I have a son. His name is Oscar. He is awesome. I might be (slightly) biased there – but his smiles can make a Gin Wigmore album seem okay. Actually, his mother is quite sure that he likes Gin Wigmore. One of Oscar’s early skills was that he could – silently – back up an argument. A CD that I am not interested in hearing will now get the nod because Katy can claim “Oscar and I like this!”
Well, fair enough. What is parenting – if you’re not already competing to have the child on your side, using him to talk through as you make your points?
The first issue we bumped into with “kids music” was The Wonky Donkey.
It could almost pass for music – in some countries. Though, does Craig Smith really write “musician” on his immigration card when travelling? I’ve heard his other “music”. And I would hope that he just writes “author of children’s books”.
Side note, while I’m talking about children’s books: the Dr Seuss classic, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish has a passage that I’m sure Bill Manhire must have studied:
My hat is old/My teeth are gold/I have a bird/I like to hold/My shoe is off/My foot is cold/My Shoe is off/My foot is cold/I have a bird/ I like to hold/My hat is old/My teeth are gold/And now my story/is all told.
I can’t stop reading that in a man-for-hire-Manhire voice.
Oscar would grin and laugh at Dr Seuss and my old Golden Books. But what about music – this is where I would get concerned.
My anxieties about what not to play have been calmed – I’m not worried about knowing when the correct time to shelve Jay-Z’s The Blueprint or Dr Dre’s 2001 is. (That time has come. And I’ve shelved them for now – played only during school hours if ever).
But people ask me – actually almost all the time – what do you play for your children? Or what did you play to your children? Or your nephews/nieces, godchildren or the kids of your best mates?
Oscar at a young age was digging troubadour music when retiring for the night. Men or women with guitars: Suzanne Vega and Joni Mitchell; James Taylor and Elliott Smith. And when I say that Oscar has been digging it – I mean, of course, that for me it seems right and good for him to be drifting off to sleep with this playing. I know that he could sleep through Meshuggah, waking only as he’d probably recognise the voice and marry it up with the Cookie Monster from some of those Golden Books we’ve been working through.
But it feels right to be playing acoustic guitar-based, folk-derived music. It’s lullaby music – of a sort. Not quite soppy and obvious but not intrusive.
I set out to play music to him every night from the youngest age for entirely the ulterior motive of introducing him to noise – so that I could continue making it. But I’d always tell people that the music was for educational purposes – of a sort.
Another early favourite for him was Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. I’d send him off to sleep with this album because the opening track, Over And Over feels like it sets the right tone. So he’s been hearing that album Over And Over. Yes, it might as well be Gin Wigmore for all he knows and cares. But hey, I was brought up on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk – and I turned out alright, right? Right? (Don’t answer that).
The Putumayo label does a good range of world music primers and there is, within the label, a series of “Putumayo Kids Presents” discs. We’ve played the shit out of New Orleans Playground when Oscar was kicking it out on the mat. It’s superb. The whole house loved it. His wee legs would get going and he’d get a groove on – in a relative sense. And all the while I’m getting to hear The Meters and Dr John instead of The Wiggles and Wonky Bloody Donkey.
Actually, I’d say much of the Putumayo material – even if it doesn’t have the Putumayo Kids Presents tag – is great for children, for families. So many of those compilations feature a version of something for everyone – and, again from the Putumayo Kids imprint, Acoustic Dreamland actually works. But some of the songs might make adults nauseous.
The Wiggles would go on to make an appearance – and we had some major troubles. Some parents ban them – but I could take it. Though we ended up banning them for Oscar, it made him crazy. I actually believe that. He was addicted; sugar-rush pop nonsense. He became a nicer child without them. And I miss The Wiggles, almost – that Big Red Car rides on a killer chorus. That’s sharp, clever songwriting.
I can take it. Heck, I’ve heard anything by The Cranberries. I’ll probably have to hear a new Ladyhawke album again some time. So I’m up for such challenges. But when Oscar couldn’t change the station, flip a record, load a CD or scroll through the iPod I got to figure it was (mostly) my call.
Drums. Mostly he loves drums. His feet start a-rocking to Lykke Li or Bernard Purdie or Aphex Twin or The Vaughan Brothers – all sorts of drums, all styles.
I want this to continue. I want him to experience a load of music – and of course he will. And right now he’s hooked on movie soundtracks to the films he sees. Which is fair enough and all good by me – lots of 80s pop songs are in the kids films today, cos they know a smart market, they know how to appeal to the parents, make it vaguely palatable for mum and dad in the multiplex.
Proudest moment so far, is Oscar spotting Randy Newman songs – and loving Short People – all because he’s watched Toy Story and The Princess and The Frog. He can spot the style. And he asks the question. He even gets good pop and power-pop references, I play The Cars or The Replacements and he’ll ask, “Dad, is this The Beatles?” And I tell him, “No son, but they’d kinda like to be…”
I want to at least be able to turn to Katy, just once, and say “Oscar and I really like this”.
So what things – that are not just greasy kids stuff – have you found work for you and yours?
*You probably know this already, but the title of this post was inspired by this Steve Vai song.