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Crazy Train

“Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy!” my four year old son, Jack screamed as he jumped from one piece of furniture in our living room to the other.

I had finally found a copy of Blizzard of Oz on vinyl. It’s the Ozzy Osbourne record with Crazy Train on it. His first solo LP, the one with Randy Rhoades. It was a big day in our family. Well, at least for Jack and I. We stopped off at a new neighborhood record store after a day at the park and lo and behold, a mint copy of what has been a white whale of a record for my son and I, was sitting right at the front of the Metal LPs section. I couldn’t spend the twelve bucks fast enough. We raced home and both agreed that nap time would have to be replaced by what Jack calls “rocking out time” – a spastic combination of jumping on the furniture, dancing, and not only air guitar, but air drums, air bass, and air singing. Sometimes it involves running in circles. “Crazy Train” definitely always warrants all of the above.

Yep. My son is into Ozzy big time already. He’s only four and a half and that crazy, old, mumbling, British bastard is a hero to him. Not because Ozzy was a member of the band that pretty much created heavy metal. Not because he was a reality TV train-wreck pioneer. Not because he once bit the head off not only a dove but also a dead bat (coincidentally, one of Jack’s current favorite animals). No, Ozzy Osbourne is a hero to Jack because he wrote hands down what Jack considers to be the greatest song about trains ever. And now we were finally able to listen to it on Daddy’s record player, on the big stereo in the living room where there’s enough room for a dance party with plenty of space left over to fit his air drum kit and rack of air guitars. All aboard.

I’ve listened to a lot of “Crazy Train” in the past couple of years. And that’s coming from a guy that used to have to listen to it at least once a day every day for 13 years working for rock radio stations. I was already ahead of the game. I imagine if there were a Guinness Book World Record for continuous listens of “Crazy Train,” my son and I broke it at some point last March. My son has loved trains for as long as he’s known about them. The same goes for “Crazy Train.” Elmo has nothing on Ozzy in this household. And so we listen to “Crazy Train” and then we listen to it some more. It’s totally cool with me.

I wasn’t ever the biggest Ozzy fan, but you can’t be a fan of rock and metal without respecting the man. Black Sabbath was the shit, and the Ozzy solo stuff has grown on me due to my radio days and my Jack days. Plus, no matter what your thoughts on the rest of the Ozzy catalog, you have to admit that “Crazy Train” is a badass song. It’s definitely a classic. Randy Rhoades guitar riff is legendary and his playing throughout the song and album energized a newly solo Ozzy and made him a superstar. The lyrics are some of Ozzy’s better work, and you can’t knock the positive message. For a guy that most of square America thought was the devil, he was sure spreading a pretty Christian message; preaching about peace and love in at least the same vein as John Lennon, if not Jesus Christ.  And it’s a great song for air guitar.

I still remember the first time I played the song for Jack. I first got his attention as Ozzy screamed “All aboard,” with his maniacal laugh that follows. But, as soon as the chorus hit with Ozzy singing, “I’m going off the rails on a crazy train,” Jack’s face lit up like he was at center stage under the spotlight. He wanted to hear the song over again, immediately. And again. And again. And a few more agains. We must have listened to it for a complete hour at least, and we’ve never really stopped. By the end of it, 2 and ½ year old Jack was toddling around the house screaming the infamous, “Aye Aye Aye” part from the beginning of the song as he went about his day. He was my own tow headed “Little Ozzy,” devil horn heavy metal salute included.

Shortly after turning three years old, he started to pick up on more of the “Crazy Train” lyrics. One day I had been unloading the dishwasher, as usual, and was intrigued by what seemed like silence throughout the rest of the house. I snuck past our kitchen table in the other room and stood behind the big fat chair in our living room as I tried to secretly spy on Jack lying on the carpet in the center of the room. He was pushing a toy train engine  around and quietly singing to himself, “going off the rails on a crazy train,” over and over again. I just stood there silently smiling while a few tears fell into my beard. I beamed with pride. My son was singing “Crazy Train” unprompted. It was like a Field of Dreams -“how bout a catch dad?”- “I’d like that” – father son moment. It was fucking beautiful. Jack was officially and genuinely into music, and I couldn’t be happier. Nothing would ever be the same.

I’m not really surprised that Jack has taken to music like he has. Did I expect him to be able to pick out AC/DC and Led Zeppelin songs off the radio at age 4? Obviously not, but I am pretty psyched about it. Some might say it was my secret master plan all along to get him interested in my lifelong passion, but though I wouldn’t deny it, it’s probably just as likely that he couldn’t really avoid it. It’s a rare moment that music is not on in our home, our car, our backyard, or even his bedroom. For better or worse, he hasn’t slept in silence a night in his life, falling asleep to lullaby versions of songs by Zeppelin, the Pixies, the Beatles, Radiohead, and Pearl Jam. What started as a tool to lure a newborn baby to sleep and keep him asleep, has now become a bedtime necessity. I pity his future bedmate or college roommate. Believe me, we’ve tried to remove the music from the bedtime equation, but it’s still as important to him as his fuzzy, white blanket and I don’t see it going anywhere soon.

At first he just listened as music played in the background, but then he started to like and dislike certain songs or music genres over others. Even before he spoke, you could tell what he enjoyed and didn’t. Oddly enough, his first favorite song was Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” He would smile widely and bob his head around in his car seat anytime it was played on the radio. Even after he was older and started talking, he still held on to a preference for dance pop with female vocalists. Pink, Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, it didn’t matter. “Girl songs,” as he calls them, were his first love, and I still can’t skip past anything in the genre when it comes on the radio. In fact, I don’t even have control of the car stereo anymore, DJ Backseat Driver is always on the ones and twos.

