My mother is 62 years old. Born in 1958 to a family prominent in New York City’s classical music scene, she not only grew up loving music, but even performed herself, trained in classical violin, flute and piano and educated in composition and conducting.
Another fact about my mother: She grew up listening to the radio during the ’60s and ’70s, two of the greatest decades in rock music history. While her father could be found busily composing magnificent symphonies, my mother was bopping to the hits of a “little rock band” from the U.K. called The Rolling Stones. Drawn to, as she puts it, the “minor key and fast rhythms” of such iconic hits as “Bitch,” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” my mom later turned to other monumental rock bands, like Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, the last of whom she saw in concert in 1972. That year, my mother turned 14 and the group released their classic album “Machine Head” featuring their most recognizable song, “Smoke on the Water.”
By that time, New York had its own rock scene: punk groups were taking over CBGB’s every night in the Bowery, becoming the breeding ground on which legendary bands like the Dead Boys, Television and the Misfits would come to define the genre. Although the original wave of New York punk has long since passed, the scene’s idols are immortalized in the record collection in my house. If you were to stop and admire the collection as it imposes its formidable presence across an entire shelf in my living room, you would see the worn sleeves of such timeless records as “Rocket to Russia” by the Ramones and “Talking Heads ‘77” by the Talking Heads. Mom’s house was filled with classical music, but she had found a home in rock and roll.
Mom and I share a love for Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and many of the other early ‘70s blues-based metal bands, so I decided to put my mom onto some of the heavier bands that were inspired by the music she grew up with. Whenever I’m driving with my mom in the car I put on a collection of albums on Spotify from artists as varied as Metallica, Iron Maiden, High on Fire and Twisted Sister. Now that my mom has her own Spotify account, she has gone on to discover more classic metal bands, like Dio, Rainbow and UFO.
But one day I decided I would show my mom the song “The Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson. Arguably one of Manson’s greatest hits, “The Beautiful People” is a frenetic, bloodcurdling banger that features simple yet pummeling guitar riffs, sound effects that harken back to ‘80s industrial music, and one of Manson’s most brutal vocal deliveries ever, while still showing off the timbral range of vocals.
“What is this crap?” my mom asked with a chuckle as I showed it to her. She didn’t like it; it was all noise to her. Dejected but understanding, I turned off the music and put on some Z.Z. Top instead. That was about a year ago.
Fast forward to over two months in quarantine with my mother. I emerged from my room one day for the first time in hours to fetch some ice water. I stopped in my tracks, hearing some awfully familiar music drifting past the open door. Out of a tiny Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen came Marilyn Manson’s signature lower drawl, singing his cover of “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This,” by the ’80s synthpop group Eurythmics. I stalked into the kitchen, stealthy and suspicious. There she was, singing along to the lyrics as she took dishes out of the dishwasher and put them in the cabinet.
“Mom, what are you doing listening to Marilyn Manson?” I said, bewildered as Marilyn wailed, “Some of them want to use you!/Some of them want to get used by you!”
“Oh, it’s on this show I’m watching on Amazon Prime called Luther!” my mom exclaimed. “Plus, I love the original.”
I felt warm. My mother grew up on classical music, and embraced rock as she entered young adulthood. Now, as a mother under quarantine, she and her son have come to share a love for metal, head banging in the kitchen or grooving in the car. I still don’t know what she likes about Dire Straits, and she still doesn’t love King Diamond, but there’s still plenty we share—even Marilyn Manson.