Tom Odell’s dad called up music magazine NME to complain about his son’s scathing review – proving it’s hard for parents to stand by and watch their offspring take flak, no matter how old they are. So when should we learn to let go, asks Michael Donlevy?
For the really lucky people on this planet, three things in life are certain: taxation, death and embarrassing parents. They can heap humiliation on you in different ways. When I was a kid my dad made a point of talking to shop mannequins (‘You look bored, too’) or singing inappropriately in the middle of the supermarket (Petula Clark songs, oddly). In the case of singer/songwriter Tom Odell, his dad weighed in to fight a bizarre battle for him when indie music mag NME gave his new album, Long Way Down, a highly un-coveted no-star review.
NME reviewer Mark Beaumont was clearly having a bad day, writing: ‘I wish I could say there’s a place in Hell reserved for Tom Odell. There’s not. Just loads more Brits. He’ll be all over 2013 like a virulent dose of musical syphilis. Be warned, you can’t unhear it.’ Next, NME.com’s deputy editor Lucy Jones tweeted that Odell’s dad had called to put them all to rights. As a parent myself, when I heard this I could only imagine Odell Snr’s impotent rage at someone comparing his son’s opus to a medieval STI. Instantly I feared for his crockery, winced at the slamming of doors and hoped no dogs were kicked in the making of this complaint.
It’s hardly great for Tom’s street cred to have Pop calling his detractor to tell him he’s been a naughty boy, but, actually, which parent wouldn’t do the same?
‘This is a nasty piece of bullying, so good for Tom’s dad,’ says educational psychologist Teresa Bliss, director of Anti-Bullying Quality Mark – UK. ‘I spend a lot of time with schools that are working their socks off to create a generation of tolerant, inclusive, accepting people. Beaumont didn’t do a critique of Tom’s music – he wrote an immature personal attack.’
Personally, I would rather hack off my ears with a rusty pizza cutter than listen to overproduced, cynically marketed production-line pop, but this sorry affair got me thinking: where do you draw the line when it comes to fighting your kids’ battles for them?
Valid, constructive criticism is invaluable. When my son played in a recent under-10s football tournament, his team had help from a coach at Arsenal’s youth academy. As well as praising what Adam did right, the coach told him what he wasn’t doing (running, passing, scoring – that sort of thing). Adam looked a bit like he’d been told his right leg had to be replaced with a giant spoon, but I pointed out that the coach was helping, and the tips would make Adam a better player. Of course, had he said that Adam was as much use as a chocolate goalpost and should stick to flower arranging I would have had been wrestling him to the muddy penalty spot. So when will I stop feeling this way?
‘As a mum of three twentysomethings the answer is never!’ says Bliss. ‘When the attack is unjustified they like to know someone is on their side and is being supportive. We all like to know that someone will cover our back if we need it. There’s an assumption that all teenagers are automatically embarrassed by their parents – this is just not the case and some parents wonder what they are doing wrong when they don’t have teenage angst and embarrassment. If parents have always had a good loving relationship with their kids and manage their teens well, they can have a relatively smooth ride.’
It’s quite possible that, thanks to my genes, I’ll be making idle conversation with shop mannequins and at the very least whistling my way down the frozen veg aisle. Either way, I’d be failing as a parent if I didn’t try to do something to embarrass my kids. But it’s also almost certain that, should someone stick it to my children the way NME did to Tom, I’ll be kicking metaphorical dogs and shouting down the phone at the offenders.
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