Crappy Pop Music? Not in My House
Our family has an audible soundtrack. It might be tuned to Leo, softly scatting along on one of his spontaneous grooves. Or Mali, belting all seven verses of "The Golden Vanity" as a matter of pride. More often, it's eleven-year-old Iz, singing along to her own compositions instead of practicing the classical pieces her piano teacher assigned. The kids' bath time soundtrack is almost always the same countertop iPod sequence; our driving soundtrack is constantly negotiated. And sometimes, the soundtrack comes from me -- or more accurately, my computer, offering up the latest wonderful daily freebie from KCRW's Today's Top Tune, or Daytrotter. (I haven't paid for music in almost two years).
Seymour and I have always shared the music we love -- and its history -- with our kids. It's a lovely feeling, when I start singing "All I Do Is Dream of You" from Singing in the Rain, and both girls jump in, warbling along to the end. Or when Iz returns from summer camp, and one of her biggest thrills was befriending a girl who turned out to be Marni Nixon's* granddaughter. Or when we all shout "Sad Will Scheuster!" at the screen after watching the latest episode of Glee.
The historical information transfer, it's not entirely complete. Last week, when Iz came down the stairs in shiny black leggings, I teased her by singing, "I've got chills, they're multiplying..." She protested, "I do not look at ALL like Rachel in that Glee episode!" And then we had a sit down about how Glee is all covers all the time, and she does know that "The One That I Want" is from Grease, yes? But non-encyclopedic musical knowledge doesn't really bother me; I was a '70s child, and it took me years to realize that The Carpenters didn't write "Please Mr. Postman", nor did Linda Rondstadt originate "Love Me Tender."
But I do fret about Iz's current musical leanings -- she's starting to zero in on crappy pop music. This a problem for two reasons: 1) I think most pop music sucks, and 2) the oldest child can inflluence on sibilings' listening patterns, and set a household's musical tone for years. I have my older brothers to thank for showing me the KROQ way of New Wave, and protecting me from the hard rock horrors of KLOS; my high school classmate Gwen's house was all-ska, all-Madness all the time, due to her older brother Eric's somewhat obsessive guidance (don't worry, she turned out OK).
Here's another problem: Where is Iz supposed to find music that doesn't suck? She needs to find it on her own, that's a rite of passage; but the urge to intervene is strong, because there is no such thing as innovative radio programming in our area. And her friends listen to mindlessnes like Katy Perry, whose music -- aside from being the pop equivalent to The Wiggles in quality and originality -- is full of inappropriate imagery. Hearing my eleven year old bopping around the house singing "Let's go all the way tonight" is a bigger concern than Ms. Perry's showing a bit of boob-top on Sesame Street.
I don't have a good answer, not yet. For now, we take turns picking driving music. When it's my turn, we listen to the new music I've downloaded, and I wait to see if Iz responds. When it's her turn and she chooses insipid pop music, we talk about it. We also discuss strong singer-songwriter role models beyond Lady Gaga.
But I'm starting to get a bit desperate. So much so that I actually ... purchased an album I thought Iz might like: The Dø, which has interesting singing by a female lead, covers a variety of styles, including rap (Iz is intrigued by Eminem, whom I've described to her as a talented misogynist). Otherwise, I'm at a loss.
Because Iz's music can't just come from me -- that's liable to backfire, and turn our house's soundtrack into one of musical rebellion. But she's stuck, because her friends and the radio only direct her to poppy piffle. She's a musician herself, she deserves better.
So, where do your kids get their music? And whether you have kids or not, which artists would you recommend to my daughter?
*I shouldn't have to tell you this, but -- Marni Nixon was the singing voice of Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Deborah Kerr in The King and I, and -- somewhat notoriously -- Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. She also played one of the nuns in The Sound of Music.
You can read more of Shannon Des Roches Rosa's frettings at Squidalicious.com.
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