Rock ‘n’ roller JD McPherson is headlining night two of our 13th Birthday Parties on Jan. 20, 2018, and he has a 13-year-old daughter of his own. As The Current heads into teenagerhood, we thought we could use some expert advice. So we asked JD: what it’s like to be a rock ‘n’ roll parent, and could he share some parenting tips for our newly teenage station?
Cecilia Johnson: Hi, JD! First of all, how many kids do you have and how old are they?
JD McPherson: I have two daughters; one is 13 and one is just about to turn 10.
Cool. So, 13 can be a tricky age, between puberty, middle school, and a growing need for independence. Have you seen your kids grow up really fast, and how would you handle The Current at 13?
The thing is that 13 is kind of like a hot water heater. There’s just so much going on. I don’t know if The Current is a girl or a boy, but from my point of view, little boys start out with a crazy, chaotic whirlwind of flipping off of kitchen islands and throwing stuff for the first few years. It’s basically Tarzan swinging around the house, and you try to make sure they don’t damage themselves or the house in the process. But then they kind of even out.
In my experience with two girls, it starts out the opposite. The beginning is really easy, lots of sweet, little, gentle things. Then it starts to change. You got to start watching your back a little bit. They start becoming really mistrustful, especially of Dad. It can break your heart, but you have to see it coming. I would watch The Current and see how the behavior evolves, and act accordingly.
It’s funny that you bring up being aware of the “dad” role. Your song “Lucky Penny” is on a Spotify playlist called “Swagger.” There’s the “dads aren’t cool” stereotype, but then you’re literally helping define swagger. [laughs] How do you as a dad communicate that you can have fun as a parent?
I think this is pretty universal. I saw a picture of Tom Araya from Slayer with his teenage daughters. He’s got the metal devil-horn salute up, and he’s making a screaming face. He’s the lead vocalist for Slayer, and his daughters are just completely bemused. Man, if Tom Araya can’t be the king of metal in his own household, what hope do I have? [laughs]
It’s absolutely true — I’m not cool anyways. It’s really easy for them to see me walking around with long johns, and a beanie cap on in the wintertime, fumbling trying to make a fire. “Aw yeah, Dad’s not cool.”
When you were 13 — I’m not sure if both of your parents were around — but what did you see them do that you thought was good parenting?
Thirteen was tough for me. I was at an agricultural school in southeast Oklahoma. It was cowboy school, and I was categorically not cowboy. I was into drawing, music, playing guitar, skateboards, things like that.
My parents were quite a bit older than a lot of parents in my generation. They were really confused by a lot of things. But one thing I did notice from my dad is that he heard a different kind of drumming. He was into jazz and blues when he was a kid. That wasn’t a very normal thing in rural Alabama during the late ’50s, early ’60s. He listened to cool music.
And my mom, her main thing was that she was unconditionally supportive. My mother was a minister — still is a minister — and she was completely supportive of me and my interest in music. She always made sure my amp worked; if I needed guitar strings, she’d drive me into the city to get them. I would have to order music through a Hastings music store in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and that’s like an hour and a half away. I would call and order three tapes, and then we’d go and pick them up and buy magazines to figure out the next thing I was going to get.
I remember coming back home with Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Ramones Mania, and Raw Power by The Stooges. I was so excited. I had my Walkman on, and my mom said, “What are you listening to?” I was completely mortified. Playing my minister mother “Gimme Danger.” [laughs] When “Bodies” came on, I was trying to talk through the whole song so she wouldn’t hear what it was. But basically, she was completely supportive of any creative outlet I was pursing, as long as I wasn’t hurting myself or others. She set a good example.
What are your kids passionate about?
My oldest daughter is really trying to figure things out. I think what most kids find important, she doesn’t really understand why. But she’s trying to assimilate in some way. Still figuring her thing out.
My youngest daughter though, she’s in a new thing every single week, and she goes completely bonkers with it. This week, the interest is floating towards hip-hop dancing, and making her own powdered sugar. She found a mortar and pestle, and there’s this giant batch of powdered sugar she’s trying to — seriously, this is every week at my house. There’s something like this going on, where it’s some really obscure skill that’s being introduced to our house.
I love that! At The Current, we’re still trying to grow, and listen to new music, and find new interests. That’s a super cool parallel.
Here’s another piece of advice: I would keep an eye out for other radio stations, because their influence is something you need to watch out for. You start having other kids come around, and some are shady. Some have had good parenting, some haven’t. Don’t let The Current be influenced by the wrong peer.
Also, especially at 13, there are some kids that don’t want to hear what parents have to say. Even if they know you’re right, they just don’t want to hear it. That’s when you start calling in aunts, uncles, and cool friends. So, maybe bring in some guest DJs or something.
