Experimenting on Children Part 2: Raising the Muso Geek

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If John Cusack grew a sizeable beard, and put on several tens of lbs in weight, and he bought loads of musical instruments and swapped his vinyl for CDs, this is basically an accurate picture of me surrounded by piles of joy.

Today’s post has links for you to listen to. To get the full gist of what I’m bleating on about, please click on the links, turn the volume up, ignore the protests of neighbours and co-workers, and then, once sufficiently impressed, legitimately purchase said tunes.

I am something of a music snob, and frankly, I don’t care who knows it. I realise this makes me something of an anachronistic bore with a lot of unimportant opinions.

Music is an immense part of my life. I like physical albums, not downloads. I like cover art. I like browsing in fusty shops that teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, whilst being served by sociopaths who sneer at my purchasing of a The Carpenters Best-of* and the umpteenth reissue of Led Zep III. I like uncovering a forgotten psych gem, or discovering an old funk record renown for its rare grooves. I like all that. I like debates where people rage about what is better: Vinyl vs CDs, Metallica vs Maiden, Pixies vs Nirvana, Cave vs Waits, Jandek vs Daniel Johnston, Gillespie vs Davis, Bastard Kestrel vs Bumgravy, and so on.

(*Listen to Rainy Days and Mondays and tell me The Carpenters don’t rule. I dare you to tell me to my face, motherfucker.)

I figure that it is my duty – nay, DESTINY – to pass this knowledge and this passion on to the next generation. Both Sarah and I were brought up to enjoy music. My folks happily fed us a mix of Jazz, classic rock, and The Beatles (The White Album to a four-year-old is a mixture of joy and fucking nightmare). God knows, nowadays us Dads like to encourage our kids to get into the geeky films we watched as we grew up. There are thousands of Dads, like me, who have fretted over when it is the best time to introduce our offspring to Star Wars – so why not get our kids to listen to our music?

Let’s be honest, we all do this. We want our kids to like our musical taste. For one thing, it’s a bonding exercise. For another, we want our kids to think we’re cool. And for yet one more thing, it makes long car journeys more bearable if we can all agree on something.

And young kids will listen to, and absorb, anything. They’re completely neutral. They’ll instinctively like or dislike stuff, no matter what it is. You can play some pretty weird stuff to kids – they’ll get it better than adults will, although they do have a short attention span. It’s only when they’re older, and they’ve been conditioned to listen to pop music by The Media and its evil controllers (booo!), X-Factor, and your kids’ peers, and the fear of embarrassment that being individual or different might cause, that they’ll reject anything unusual or obscure.

So far, I’ve not done too badly. Through the use of cunning (and Labyrinth), Alice now likes David Bowie. This is an excellent start and a superb beginning. It makes things a lot more fun. For example, every time there is a news report on the possibility of life elsewhere in our solar system, she turns to me and sings “Is there life on MAAAAAARRRSSSS?” (look, it’s fun for me, OK?). Our car journeys are not soundtracked by ‘Here Come the 123s’ by They Might Be Giants anymore. They’re more likely to be soundtracked by ‘Apollo 18’ by They Might Be Giants, which is a better album.

I’ve encouraged this interest in music, and I don’t care what genre it is. Sometimes it doesn’t work too well. As a baby, Alice responded well to some choice early dubstep albums of mine. At the time, I thought this showed a remarkably sophisticated taste in music, and was chirpy and proud of this to people on music forums. Hey guys, my kid’s only ONE YEAR OLD and loves Burial! Yeah… except no.

I have since come to realise that Alice probably only liked dubsteb because it’s a comforting, bass-heavy sound. Kids love bass-heavy sounds. I used to keep baby Alice from crying by beatboxing slow funk beats to her, and she used to like me playing the occasional King Tubby CD. Maybe it’s a noise-from-the-womb thing, I don’t know. There’s bound to be a report in a newspaper about it in the next month or so. In any case, dubstep is a bit of a no-no for Alice at the moment.

Sarah has done her bit, too. When Alice was tiny, Sarah would compile lists of kid-friendly tunes on her laptop, helped by a childlike compilation of peppy tunes a dear friend sent us. Sarah did her own investigations and came up with a superb compilation of novelty jazz songs that Ella Fitzgerald sang for children called ‘Miss Ella’s Playhouse’ – if you have kids, and like jazz, and need the two to meet, you could do a lot worse.

Sarah would also sing a lot to Alice. I miss the little songs Sarah used to make up (there was a lovely one about a stuffed toy lion floating above Alice’s head that I doubt I’ll ever hear again), and I miss the way Alice used to brighten up at them.

Some of the songs we played to Alice were aimed at kids:

Some of the songs we played to Alice weren’t aimed at kids:

Some were educational ditties:

Some were pleasant little child-friendly tunes Sarah discovered through the internet:

And some were great, child-friendly tunes that Sarah loved, but were made by credible artists – basically, hipster stuff aimed at parents who want to still be cool:



However, as time has worn on, both mother and daughter have bonded over certain tunes, and it has marked a noticeable (but not in any way bad) change in my beloved wife. We both grew up surrounded by music, and with an enthusiastic love for what we listened to. On our first date, we exchanged compilation tapes. The Sarah I first met in 2002 scowled at the mention of “Pop” as a musical genre. She loathed Abba. Country n’ Western was hated, even the saintly and dark Johnny Cash. She liked Nine Inch Nails, and jazzy singer-songwriters. She has just reminded me that she played down her love of musicals when we first met, in case I didn’t share her enthusiasm (I did, as it happens). She quoted Tom Waits lyrics to me on our first ever phone conversation (“Small Change got rained on, by his own .38” – !!!) and my reaction to this was pretty much [affects Tom Waits-esque growl]: “I’m gonna marry this giiiirl…”.

