A friend of mine once told me about an epiphany she had at 60 mph on I-97.
She didn’t want to hate on Raffi. Really, she didn’t. He seemed like a lovely person. He sang cheerful, singable songs about teddy bear hugs. He was an anti-war activist. He had a loyal fan base all over the world who had bought more than 15 million of his records. She tried so hard not to despise him, but in the end, she just couldn’t take it.
They were driving to a cabin to go cross-country skiing in Winthrop. Five hours in a snowstorm, over icy mountain passes, with only one CD in the car, and a cranky toddler in the backseat. And as soon as the song stopped, the screaming would begin.
“I want Baby Beluga! I want Baby Beluga! Baby Beluga! Baby Beluga! BABY BELUUUUUUUGAAAAAAA!!!!”
Time and again, she found herself giving in. She pressed the repeat button, and the song would come on, and another clump of cells in her cerebral cortex would shrivel up into a tiny, coagulated, beluga-shaped scab.
Finally, somewhere on the interstate a few miles outside of Chelan, she came to terms with the inescapable truth: you can’t negotiate with terrorists. She yanked the CD out of the car stereo, opened the window and sent it flying like a tiny UFO out into the blinding snow. For all she knows, it’s still out there, like a cursed monkey paw, lying in wait to terrorize the next unsuspecting parent who picks it up, pops it into their stereo and presses play.
Another friend of mine once showed me his favorite chapter in his favorite parenting book. The entire chapter read as follows:
Chapter 8: Children’s Music
Why, indeed? When I was a kid, most of my early music exposure came from my brother, Todd. He was three years older than I, and hung out with kids who had their own stereos. He used to save up his allowance and babysitting money to buy records – 45 rpm singles at first, and then whole albums. When he wasn’t around, I’d play them (he would have killed me if he’d caught me) and they planted the seeds that would form my musical tastes for the rest of my life.
He started with the Beatles and the Monkeys. Then it was James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Carole King. In high school, he discovered Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind and Fire, and by the time he graduated, it was Kieth Jarret and John Coltrane. I still listen to all of those artists today, on Spotify instead of a scratchy album or 45, and I expect I’ll do so for the rest of my life.
My partner Jess has a similar story with classical music. She grew up in a house full of Chopin nocturnes and Schubert impromptus. The music of her childhood plays in our house every day, trading off with the soundtrack of mine.
Which makes me wonder, what foundation are we laying for our children’s musical taste? What are the chances they’ll be rocking out to Baby Beluga four or five decades from now?
I shouldn’t badmouth all kids’ music. There are a few performers who bring something that actually resembles musicianship to the scene. Check out Recess Monkey, a band of three Seattle teachers who manage to entertain both kids and adults without insulting either. Sadly, though, they’re the exception that proves the rule.
I don’t think you need to fling all your Raffi CD’s out the car window (unless, of course, that’s your thing). I just think we should introduce our kids, right from the beginning, to music we really love. And that same principle applies to more than music. Just because they like McDonald’s, can’t they develop a taste for great gumbo, too? Even though they love video games, does that mean they won’t love kick-the-can? Our job is to do more than give them the stuff that the childhood industrial complex is marketing to their demographic. Our job is to introduce them to the wonderful things in the world.
Say yes to Bob Marley. Say yes to The Talking Heads. Say yes to the Goldberg Variations.
Just say no to Baby Shark.