Archived Story

Children’s music ain’t got the same soul

Published 6:12am Sunday, September 30, 2012

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

Ever since I became part of a group called people with kids, other parents whose opinions I respect and suggestions I value try to sell me a seat on the children’s music train, but those just aren’t my tracks. I listen to music marketed directly toward tots and my eyes glaze over.

My girls’ eyes glaze over, too, though at 3 months I can’t blame that on the music. They could be dazed for any number of reasons. Parents ask me, “Have you been playing Baby Einstein to your twins?” and I have to sheepishly confess, “No, but they really dig Baby Blue Oyster Cult and Baby Billy Squire.”

I find nothing intrinsically wrong with most children’s music unless it’s sold as “Kidz” music. No good ever came from trying to be cool by replacing an s with a z. I’m seriouz.

A lot of it is quite good, and I bet children love it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t also enjoy music that isn’t written, performed and advertised exclusively for them.

I had a stack of 45s and a pile of LPs from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s handed down from my sisters that became the soundtrack to my childhood, not one children’s song among them.

I’d listen to traditional childhood ditties and think, this stuff’s for kids?

“Ring around the rosie … ashes ashes we all fall down.” One theory has it that this nursery rhyme is all about the bubonic plague. Kids stuff!

“London Bridge is Falling Down.” That doesn’t sound like a good situation. And I’m supposed to sing about it on the playground? I was dubious.

What about “Rock a bye baby on the tree top”? Somebody stuck a baby in a tree during a windstorm! I can’t be the first to ask, why? The bough breaks and down comes baby cradle and all. As far as I know no comforting epilogue exists, no lost verse that plays, “Rock-a-bye baby, hurling through space, angels will lay you back in your place. If they’re too late to swoop down and pounce, surely they’ll catch you on the third or fourth bounce.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have learned all the words to “Hotel California” when I was 5. “You can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave,” was kind of scary proposition, but at least no one was threatening to stick me up in a tree or sneeze the plague all over me.

I learned a lot from the lyrics in my music collection. It wasn’t just entertainment. These were life lessons. Take for instance The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak”

“Take out the papers and the trash/ Or you don’t get no spendin’ cash/ If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor/ You ain’t gonna rock and roll no more/ Yakety yak (Don’t talk back)”

Darn right.

How about Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons”?

“You load 16 tons, what do you get/Another day older and deeper in debt

“Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go/I owe my soul to the company store.”

Mmmm hmmm, don’t think that didn’t force my 6-year-old brain to consider long-term financial planning.

I cherished my stack of vinyl. Most afternoons my mother found me dancing like a maniac while the needle on my record player jumped around on Gary Lewis and the Playboys, “Count Me In,” which now lives on my iPod. Who cares if it wasn’t written for a kindergartner? At least Gary Lewis wasn’t threatening to drop a bridge on my head.

I had one album that was specifically for kids. It was The New Mickey Mouse Club, not the Britney, Christina and Justin version, but a short-lived 1977 show featuring Lisa Whelchel, who would go on to play Blair on “Facts of Life” and is appearing on the current season of “Survivor,” thereby completing the circle of life for a C-list celebrity.

This album seduced me away from my 45s with songs like “Walkin’ walkin’ the dog, justa walkin’ walkin’ the dog, just a walkin’ walkin’ the dog….” These kids were not only a wiz with great lyrics but focused and task-oriented. I still have that record.

My girls can listen to “kidz” music if they want to, but I’m going to make sure they have all kinds of other music available to them. I remember when I introduced Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” to my nieces. It was a transcendent moment. Kids’ brains are big places. They’ve got room for a little bit country and a little bit rock ’n’ roll. They can sing the blues, and sway to cool jazz. They can have it all, and now more than ever it’s all there for the taking.

Right now I’m listening to The Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself.” Gertie is squealing with delight, and I swear Clara’s head is doing the slow bop. Deep down inside they’re feeling the groove. Is this “children’s music”? Sure it is.

 

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.

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