Tuesday, April 13, 2010

hoping you don't break my stereo (a lengthy, perhaps overly-detailed post concerning music)

today i was standing at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change, with headphones in my ears. as is common now when I'm standing and waiting, my hand went to rest on the belly. after several seconds, i realized that my hand wasn't actually resting, but tapping in rhythm to "handpocket" by best friends forever, which was coming through my headphones. i wondered if lil' laurence or antonia could hear my mad beats, and if she/he(/they?) appreciated them, and just as i was starting to wonder what other sweet tunes i could tap out for my half-developed kid, a car beeped at me, letting me know they'd tolerated my daydreaming for long enough, and that i should cross so they could turn.

but now i'm home, with my shoes off and eating easy cheese by itself out of the can, with the freedom to ponder this question as much as i like: what music will my kid like best?

i was a strange child. i grew up on bad late-eighties pop and contemporary christian music, with a little bit of country thrown in. i loved certain over-the-top classical faves, like palchelbel's "canon" and "danse macabre" by saint-saens. but the songs that pervaded my whole childhood and into adulthood were hymns. my dad is a preacher, and so i heard the same types of songs every sunday and wednesday until i was in my twenties.

the hymns themselves changed a little depending on region. our half-decade in kentucky saw sundays split between two rural churches: one that churned out the old familiars like "this is my father's world" and "holy, holy, holy" on the piano and organ, and one that occasionally broke out the guitars and the banjo for "victory in jesus" and "keep on the sunny side." then we moved to florida, and my dad's preaching took a hiatus for a while, during which time we began attending what was, even then, a much larger church than one we'd ever regularly attended (it's now on its way to mega-churchdom), and while a lot of the hymns were the same, some of them were much older and much larger, like martin luther's "a mighty fortress," which continues to overwhelm me sometimes with its grandeur. we also heard more from charles wesley, the consummate songman for any methodist church, and one of his songs, "come o thou traveller unknown" will probably make me weep until the day i die.

but my kid won't have the same experience i had; its dad is an atheist, and its mom a christian of a different breed than her own parents are. this knowledge is something that does sit in my thoughts on many days, and i have no doubt i'll end up writing another post devoted entirely to the notion. so while i no longer hear hymns on a weekly basis anymore, there are plenty of other things i hear, and that means my kid will hear them.

listen, i'm pretentious. i'm considerably less knowledgeable about music than some of my friends, and even than i used to be. i don't have the skillz to write a music blog (though i can direct the reader to one kept up by a good friend of mine: http://theallnighteatery.wordpress.com), but i know what i like, and more importantly, i know what i don't like, and maybe most important of all, i know what i hope my kid won't like. i remember trying to engineer my eight-year-old sister madison's musical taste before she could even talk, and how i begged my mother not to let madison watch "hannah montana" and other similar shows when they rose to popularity. i made a lot of talk at the time about how they forwarded misogynist values, blah blah blah, but mostly i just didn't want any sister of mine listening to bullshit music. (you heard me, disney; after i defended you in my last post, i think we oughta call a spade a spade. or, in this case, call bullshit bullshit.)

i'm hoping i'm a little more loving and a little less douchey when it comes to my own kid now that i've gotten older, and i certainly don't think i'll tell my kid not to listen to something just because i don't like it. but it don't hurt nothin' to expose junior to some tunes in utero and afterwards, does it? no, i thought not.

luckily for me, bands that i already like have likewise gotten themselves or their woman-types knocked up, and have thus felt the urge to produce albums appropriate for their own offspring. to date, i own innocence mission's "now the day is over," a quiet album comprised of songs the married band members have supposedly sung to their children as lullabies. after birthing her daughter panda, kimya dawson released "alphabutt," which was only slightly more adorable than all of her previous albums. i also have they might be giants' album "no!", which has some songs that sound like their normal fare, and some that sound like they belong on the segments that come between the shows on nick, jr. and then there's the lyrically simple but totally dance-able self-titled album from robert bobbert and the bubble machine, which is actually robert schneider of apples in stereo. (as a side note, robert schneider once walked into the bakery i used to work at with his curiously well-spoken young son and bought a king cake from me, and gave me a five dollar tip. i think he tipped me because i kept calling him "famous.")

there are other albums i own that weren't made for kids, but that i think would appeal to kids. off the top of my head, matty popchart's "good old water" is one of the sweetest and most fun albums i've ever heard. some of the songs are bittersweet and quiet, but some of my best childhood memories are, too, and deserved a good soundtrack. a co-worker of mine said her kids love "milk-eyed mender" by joanna newsom, and i think some of her songs would be good lullabies ("sadie," "emily"), not to mention an epic introduction to story-songs ("monkey and bear").

then there are individual songs that come to mind that i wish i could pump right through the placenta to baby shows-fife's developing ears. "golden slumbers" makes me cry just about every time i hear it these days, though i blame that on hormones. another one, oddly, is david bowie's "queen bitch," though i don't want my kid learning the word "bitch" (or the word "coozes," for that matter) until they're old enough to know why it's not nice. at which point they'll be allowed to listen to rap music.

like any (potential) parent, of course i'm projecting. but some of these songs and albums, and many more not mentioned, seem to represent the kind of emotional environment, sensitivity to imagery and subtlety that i hope my kid will also learn to love. and yes, i want to raise somebody as pretentious as i am.

but i say all that to say this: what kind of music do you think a kid should grow up on? what would you play for your kid, or what have you played already? what did you love when you were a kid? it takes a village to raise a child, supposedly. but more important, it takes an army of internet-friends to properly season a child's musical appreciation.


  1. I feel like any child of yours is gonna love him (her?) some Daniel Johnston. I myself was raised on a delicate balance of the Beatles and Michael W. Smith with a little bit of DC Talk thrown in. It didn't mess me up too bad, I guess.

    (Innocence Mission is a good call, though)

  2. I would hope to include some James Taylor (Sweet Baby James, among others). And The Sign, by Ace of Base, for obvious reasons.

  3. i was carefully raised on Psalty the singing songbook, d.c. talk, Amy Grant, and The Sound of Music. luckily, my sisters and i discovered dad's secret stash of cassette tapes when i was in 5th grade. it included ABBA, The Carpenters, and Simon and Garfunkel. i immediately dropped A.G. and co and listened to nothing else until several years later, when mom got a job and we'd illegally watch VH1 and MTV for 2 hours every day after school. if i could've chosen music for my childhood, i'da gone with the Beatles for sure. maybe Chopin, too.

  4. Becky Jean Williams- All the Pretty Little Horses. Listen to it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWoPsyY8CZY

  5. Judah has "Now the Day is Over" sitting beside his CD player! Thomas also created a series of mix cds that make me cry every time I play them. Some of the highlights of the mixes for me are LAKE's "Don't Give Up" (seriously played this song like 24-7 during the first two weeks blitz) , Iron and Wine's "Naked As We Come" (ha-cha-cha), "Staralfur" by Sigur Ros, "Anthems for a 17 year old girl" by Broken Social Scene, Sufjan Stevens' "Holy, Holy, Holy", Hey Jude, Anathallo's "Cuckoo Spitting Blood"...

    and I love you.
    and your unborn girlchild.