Good idea. You know, The Current is the youngest child of all these radio stations here at Minnesota Public Radio. We had the classical station, then we had News, and The Current is the youngest by far. Do you think birth order affects personality?
I do not think birth order affects personalities. Birth order might affect behavior, but a child is born exactly who they are. That’s something I know. My two girls are exactly who they were from birth. It is crazy to think back to when they were little, the way they see and do things and it’s the same. You are who you are born to be inside.
Maybe if you’re the youngest, it might give you information on what you can get away with and what you can’t. [laughs] You always sort of mess up your first kid, too. So, the classical one is going to be completely screwed up! Every mistake was made on Classical, and the news station probably has a lot of equipment inherited from the classical station, and the news station is probably jealous of The Current. They are who they are.
[laughs] I read that you used to be a teacher. Have you always felt comfortable around kids? What did you teach?
I wasn’t really planning on it. But I was finishing grad school, and if you’re about to graduate from grad school with an art degree and someone offers you a job, you say, “Yes!” So my job was to teach fourth-graders how to type. After a little bit, I said, “Can we introduce some technology-based art to the program?” They said, “Sure.”
I’ve always found a way to insert music where it doesn’t belong. When they were typing, they were typing paragraphs about the Pretenders. I remember the most ridiculous one was: I was supposed to familarize the kids with office software. When it came to PowerPoint, I spent hours — I spent a week making a PowerPoint about the Clash. I was so excited about it. Then I realized that PowerPoint is one of the most worthless pieces of software ever written that everybody uses. There’s just nothing worse.
The first year, I was teaching technology. The second year, I began an avant-garde art program for middle schoolers. By the third year, I was chair of the art department, and by the fourth year I was fired. There’s my teaching career in a nutshell.
Wow. What tricks did you pick up as a teacher that may now come in handy at home?
I remember there were some teenage boys, and they were pushing boundaries and using some language. I remember another teacher walking by and completely flipping out. And then, I took the students aside, like, “What’re you doing? C’mon, get it together. I know what you’re trying to do. Just stop it.” It was like: I know you’re trying to figure stuff out. I remember when I was a kid and got in trouble for stuff like this, and it seemed like the teacher was from another planet. That was something that I [take with me]: just trying to remember my own teenagerhood. It’s really awful being a teenager, and sometimes a little compassion and empathy goes farther than immediately being reprimanded.
I totally feel that. My teenage years are not that far behind me, and as an adult, I’ve realized I’m in this position where empathy is a more effective way to communicate with kids.
I just don’t think that getting in trouble is always the answer. I think more of a frank, open discussion can be a more teachable moment than calling parents or humiliating someone.
You and your family recently moved from Tulsa to Nashville, and I read it had something to do with the school systems. What are some qualities you want in an ideal school system?
Nashville is growing so quickly, and they have a ways to go with their school system. I wish we would’ve known a little bit more before we moved, so that we could navigate the waters a little bit easier.
I think educated teachers is a big deal. Having been a teacher, I have nothing but respect for teachers. They have a really hard job and probably one of the most important jobs. In a lot of scenarios, they don’t get what they need or what they deserve, and that’s a big deal.
Being a kid that grew up at a school that had no art program and no music program, I think you should try to have a way to cultivate a child’s interest no matter what. I can’t even imagine what my life what be like if I had learned how to read music or had somebody pat me on the back for a drawing I did. That’s a huge thing.
I think, from having the really fortunate opportinity to travel a lot, nothing has expanded my worldview like meeting all different kinds of people. I think that having a diverse student population is helpful for everybody. The more people you meet from different backgrounds, the wiser, smarter, and cooler you ultimately end up becoming.
Are either of your daughters interested in music?
I’m trying as hard as I can to force music on them. They must take piano lessons, and they must sightread, but they’re not really into it. I wish I would’ve have music lessons or piano lessons as a kid.
They both have much more of an aptitude for music than I do. My oldest daughter, especially on the technical side and theory side, soaks up that information like a sponge. She can read so well, I can’t believe it. They both have great singing voices; they both have really great pitch; they can pick out melody; I just am waiting for that moment where they find some band they really like. We have guitars all over this house, and I’m just hoping one day, I walk around the corner and they’re trying to work something out, but we haven’t got there yet. But I do notice my oldest daughter’s ears have been perking up recently when she heard the Smiths, the Cars, and the Beatles. That’s a very good sign.
Maybe that will happen during the teenage years too. It took me until I was a teenager to fall in love with music, because then I actually needed music.
Yeah, I was 13, and by the time I was 15 I was completely engulfed. So that’s very true.
Erianna Jiles assisted with interview transcription. JD McPherson performs on Jan. 20 at First Avenue for The Current’s 13th Birthday Party.