My Mother's Music

My Mother's Music

A Story by Jennifer C

I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock, soul, and folk. Warm-faced artists looked boldly at the camera in their black and white CD cover shots, wearing nothing much but a T-shirt and jeans, wanting to downplay their extravagant fame. It was sort of rustic and comfortable.

The women all seemed to be setting their wise gazes across some ethereal field, sitting on a porch somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Even if some were fakes they were all trying for an empowered esthetic. They were independent, weathered, strange, and pensive. Some of them were lesbians or man-eaters or helpless crooning fools, others rejected either gender role and opted instead for a cool androgyny. I mean it took me a few years to realize Patti Smith was actually a woman and even still I was skeptical but her politics were tangible and affecting, especially in contrast to the news stations my step dad watched at night. Melissa Etheridge cut off her hair and sang deep and strong and hurtful. She didn’t seem to spend too much time either denying her femininity or advertising a mock-masculinity.

I was the kind of little girl who refused to wear pants until puberty, what did I know about gender-free identity? Even still, the concept didn’t fall silent. I was absorbing it all for college, I guess, when I felt free and learned to live beautifully.

In time, the canvas of classic crooners whose CD cover spines lined the cherry wood shelves of the living room cabinets imbedded a foundation of feminism into my psychology that lay dormant half my life, finally ripening by graduation.

There was a variety. My mom used to sing along to Bonnie Raitt and Celene Dion and Edie Brickell and Janis Joplin and Tony Braxton. CDs that played from a plastic boom box in the basement, where she did her sewing. I don’t have any associations between Celene Dion and feminism and these weren’t songs that were hip and popular among the pre-teen crowds of the late 90’s. It was mom music. I would never have admitted it to a friend, but I secretly loved this music because of it’s backdrop, because these are the most beautiful memories I have of my mom. She would swing her hips and raise her eyebrows at me, a silly-sexy that hypnotized and embarrassed me in equal parts as she swaggered her quilt blocks back and forth from the ironing board to the sewing table. We would both break out in giggles, eventually.  

I was lucky, because all of these images eventually created a flexible concept of womanhood for me. My catalog of feminine images was vast and visceral and I felt equally affected by the tender images of motherhood as I did by the frightening prowess of a woman seeking justice. There was duality there and certain songs had a tendency to come back to me later in my life, as worn in hand-me-downs that came to me serendipitously just as I was growing into them. The old comforts. Lyrics I’d remembered mindlessly my whole childhood would suddenly make sense, would be suddenly talking to me. The more my landscape changed the more it seemed to fit the soundtracks of my childhood.


© Jennifer Chaussee


*It is your responsibility to understand copyright law.

© 2011 Jennifer C

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Added on December 13, 2011
Last Updated on December 14, 2011
Tags: family, mom, music, 90's music, classic rock, coming of age, feminism, strength


Jennifer C
Jennifer C

Sacramento, CA

I am a poet and non-fiction writer. **All my work is copyrighted. It is your responsibility to understand copyright laws but just as a quick tutorial, they exist as a formality to protect the br.. more..

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