Describing my relationship with my parents as “rocky” would be a disservice to language. There is so much more to be said about how little we can honestly say to each other. For all the effort we’ve put into understanding each other over the years, there remains a glowing crag between us. Things are always getting literally lost in translation, emotionally as well. We are consistently losing the threads of our conversations while trying to establish who we are and get each other to respect our points of view. We speak the same language—two, actually, Russian and English—but we don’t hear the same things. Lately, it’s been easier to say and hear nothing at all.
This past weekend, my parents threw a dinner party to celebrate my father’s birthday. I arrived early to help arrange the table. Russian dinner parties are an event. Spread over three courses of cold salads, pickled everything, hot dishes, never enough chicken Kiev, and cakes from the “French bakery” also known as the grocery store around the corner, these eight-hour-long events feel like work shifts. They are. My parents’ politics are antiquated, everyone is openly spiteful of everyone else—and everyone is drinking. We all speak the same language at these things, but it only took 15 minutes for a toast to get lost in translation and for a fight to break out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before the fighting and before the toasts and the guests, and the exceptional second course of various kebabs, there was just me and my mother in the kitchen with the windows open and a disconcerting silence between us. Spring sounds—birds chirping, budded trees rustling—felt cutting and exposing. The truth of the matter is we often have little to say to one another. In the spaces of who we are, we often struggle to speak to each other. When I am at a loss for words, I rely on the music to speak for me. So, I said: “Can I play you something?” and she said: “Of course,” in Russian, with a tick of curiosity.
I put on The Internet’s Hive Mind, a top album of 2018 and one of my favorite records in recent years. The easy melodies and overt musicality of the album immediately caught my mother’s attention, pulling an accented “Oh!” out of her as she chopped the fish course and arranged it for me to carry.
And then, between the salmon and the chicken Kiev, something incredible began to happen: we started speaking to one another uninhibited. At first, it was the simple: “I like this, I like that.” Then my mother unfurled into her own music critic, talking about the timbre of Syd’s voice in Russian, making note of the deep bass grooves. Somewhere between setting the table with an array of pickled cabbage, tomatoes, and the rest, and watching my mom sneak in a few dance moves to “La Di Da,” it dawned on me that there is one language we can share in earnest.
As it turns out, my parents love The Internet. My father came into the kitchen at the behest of the music. In a past life, in a port town in the Soviet Union, he was a drummer. He loves music, though he’s always been unable to explain his favorite genre. Immediately, he perked up at the breakdown on “Bravo,” and I watched his hands tap out a rhythm in the air. Shy as ever, he tucked away when I noticed him, but there it was again: we were hearing each other. There was no tension in the kitchen, there was only Syd’s ineffable vocal and the brilliance of the jam band.
Sharing music is special to me, but sharing music with my parents is an inordinate treat. Watching my father enjoy something—the small apples of his cheeks rising like the tide and the shine in his eye, the reserved and sly smirk—it all comes together to make me feel like I’ve done my job. My job is to write about music, but it’s also to communicate a feeling and bring someone a joy they did not know they were missing.
So, what is it that my parents love about The Internet? Everything that I do: the controlled dynamic of Syd’s affecting vocal. Steve Lacy’s power-pop riffs, Matt Martian’s skilled programming, Patrick Paige II’s bass licks and for my father especially, Chris Smith’s drumming. I had to run back “Mood” for my mother, and “Stay the Night.” Hooked, she was hooked. She was even caught off guard by the astral cool of “Look What U Started,” and admitted she didn’t anticipate her now-precious Syd coming with such swagger.
While I am happy that my parents love The Internet, likely my favorite band in 2019, I am even happier they love them because I was the one to show them Hive Mind. For when my mother emphatically declared that she likes The Internet, when she started really breaking down Syd’s vocal in her debutant-level Russian, when she began to dance while digging beet and mushroom salads onto paper salad bowls, she was telling me that she loved me. She was taking a part of me, accepting it, and engaging with it, which is—at a certain age—all we really desire from our parents.
We were hearing each other, and talking to one another, be it through our actual speech or our lax body language. I was skipping plates over the table, my dad was doing something reminiscent of dancing, and my mother was rocking her shoulders the way she assures me she used to at the dance clubs in Ukraine. It was the most fun we had had together in months upon months. In the breezy kitchen, Hive Mind blasting, we three felt like each other’s people. We actually felt like a family.