For too many years, during long car rides with my kids, we’d listen to the carefully-curated iPod playlist I created way back when they were little. The musical hit list – a manically cheerful, possibly seizure-inducing sonic soup of Dan Zanes, Jessica Harper, John Lithgow, Laurie Berkner, and others – had been the soundtrack of their lives ever since they first learned to kill time.
For me, listening to my kids’ music was always a chore. I craved harder, edgier, sexier music – songs with teeth. But some unwritten law said my children had to be protected from toxic influences like the wail of an electric guitar or a rap about anything more provocative than vegetables and proper hygiene.
Even the pop-band-turned-kid-band They Might Be Giants eventually returned to their adult roots, and you can bet that was precipitated by a moment when one of them threw down his accordion and said, “I’m so sick of this shit!”
Many contemporary parents, with the best of intentions, expose their kids to The Beatles. It makes those parents feel hip, and hey, who can go wrong with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Twist and Shout”? Though no one needs to tell Timmy that “Let’s Do It in the Road” is not an ode to stickball.
It all seems perfectly reasonable until, like me, you encounter a 4th grader weakly strumming an electric guitar, warbling “Come Together” at a school talent show. At that point it all seems terribly, terribly wrong.
Suddenly, like the sun bursting through a cloud, my kids started asking me to “skip” the clap-friendly, crisply-articulated songs of their youth.
“Froggie Went a-Courtin’”? Skip.
“Sunny Old Sun”? Skip!
“(Don’t Give Me That) Broccoli”? SKIP!
Hearing my kids reject those songs hit me like a starter’s pistol. I immediately set out to wean – nay, tear – my kids away from what I thought of as “their” music, and staged a major, radical intervention.
Muting my conscience, I exposed the kids to my highly-eclectic, wholly-uncensored, ‘80s-infused personal playlist. It included “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite, “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band, “Bust a Move” by Young MC, “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, “MMMBop” by Hanson, and “You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right (To Party)” by the Beastie Boys.
… and those guys weren’t talking about birthday cake.
As each song played, I checked my kids’ reactions in the rear view mirror. No one’s mouth foamed. No one’s head exploded. No one asked me to pull over so he could rob a 7-Eleven. In fact, they loved it. All of it. Well, most of it. I’d successfully brought (Earth, Wind &) fire to the natives.
I know what you’re thinking: Put together, these songs are about sex, porn, lust, addiction, succotash wishes, and… uh, whatever mmmbop means. But it’s thrilling to finally listen to music with my kids without wanting to drive into a tree. And by the time my children are old enough to decipher adult lyrics, it’ll be too late to save them from creepy Drake songs anyway.
My kids now know who Pat Benatar is, understand what domo arigato means, and wonder why a nice boy like Rick Springfield can’t find himself a woman like that. They know exactly what killed the radio star, and why a particular waitress in a cocktail bar no longer needs her infatuated benefactor. And if there’s anything wrong with Kansas, they know it’s only for a moment. Then, the moment’s gone.
Inevitably, my kids will come to love some kind of music I can’t stand – that’s just the law. But a note to Dan Zanes and Father Goose (yes, there is a Father Goose): Don’t hold your breath for our return and don’t keep the light on. We won’t be comin’ round the mountain, won’t be comin’ round the mountain, won’t be comin’ round the mountain anytime soon.