Soon, he had to have his own Spotify playlist, which we filled with his old and new favorite songs. Crazy Train was first on the list. Then came his favorite “girl songs.” I didn’t even get into The Boss until my thirties, but at age 3 he already had not one, but two favorite Bruce Springsteen songs (“Dancing in the Dark,” “Radio Nowhere”). Both songs are on the playlist. There are also songs about different kinds of trains (“Runaway Train,” “Train Kept a Rollin,” “Get Back on the Train,”). There are songs about other modes of transportation (“Jet Airliner,” “Fast Car,” “Drive My Car”). He even loves the Dave Matthews Band song “Gravedigger,” because he thinks it’s about the Grave Digger Monster Truck, which he pushes around the house while Matthews sings about death and dying, oblivious to the song’s true theme. It’s hilarious. And then there’s the Pearl Jam songs.

The music of Pearl Jam has been a part of my life since High School. I was hooked from the beginning. I could quote you gaudy concert attendance statistics, but my obsession with Pearl Jam goes beyond the shows I’ve been lucky enough to attend.  I mean, I still have the receipts for my Pearl Jam album purchases. Believe me, I was just as surprised as you when I found them in one of my formerly many boxes of stuff from my past lives. If you ever find yourself in my living room, and you are kind, perhaps I’ll show you my scrapbook. Yes, I’m at scrapbook level with this thing. But to be fair, it’s a whole lot easier than moving boxes of your obsession from place to place every time you move across the country. Go ahead and ask my spouse.

It’s not surprising that my son would take to my favorite band by mere exposure alone, but I just never imagined it happening so quickly or passionately for him as it has. He may have loved Ozzy because he sang about a train, Steve Miller because he sang about a plane, and Katy Perry because he was two years old, but he loves Pearl Jam because he actually loves the songs. No planes, trains, or automobiles with female vocalists anywhere in sight. Just chopsticks for drumsticks and the occasional guitar made of markers or shoe boxes and his Pearl Jam album on repeat for hours. His Pearl Jam album. Bought at a local record store on the first day it was released, just like his old man. A tradition passed down from father to son; a rite of passage that has almost been forgotten in this day and age. In addition to a Jet Airliner ’45 I picked him up in a record shop in Denver, and his two Ozzy records, it brought his record collection up to four. Not bad for a kid who still can’t wipe his own ass.

At the moment, Pearl Jam is right up there with jumping on the furniture, sticks, and eating half of a candy cane and leaving the rest laying around the house, on Jack’s list of favorite things. As I was back in 1991, Jack is full on obsessed with the first Pearl Jam record of his lifetime. He has a full on air band routine for each song and even switches from acoustic to electric air guitar at the right moments. Some songs he drums, some songs he plucks a stand up bass, and others he “quiet sings,” which is whispering, but with the full force and vigor of an actual on stage performance. He even thinks he knows all of the words to all of the songs on the album, which he doesn’t. But it’s Eddie Vedder, so one can be forgiven for a misheard word or twenty.

If this was my doing, I’ve definitely created a monster. I have a four year old consistently yelling at me from the back seat of the car to “turn up the song, Dada,” or “change the song, Dada,” or “put on my new Pearl Jam album, Dada.” Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes. I ride on the whims of a four year old who thinks of Ozzy as most think of Elvis or The Beatles. Luckily he seems to already be showing signs of having great taste, no doubt a product of good genes or at least good direction. It’s gotten to the point where I get burnt out on Pearl Jam long before he does, and that’s no small feat. But that’s Jack, he knows what he likes and goes all in. I get it. My music has become our music, my band has become our band, and it’s the coolest thing ever.

Sharing the joy of music with others has always been one of my favorite things in life, so the feeling of getting to do that with my son is beyond any words I could write here. Even if it wasn’t Pearl Jam, or music for that matter, I’m just so happy that I have shown him how to be passionate about things he enjoys. To show him how to enjoy. To show him how to love. To show him how to get lost in the joy. There are precious few opportunities for a 36 year old and a four year old to bond over shared interests, and I’m not taking it for granted. So I’ll continue to happily indulge my pint sized Pearl Jam fanatic, metal head, air drummer with a thing for Ozzy Osborne and “girl songs.” I can relate. And after Christmas, when those air drums become real, loud, badly played drums, I’ll truly put this relationship to the test.

“Do you know what I want to be when I grow up?” Jack asked me the other day.

I thought for a second, thinking back through all of his past ideas. First it was a train engineer, then a Monster Truck driver, captain of the “My Lemony Falcon,” and the more traditional, fire-fighter. Last I heard he wanted to be a paleontologist or better yet, a “bird scientist.” I told him I didn’t have any idea.

“I want to be the drummer for Pearl Jam,” he said.

I didn’t laugh. Hell, I’ve wanted to be in Pearl Jam my whole life too, I wasn’t about to derail his dream at age four and half.

“If they’re still around, I’m sure you can try,” I responded knowing that they’ve switched drummers on multiple occasions in the past, so it’s not entirely a fantasy.

“I’ll probably sing too,” he added.

“What about Eddie Vedder?” I asked, “He’s a pretty good singer already.”

“Well, I guess Eddie can do the singing but I’ll sing “Crazy Train” if Pearl Jam wants to play that.”

“Sounds good dude, you better start practicing those air drums,” I smiled.

“Hey Dad?”

“Yes, Jack.”

“Can we have a Pearl Jam dance party day, today?” he asked, already knowing the answer, “But can we listen to Crazy Train first, Dada?”

“I’d like that,” I responded, choking back joyful tears like a modern day Ray Kinsella in his field of dreams.

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