When, on our second ever meeting (before we got properly together) I said that I knew the keyboard player from Coil (the mighty Thighpaulsandra)…

…she not only knew who I was talking about, she was actually impressed enough to salaam at me – although with hindsight I think she might’ve been doing it sarcastically. I was rather pleased that my claim to very obscure fame was actually being reciprocated, and I puffed and preened about it – although, as she now tells me: “It was so obvious you fancied me rotten, and you were just trying to impress me”.

But now, the Sarah of 2016 has taken Alice to see a touring West-End production of ‘Mamma Mia!’ for Alice’s birthday. The Sarah of 2016 bought, as a present to both her and Alice, the anniversary DVD of Cats. I fucking despise Andrew Lloyd Webber, so as far as I’m concerned, just listening to the soundtrack is like listening to the limp screeching of rather bland sheep in the killing floor of a beige abbatoir. Hearing my beloveds sing along to it is unbearable.

2016-model-Sarah is sometimes Pop, loves Abba, bought a Jessie J album for her and Alice (and was moderately disappointed by all the swearing on it), and even a little bit Country; although not line-dancer, ridin’-in-mah-pick-erp-treeeerck Country, but Country nonetheless. Mother and daughter also sing along to the South Pacific soundtrack in the car. I can dig it (Rogers & Hammerstein > Andrew “Christ, what the fuck IS that??” Lloyd Webber).

Is this OK? Of course it is. I don’t ultimately care what music gets listened to around the house. As long as there is passion and interest, I’ll encourage anything to be played.

So this is my role now, as Daddy. I am passer-of-the-torch. Hopefully, in years to come, Alice will peer up at the towering shelves stuffed full of CDs and come to regard them as a treasure trove, and not just something to climb. I will enjoy pulling a CD from the racks and listening to it together. Hopefully, she’ll see it as an archive, a resource, and an inheritance. Yeah! I’ll introduce her to stuff she’s never heard, and then introduce her to tangentially related things (“Hey, you like that Syd Barrett CD? Well, check out KEVIN AYERS!!”). We can sit and discuss the merits of James Jamerson’s bass playing vs Carol Kaye’s! I’ve been looking forward to this for YEARS.

Oh God, she’ll be bored silly.

Except we probably won’t do this. Alice will discover her own music, on its own (much more compact and transportable) format, using different technology, on her own terms, in her own time. My music will be mine, and hers will be something different. I mean, God knows she’ll have to rebel against me at some point, except that seeing as I have some quite loud, experimental, shouty, and obnoxious music in the stacks, she’ll probably go the other way, and listen to Mumford & Sons (bah!), or Robbie Williams (ugh!) or something equally vile.

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That’s right, Robbie. I called you a massive dickarse.

Right now, things are good. I have played Alice a lot of music, and she really likes Kate Bush, David Bowie, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, some Jazz, and a few things completely by accident; for some reason, the other day, she rather liked Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star, and just last weekend, I played Alice Selling England by the Pound by Genesis on a car trip, and she responded favourably (when Alice hears music for the first time and likes it, she exclaims “Yeah! I’m feeling this!!”, which is a most endearing trait), and I think it made Sarah a bit fed up. Sarah doesn’t do Prog.

Recently we went into a proper, specialist, nerdy, fusty, ramshackle, wall-to-wall-CDs-and-vinyl record store in a nearby town, and Alice breathlessly yelped “This is how I want my bedroom to be!!”. That’s my girl.

More importantly, Alice is discovering things through her friends, the media, through what she hears at parties, and from her general day-to-day environment; and she really, really, really likes Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars. That’s OK. I love funk music in general, so I did her a summer compilation CD of old-school funk tunes (Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Grant Green, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones etc) to listen to in the car.

Alice likes having loads of CDs in the house, but in the future, Alice will probably look at my collection of CDs as something terminally sad and embarrassing. When her friends come round in a few years’ time and say “Wow, what are those funny little plastic-and-cardboard boxes on the shelves?”, Alice will usher them out of the room with a muttered “shutupshutupshutup” before I can say anything from my easy chair (in my mind’s eye, I’m listening to Nurse With Wound, or something, with a pipe clenched in my teeth and slippers on my feet).

They’ll rush upstairs to Alice’s room, and they’ll put on make-up and dance around to Coldplay or Miley Cyrus, or the equivalent, in five-to-ten years time. Oh God, the mundanity of it! The blandness! That would be her rebellion against Sarah and I: her rock n’ roll, her punk, her smoking and drinking, her slamming doors and staying out late, her leather jacket, her tattoos and excessive body piercing.

And I will tell her to turn that boring, platitudinous, trite bollocks down, and turn my proto-Industrial noise UP, and I’ll shake my head and wonder where I went wrong.

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One thought on “Experimenting on Children Part 2: Raising the Muso Geek

  1. Very cool man! Sharing your passions with your kids is awesome! I love going through my music with my kids too and having a rock out session or dance fest! It’s a fantastic way to bond with our kids! Thanks for sharing your journey!

    Like

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