Child is DJ to the Man
Not to imply that my son’s paternity was ever in question, but it became beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt clear that Jace is my flesh and blood when, at the completion of his inaugural crawl towards one of the CD racks, he yanked out a copy of the Replacements’ Tim.
I admit to daydreaming about how a love of music will be one of many bonds we’ll forge, and this apparent shared fondness for Minneapolis’ finest suggested maybe it’s never too early to start the fire. However, the world of children’s music is almost as terrifying a place as most commercial radio, except that the dinosaurs are called Barney instead of Foreigner or Kansas, the singularly named troubadours answer to Raffi instead of Sting, and “Old McDonald” is the genre’s “Free Bird”. (“What song is it y’all kids wanna hear?”) So the goal became finding some CDs my son enjoys and, at the same time, don’t chase me from the room.
Before you judge me too harshly, Jace does get plenty “The Wheels On The Bus” at day care, and we do own two volumes of Walt Disney Records’ Children’s Favorite Songs, 25 sing-along nuggets per. (Incidentally, the Disneyland Children’s Sing-Along Chorus was led by Larry Groce, the mastermind behind “Junk Food Junkie” from 1976 and longtime host/co-producer of Mountain Stage — so there’s your roots music connection.) Still, there had to be something more…
Something like Justin Roberts’ Great Big Sun (Hear Diagonally Records), an album that lives up to its tagline of being “a kids album that adults could listen to,” as John Sullivan claims in his liner notes to Roberts’ “grown-up” disc Bright Becomes Blue. Roberts’ songs don’t talk down to kids, and his melodies don’t talk down to adults. Great Big Sun comes off a little like a blend of the Delevantes and Ron Sexsmith; or, to go back a generation, a blend of Loggins & Messina and Harry Nilsson.
Then there’s the Rabbit Ears series, which features tall tales and classic family stories read by famous folks backed by should-be-famous musicians. I bought a pair seven years ago — a half-decade before I became a dad — under the guise that someday they’d come in handy. The adventures of Stormalong, the Paul Bunyan of the seven seas, are voiced by the late, great John Candy, with NRBQ the perfect musical partners for the voyage.
Imagine Candy bellowing such lines as, “They’ll try and tell ye he was half bluefish, a quarter octopus, two-fifths cod, three-eighths horseshoe crab, four-thirds sandworm, and a half dozen fried quohogs with a side order of tartar sauce,” with NRBQ masquerading as the bar band on the Titanic in the background. That’s how much fun this stuff is for 3-year-olds of all ages. The pairing of Keith Carradine (as Will Rogers) and Los Lobos to detail the exploits of Annie Oakley makes another fine soundtrack for a 35-minute morning commute.
A recent find is The Slippery Ballerina (Casino Music), with Clay Harper from Atlanta’s Coolies and Ottoman Empire providing the narrative and his brother Will doing the music. The story’s simple message — “do what you love, love what you do” — is hard to argue with, but what truly makes the record a joy is its cast of eccentric characters and the eclectic bunch of veterans who climb into their skins. Moe Tucker, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s Kevn Kinney, ex-Georgia Satellite Rick Richards, and Continental Drifter Susan Cowsill all are on hand. Col. Bruce Hampton goes way over the top, frighteningly yet somehow appropriately so, as “Culture Man.”
Best of all are pub-rockers Ian Dury (in quite possibly his last recording; he died this past March) and “Wreckless” Eric Goulden as Plymon and Ivey, “theatrical consultants, friends to the stars and the exclusive representatives of the floor maintenance staff of the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions.” The Brothers Harper, and a number of the same vocalists, are also responsible for an earlier effort titled Not Dogs…Too Simple (A Tale Of Two Kitties). Jack Logan illustrated both packages.
For a bluesy, spiritual grandfather, we have Lead Belly Sings For Children. In search of an indulgent uncle, we turn to Pete Seeger’s American Folk, Game & Activity Songs. Our pro-labor aunt is found in Ella Jenkins And A Union Of Friends Pulling Together. (All three of these come from the good people at Smithsonian Folkways.) And to re-create the sensation of a houseful of wacky cousins, try Rudy’s Rockin’ Kiddie Caravan, which offers Giant Sand tackling a sea chantey, Vic Chesnutt singing a cowboy song, and the Waco Brothers scattering “The Bones”, alongside the occasional zydeco and klezmer tune.
When in doubt, I settle on a mix tape I made, a calling that claims hours and energies my long-suffering wife no doubt feels could be better applied to arguably more important pursuits like financial planning or house maintenance. We get to hear the Bottle Rockets’ “Kit Kat Clock”, NRBQ’s “RC Cola And A Moon Pie”, the Band’s “Daniel And The Sacred Harp,” and a bunch of others.
The plan is for these to keep us going until his 12th birthday. That’s when I’ll blast “Left Of The Dial” for him.