My Father's 'Moonlight Mile'
My father and I had different taste in music, but one moment helped me see we weren't so different after all.
I grew up with pretty unconventional parents. My father, Peter Tompkins, was the author of "Secrets of the Great Pyramid" (the first book to popularize the notion that pyramids have mystical powers) and "The Secret Life of Plants" (which put forth the idea that plants are conscious beings that we can communicate with telepathically). For most of my childhood and teenage years we lived in a giant dairy barn that my father had converted into a living space. Not too long after "The Secret Life of Plants" came out, he bought a second house in Miami and spent several years trying to find the lost continent of Atlantis on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Conventional? No way. Sensible even? Not that either. My father didn’t like to do anything the average, ordinary way if he could possibly help it.
Which was why I was always so surprised on those occasions when, during my teenage years, he would stick his head into my room and--with a pained expression that would do the most conventional suburban dad proud--ask me to turn my music down.
“That garbage is actually destroying your etheric body,” he would say to me sometimes, using a little esoteric terminology to attempt to disguise the fact that we were engaging in one of the most time-honored, all-American father-son discussions there was. “Nothing on the Good Music Station has that kind of effect.”
The “Good Music Station” was WQXR, the Washington, DC area’s most popular provider of classical music. Dull Music Station was, to my ears, more like it.
Not that I was going to fall into the trap of making value judgments about someone else’s music. If my father enjoyed Beethoven and Mozart, that was fine with me. But-–especially considering the view he took of people who criticized him for his own values--he had some nerve telling me that the noise those composers produced was actuallybetter
than the music I listened to. According to whose standard, exactly?
One evening I called my father in as he passed by my room. “Listen to this,” I said, setting the needle down at the start of the Rolling Stones’ song “Moonlight Mile.” In addition to having some fancy instrumental parts in it--parts that, I imagined, might bare some distant relationship to the kind of music he liked--“Moonlight Mile” was simply such a gorgeous song that I figured it transcended all those tiresome categories like “classical” and “popular,” “good” and “bad.” When I heard this song, it was like another person inside of me suddenly woke up and took notice: the person who, when you got down to it, I really was. The person who was really living my life, but who usually hung back, behind the scenes, and only came into the light when something really important--somethingreal