“Daddy, can I put on some music?”
Before I can answer, Charlotte, my 6-year-old, has already pushed play on the living room stereo and my long-suffering speakers start emitting a shrill and all-too-familiar series of staccato parps that cause my brow to furrow, my eyes to squint and my temples to throb. Once again, a particularly keening rendition of “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” fills the apartment like a car alarm. I bite my tongue and quell my urge to bellow like the farcical, stentorian-voiced sitcom dad, as I know it’ll only hurt my daughter’s feelings and make my wife angry. I retire to the comparatively quiet confines of the kitchen and consider opening a beer.
To suggest that I have a deep aversion to conventional children’s music is an exercise in heroic understatement, but somehow our household has managed to amass some of the most egregious examples of same. What’s especially torturous for me about this, however, is that I am something of an incorrigibly snobby music geek of the most opinionated order. Prone to huffy dismissal, esoteric allusion and windy rumination about arguably significant albums and justifiably forgotten punk bands from eons past, I cut my teeth scouring a network of long-since-vanished New York City record stores and irreparably damaging my hearing at scores of high-volume rock shows in my distant youth. While the rest of the world has embraced the liberation of digital technology, I still devote a vast swathe of our apartment to my slavishly alphabetized compact disc collection and have an equally unwieldy array of vinyl LPs languishing in a very expensive mini-storage facility downtown. After decades of unsolicitedly bestowing meticulously composed mix tapes and lording my musical opinions over my near and dear, I am now paying the price for being an insufferable know-it-all. That I must now withstand tireless airings of cloyingly insipid children’s music is surely karmic retribution at its harshest point.
When my kids were born—well, really, it began when my wife was first pregnant—it became abundantly clear that my days of cranking the loud stuff were over for a while. No more high-volume sessions of Venom, Black Flag and Einsturzende Neubauten. I relegated my fervent music-listening to my walks to and from work (already a bad idea, given the piercing tinnitus in my right ear after years and years of systematically idiotic disregard for volume limitation) and kept things whisper-quiet in the house. When the kids were tiny, it was the same deal. But as they grew, gradually the household started playing music again. Though inarguably twee, Now The Day is Over, a “collection of standards, traditional and originals sung as lullabies” by mellow indie-folksters the Innocence Mission, became a particular favorite. I could deal with that stuff, but in time, our collection of children’s music discs stated to pile up, and not all of them were as tastefully executed.
Almost overnight, some of the most unspeakable sonic offal known to man came regularly pumping out of my stereo like processed poop out of a sewage-treatment plant. It started off innocuously enough. First came the obligatory copy of Free to Be You and Me, but then discs by Laurie Berkner, the Wiggles, Raffi and their vile ilk started muscling in on shelves previously ruled by volumes of discs by the Stranglers, Nick Cave and Motorhead. It was horrifying.
I tried to stem the tide by introducing my kids to a few selections that didn’t make me want to destroy the earth. I snuck the Beatles into regular rotation (always a safe bet). My wife seemed to get them hooked on a few Crosby, Stills & Nash songs (notably—and somewhat inexplicably—“Southern Cross”). In short order, we couldn’t go anywhere in the car without piercing entreaties from the backseat for repeated spins of same. I tried a few other suggestions, but few made the cut.
The struggle continues. As of right now, beyond the CSN track (which I now never need to hear again), the only non-children’s songs my kids will actively tolerate are “Octopus’ Garden” by the Beatles, “Young Folks” by Peter, Bjorn & John (my 4-year-old is convinced the song is about “the number 4” for some reason) and “Start Wearing Purple” by Gogol Bordello, if only because it’s giddily inane.
I shouldn’t complain. I know it’s only a matter of time before the teen pop infiltrates the house, at which point I’ll probably be thankful for my damaged hearing.