band. Wherever they played, we went and we got in for free.
Em: What was their band name?
Ei: I don’t even remember, no idea but they were really good. People always came. We all lived in the same apartment. Everyone in the band lived in the same apartment. That was really fun.
Em: What part of town was that?
Ei: South Boston, Southie.
Em: So, you never saw Aerosmith in Boston? :)
Ei: [gasps] Never saw Aerosmith. They were just coming out on the radio when I lived in Boston. i didn’t go to a lot of shows, unfortunately. I was a good record listener though.
Em: What were you listening to at the time?
Ei: Allman Brothers, Joe Cocker, Al Green… you know there was a show called, Saturday Night Special or something like that? but it was on on Friday’s… The Midnight Special. It was on Friday nights and we would get together at someone’s apartment in Boston and we would watch whatever was on and party. Put that on and party. Everybody was on that show.
Em: I’ve seen some of those episodes, Bonnie Raitt and Thin Lizzy.
Ei: What… The Staple Singers, how old are they? I really liked them, too.
Em: Oh, they started in the early 60s and played through the 70s. They’re one of my favorites actually.
Ei: [trailing off] What else did I like, everyone liked The Stones, The Beatles, we had so much it was hard to pick. Oh! I saw Joe Cocker, that dumb ass. He was so messed up, he came out with puke all over his shirt! It was really terrible! They just had the back-up singers singing all the time because he just couldn’t do it. I was so disappointed. I even went into the city to see him.
Em: That is disappointing.
Ei: It sure was!
Em: It sounds like you listened to a lot of rock and soul music but I know that in the 70s you started to like disco.
Ei: [ignoring question] Well, you can’t forget James Taylor.
Em: Uhh, you’ve mentioned him, I have him here. I know he’s a favorite of yours.
Ei: When I went to see him, when he played here [North Carolina], like five years ago - I cried! I cried. I was like, “oh my God, he’s right there, with no hair and lookin’ old.” Oh, I cried. I also, liked John Denver, he was hippie-ish like we were. Linda Ronstadt, I liked her voice. If you had a nice voice, I liked ya. [gasps] Joni Mitchell, how could I forget Joni Mitchell, I still buy her records.
Em; She’s not doing so well.
Ei: I heard they found her passed out or something?
Em: Yea, she may be in a coma.
Ei: Ohhh... I’ll have to look it up.
Em: Ok, you gotta tell me about disco now. We have to move later into the 70s.
Ei: Well, me and Linda used to go out, that’s when I met your father. So, when you walked into the club, right, that music would just be booming. I mean, you could just be the most uncoordinated person on earth - can’t dance worth a shit but when you heard that music, it kinda made ya dance anyway. Anybody can do it. You know? It was just, I got a lot of flack for that. A lot of my friends in Passaic County were like, “really? you like that?” A lot of my friends did not care for that. Angie and Stanley, no. They were not on board with any of that stuff. But Donna Summer, she had a beautiful voice.
Em: She’s great. It’s interesting that you were talking about the sound at the club or live because in the [Larson] interview the writer’s mom also described the music she liked and included the way she felt about the actual sound of it.
Ei: Oh yea, that’s what did it. Got you out of yourself. Made you… that’s all you thought about. Like, “this is fun!” Like now, you could turn your own house into a discotheque, like the way it is now, but then, you didn’t have that. So, when you went out. You were OUT. You’d get dressed up and stuff like that. I was kind of on my own with the whole disco thing though.
Ei: Wasn’t Bonnie Raitt out around that time?
Em: Yea, a bit earlier too but she was pretty young.
Ei: I had one of her records on 8-track in the car.
Em: Do you remember what car that was?
Ei: My Celica, my blue and white Celica. It was a gorgeous car.
Em: I think I remember that car?
Ei: Yea, I used to take you to pre-school in that car. As a matter of fact, you and i jammed out a lot in that little car. You’d be in your car-seat, I guess you were talkin’ because you knew that Phil Collins song [sings] One More Night? You weren’t talking too much but you knew when to come in on that song. You just loved that. Maybe I played the music a little too loud but… you’re alright.
Em: [laughs] I’m fine. I was actually, interestingly enough, going to ask you what songs we enjoyed together.
Ei: One More Night. I’d look in the rearview and you’d be laughing and singing. Going down Route 23. [sings] One More Night! [laughs] and Jamal [my brother], he was in the car-seat, you were out of one, and he liked, you remember that song [sings Bad Boy by Miami Sound Machine], that was his song.
Em: I think Joey’s [my brother] was Country Road [by James Taylor]?
Ei: [sings] Country Roooad. Yea! [laughs] I like music when you’re riding in the car. That’s why I like Allman Brothers. I did a lot of driving. Having music on and driving was freeing - just great. The Doobie Brothers were good, too.
Em: Do you think there is a type of music that moms like or do you think “mom rock” is a silly title.
Ei: Like, what do you mean, what women of my age would like?
Em: I guess, that is for you to decide because, well, the people that are talking about “mom and dad rock” are people around my age and so their moms and dads are going to be about your age. So, I guess I’m just wondering what do you think is “mom rock”
Ei: Well, I guess it would have to be from the 70s. Stuff from when we were… didn’t have kids, bills, and all this stuff to do. [gasps] How could I forget Janis?
Em: Oh my god, I can’t believe we almost got through this interview without you discussing her.
Ei: [suspiciously] You don’t like Janis?
Em: No, she’s fine. She’s, obviously, a little extreme. She was like a howling, drinkin’ lady.
Ei: Yeaaah, but I could relate to her, I thought I kinda looked like her. She wasn’t really beautiful but I liked her. And Led Zeppelin. Brother, brother, brother. They were good. They were always good.
Em: Were they your favorite band?
Ei: [ignoring question] Oh, I liked Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels and Aretha. We had so much to pick from. In the 70s, Stevie Wonder [sighing] Mhm, he was really good. I would have liked to have seen Eric Clapton.
Em: What do you think about the 80s?
Ei: Who was in the 80s? See that’s kind of where I fall off. I was having kids.
Em: You liked the Eurhythmics.
Ei: Oh! I still like her [Annie Lennox]. Was Sting in the 80s?
Ei: I was busy with kids but wasn’t U2 out then? I wasn’t submerged in music anymore because I had other priorities, you and Jamal and we moved. It used to be like, we’d go into the record stores and browse through all the records. That was a day, that was fun picking out albums. That was my Christmas gift too was like, a lot of albums.
Em: They make good gifts.
Ei: Like, a lot of people liked Bob Dylan- I liked Bob Dylan but I never really got one of his albums.
Em: You haven’t mentioned your Dr. John experience.
Ei: Oh, that was heavenly. That’s a good way to explain it - heavenly. You can feel heavenly when you listen to music you really like. I was like, ahh, no worries. Yea, it was at Jazz Festival [New Orleans], hot as hell in the daytime. It’s really hot at the Jazz Fest. People should really be prepared for that. ...you need a hat, sunscreen, a lot of water… so, the sun wasn’t straight down on ya, it was going down. The breeze was picking up. People have these flags that say, “we’re here!” and I was pretty close but not real close and then he came out. With his little fat self and started playing that song [sings] Such A Night. The flags were blowing and the temperature was great and guess what came wafting over the crowd? The smell of pot! I was like, “oh my God” and the guy in front of me turned around and said, “you want some” and I said, “Sure!” ...It was great. Really great [laughing]. I didn’t even know him.