When It Comes to Picking New Music, My Kids Are All Right

I’ve written a lot lately about sharing traditions with my children and delighting in their joy as they experience something new. But the more I’ve written, the more I’ve come to understand that, while it’s pleasurable to read them my favorite holiday bedtime stories, for instance, or pull out and play kitschy sing-a-long records from my childhood, it’s only about half the fun. That’s because what’s newfangled to them is old-hat to me. And after all, as science fiction author Spider Robinson says, “joy shared is joy increased.”

So I began to seek out some new traditions, ones that we could all enjoy equally. And that’s when I realized I’m already having that experience, at least when it comes to new music. The addition of several iPods to the household’s cache of audio equipment has led me to discover that my diminutive kinfolk get as excited — as fanatical, even — about the advent of a new song or band as I do. Sure, the old stuff, whether from last year or several years ago, is good and fun to listen to from time to time, and there’s plenty of it in our iTunes libraries. But the kids, like me, just love the unknown (as the guys in Clem Snide proselytize). Now, they’re not sadistic enough to start a weekly blog, mind you, but they certainly don’t refrain from broadcasting their tastes to their friends and relations. And that thrills me to the point of cliche.

It surprises me a little, too, though I’m not sure why. After all, when you expose young-uns to your own musical peccadilloes (especially at an impressionable age, when they don’t know they can rebel), you shouldn’t be shocked when they say, “Please, Dad, play more jazz!” Right? Still, they’re just kids. They should behave in more predictable ways. Or so I tell myself. And yet I shake my head when they ask to download my Arcade Fire collection (including the obscure live cuts with David Bowie) or begin to recognize patterns in music that even some adults don’t hear — for instance, my six-year-old can identify Peter Buck’s signature jangly guitar sound in songs by a host of REM-like bands.

Then again, who am I kidding? This is all pretty cool. I mean, it’s one thing to have your son’s eyes light up when you dust off and play your copy of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” or some other moldy-oldie you’ve listened to together many times on the radio. It’s quite another matter when he says, “Dad, what’s that song you just played?” — one so new to you that you can’t even tell him the name — and then he selects it over and over every time he gets his hands on your iPhone.

Perhaps the most thrilling moment of all occurred a few weeks ago, when I took my teenage daughter to her first “real concert,” as she put it. I lucked into two front-row seats at Merriweather Post Pavilion to see The Decemberists, along with Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 and Andrew Bird, three bands that I adore and she is starting to discover. We gave her the tickets as a gift for graduating middle school, and I can’t decide which proved more rewarding — her response (which was to squeal, shout “Get out!” and shove me backwards, Elaine-like) or the fact that she likes the same amazing, obscure bands that I do. Either way, it was quite a night. We sat there, we two, nearly speechless, intensely listening through four hours of music, taking in every note, following all the stage antics, captivated by the lights and the sights and sounds — all the while texting our friends to brag, taking photos and posting them on Facebook, etc. Birds of a feather, for sure.

All of this is mere prelude to the crux of this week’s post (you knew I’d get there eventually): an offering of some of the songs (all new, of course) that I introduced to my kids and we have listened to, and bonded over, within the past year. Even better, they have adopted these songs as their own and are here recommending them to you, dear reader, complete with some personal commentary. Enjoy!

Anna’s Recommendations
It was no surprise to me that Anna, the romantic in the group, would be drawn to the music of The Decemberists. Their flair for the dramatic, oddball instrumentation, and delightfully liberal, lyrical excess are perfectly suited to the sensibilities of a kid who has devoured the entire Twilight series several times. In fact, their latest CD, The Hazards of Love (which I reviewed here, earlier this year) is a Gothic romance in 17 parts that tells the tale of hearts won and lost, with enough magic, intrigue, murder, and revenge to captivate even the most jaded teenager.

Anna says that, if you don’t want to buy the whole CD (though “you’d be crazy not to”), definitely download “The Rake’s Song” (which is “kinda creepy but fun to dance to”), as well as “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid” (which “rocks” and had us both belting out the chorus in concert), and “TheĀ  Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowning),” which Anna says (and I agree) is “one of their saddest and prettiest” compositions.

Will’s Recommendations
As a highly active tweenage boy, balancing the demands of school, sports teams, friends, family, books, and TV shows, Will has a surprisingly large capacity for music. Not only does he like to play it on his iPod (which is always nearby and nearly always on), he also likes to make music, starting with the guitar then moving to the electric bass in several lower-school rock bands. And, as I mentioned above, he’s always hitting me up for a new download: “Hey, Dad, can we put the new [Green Day, Coldplay, Kanye West, etc.] song on my iPod?” Cracks me up. Will also has an affinity for a great melody: that’s what seems to grab his attention first, and it’s the common thread that runs through his three picks.

  • Bound Stems, “Happens to Us All Otherwise,” Family Afloat. This is one that Will plays nearly every time we get together and put on music, and for good reason — the driving beat, chiming guitars, and soaring vocal harmonies are irresistible.
  • Andrew Bird, “Fitz and the Dizzyspells,” Noble Beast. Will says he loves listening to this song “because it’s calming.” And it is, which I think is a result of the syncopated drumming, droning guitars and sounds, and Bird’s charmingly goofy whistling that swirls and swoops just out of reach.
  • Army Navy, “Saints,” Army Navy. This is Will’s newfound fave because, as he put it, “the song has great lyrics and it’s catchy.” What more do you need to know?

Mary Charlotte’s Recommendations
She might be the youngest and smallest of the bunch, but Mary Charlotte has a love for dancing that’s as big as her name is long. In fact, she told me what she likes most is what I would term “soulful” and “funky” music. “Oh, and techno,” she added. She has a great sense of rhythm that, coupled with amazing body control and an unlimited energy supply, can keep us all entertained (and in stitches) for hours. She claims no one can listen to her selections and remain standing still.

  • Diane Birch, “Rise Up,” Bible Belt. I take full responsibility for this one. While reviewing the single a few weeks back, I wound up playing it over and over, to form an opinion. Fortunately, Mary Charlotte fell for it as hard as I did, and now she requests it weekly.
  • The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “You’ll Disappear,” The Phenomenal Handclap Band. To me, the name of the band is the name of the game. (Think of John Travolta and a long line of disco-ers.) To Mary Charlotte, it’s all about doing “The Robot,” especially the swinging arm move.
  • Buraka Som Sistema, “Sound of Kuduro,” Black Diamond. Just watching little MC dance to this song (she earns that nickname when she’s doing it) is a full-on workout. But when she comes “knocking at the door,” as M.I.A. sings in the chorus, I can’t resist joining her on the dance floor.

And I should add that my musical chauvinism has affected not only my own children but my in-law’s, as well. For example, a few weeks ago my 11-year-old nephew sent me a text from his phone (yeah, I know…) to say how great the new free song on iTunes was. Then, a few days later, after I failed to respond (yeah, I know…), he called me on his phone to remind me to check for his text — and to be sure I downloaded the song. “It’s excellent!” he insisted. So I did, and he was right. “Kids! Da-da-la-da, da-dum-dum-dum…” as my mother used to sing.

  • Parachute, “Under Control,” Losing Sleep. It’s a likable, piano-based power ballad that’s still available on iTunes but, alas, not for free.

So, there you have it, some Scribbleskiff “family togetherness” music. As always, let us know what you think. Did your parents influence your taste in music? Am I being too childish here? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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  1. LOVE this posting.

    Any thoughts on how to tell your 11 year old nephew that his parents have two, but only two, tickets to see Green Day next month? “Mom, there are great free downloads of Green Day, want me to put them on your iPod?”

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