My earlier take on birthday songs was a bit morose. Here’s a different one.
Recently my wife and I decided that we weren’t playing enough music for our children—we’re worried about both the frequency and the variety of the music they hear. So, in addition to our frequent radio games in the car, we’ve added sessions with the pre-fab music channels on TV, alternating channels and genres by day.
I also got some new speakers for my computer or iPod—when the wife isn’t around and I am in control, I try out new albums or old ones on the kids (much to what I can imagine will be my brother’s horror I think they really enjoyed Mumford and Sons and thus allowed me to think about the band in a different way—a subject for a future post).
But now that I hook my iPod up as a matter of regular course when I get home, I find myself getting lazy or over-thinking issues and just putting the machine on shuffle. The children hear a variety of songs; I reconnect with music I may not have heard of in a while and everyone is happy.
But, of course, because it is me, I find myself musing over the choices. Especially when the music isn’t merely in the background, I find myself wondering what I am doing to the children—something that I compound when I compare the music choices my parents made for me. I have written before about the self-conscious identity-creation that goes hand in hand with populating an iPod, but the prospect of passing this fabricated identity down to my offspring gives me pause.
This came to the fore as I made a video of my daughter opening presents for her second birthday. During the entire process, the songs were my choice—not the type of fun a child would enjoy (my daughter combines the Alphabet song, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” into one combination of epic and lyric). A normal kid’s party list might include some Wiggles, or even kids music by They Might Be Giants. No, instead I end up with a stereotypical playlist—something you might find in High Fidelity (or on the iPod of a 30-something Prius-driving fool).
- “Time Tough”, Toots and the Maytals
I plugged in my iPod as a result of having no plan rather than because of some ulterior motive. To start, it seemed to go well. The first song was a nice and mellow choice—a tune from the days after my conversion. Both children seem to really like Reggae—in fact, Reggae is the pre-fab station I play with the greatest frequency. But there is something that seems pretentious or strange about me playing. Yet it was on my iPod, so here it stays.
- “The Day that Lassie Went to the Moon”, Camper Van Beethoven
This is the song that made me start keeping track of the others. What kind of a two-year old’s birthday party has Camper Van Beethoven on the soundtrack? Nobody else seemed to notice; my daughter didn’t seem to mind. But it certainly seemed inapposite. When I started to think of viewing the video I was making in the future and hearing a song 20 years old in the background, a song only I would know of the half-dozen people gathered, I stopped to think (but I did not stop the song…).
My brother and I both like Camper (and Cracker afterwards) but like the Dead Kennedys or even Magnetic Fields, many of their songs are better in theory than reality. It is the idea of Lassie going to the moon or taking Skinheads bowling that is so memorable. The sound is certainly iconoclastic (if not truly original) and at times memorable—but I can’t shake the feeling that I like the band for the idea of the band rather than true quality or beauty.
- “Add It up” the Violent Femmes
This live number followed Lassie. I couldn’t complain.
Who hates the Violent Femmes? Who thinks they are appropriate for toddlers? I will raise my hand for both. I love the way this song starts. I love the way it builds. I unabashedly love the set-up of this band and their sense for song and melody. They illustrate that you don’t need the best instrumentalists or the most complicated sound to make good music.
(and you have to alt-rock street cred if you don’t have them on your iPod. “Blister in the sun”? Too obvious.)
- “Call it Off”, Tegan and Sara
Haven’t listened to the Canadian twins? My daughter (unbeknownst to her) has been listening to this band since she was born. Their harmonies are unreal. Some of their shorter songs are really beautiful compositions.
But the transition from the Violent Femmes to Tegan and Sara is more than a bit severe. Whiplash severe. I am glad I had the video camera turned off for this. A song about the end of a relationship? Not quite material well-fit to a little girl’s birthday party.
- “Stickshifts and Safetybelts”, Cake
A little bit of alt-rock with a rockabilly feel never hurt anyone. Cake had one great album (Fashion Nugget) and several mediocre ones. I always loved this song. My daughter will dance to it. But does that make it right for a child’s birthday party? Can you get cars without bucket seats anymore? Is it even legal?
The list could go on and on. But I will stop. The important thing is to document the way I am brainwashing my children and the strange juxtaposition of my iPod’s random selection of my music choices with this moment in my daughter’s life. The truth is, I would be paralyzed if I tried to write a song list for my daughter’s birthday. My children mean so much to me that no song or selection of songs could adequately express this.
The random songs they hear? A fit reflection of their father (whether he likes it or not). Sometimes, to paraphrase someone smarter, when you pretend to be something for long enough, that pretend thing is what you are. And when I look back thirty years from now at my daughter laughing and looking for more presents while Camper Van Beethoven plays I will smile (and probably cry) witnessing my adolescence and adulthood blend in one song.