Guest post featuring Whitney Gronski-Buffa
All the world was frosted blue glass beads, daisies and cut-off shorts, a summer of figuring out exactly what I was and wasn’t supposed to do.
It was the summer of 1995, and sometimes, when Alanis Morissette’s “Hand In My Pocket” played on the radio, you could still hear the s-word in the line “I’m sad but I’m laughing/ I’m brave but I’m chicken s—.” Other times it was censored. I guess the FCC didn’t really have it all figured out just yet.
Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” turns 20 years old next week. Twenty years old! It’s blowing my mind — my mind that can’t remember my bank account number, but contains literally every word from that album my mom bought and later realized she didn’t want me to listen to, especially not sing along to.
It was firmly in the category of “not supposed to do.”
In February that same year, Jewel’s “Pieces of Me” also debuted. Another instant influence for Small Whitney, I loved the storytelling in her writing. Her music and critically-panned poetry are probably what compelled me to pick up a pen and journal, and to later do the kind of writing I do now.
Morissette, Jewel, TLC, any other angry, hurt, on-message female singers — they became my patron saints from there on out, a markedly different aesthetic from my parents’ tastes in music, which kept a bizarre rotation of current country and generationally-appropriate acid rock playing in our house and car at all times.
I was only 8, but I was still mad. Some things never change.
Carving out my own musical interests was always a battle, though. Now that my mother and I know each other as two adults, it makes no sense to me why she was so restrictive about the music I purchased. If there was swearing or sex or drug references, that was a no-go. A few times, I even had a friend make tape copies of cool CDs he bought, but that didn’t last. Mom found them and either confiscated them or broke them in half as I cried, angstily feeling she was robbing me of my identity.
I vowed, at a very young age, to give my kids free reign when it came to the music they stocked in their CD wallets. (If I could’ve imagined iTunes back then, I wouldn’t be here now, ya know?)
I still feel that way and try to stay true to the angsty baby goth Whitney who wanted her future kids to have that control. I’ve written before about Olivia’s budding musical taste. At this point, it’s a patchwork of whatever she hears floating around in the ether. Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Pharrell. I’m open to letting her choose. Unless there’s a second coming/comeback of Eminem and his specific brand of woman-hating, traumatically violent rap. That’s a no.
It’s about creating an identity, finding a solace, discovering your voice through the appreciation of one that belongs to someone you admire. Besides, every generation is entitled to its own unique distaste for the music of the youths today. Allow yourself to have that experience! Allow your kid to go free range with the iTunes gift cards.
It has easily been 15 years since I’ve listened to “Jagged Little Pill” or “Pieces of Me,” so I listened to them as I wrote this and OMG. Time machine stuff. The feelings I felt back then bubbled up inside my guts. Honestly, I fought back tears at the joy of tapping into that again and rediscovering some of the lyrics anew, still applicable to my life today.
“I feel drunk but I’m sober/ I’m young and I’m underpaid/ I’m tired but I’m working, yeah.”
That’s parenting in a nutshell, right?
Whitney Gronski-Buffa is a freelance reporter and stay-at-home mom. You can follow her on Twitter @whitneymae.