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Songs Their Father Taught Them

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When my husband and I traded places and he assumed the majority of childcare responsibilites while I went to work full time, there were, predictably, adjustments to be made. Most of them have just required the turning of a blind eye. So the kids go to school sometimes in clothes whose colors or patterns clash, or their hair isn’t combed exactly as I would comb it; what does it really matter in the overall scheme of things? They’re clean, fed, and loved. That’s all that counts. There are some things, though, that I can’t ignore. When I come home from work greeted with cries of, “Guess what we did? We hiked up a river, and parts of it were over our heads!” or “We explored caves today, but we didn’t see any bears,” I just can’t hold my tongue.

Then there’s the matter of the music. During my reign, their exposure was limited to carefully selected age appropriate songs, along the lines of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” or “Pepino the Italian Mouse.” The closest to edgy I ever got was Stay Awake the album of cover songs of Disney tunes by popular artists. I first suspected a sea change was underway in their musical taste when I overheard our son singing about his baby sister who had a habit of hitting her head repeatedly against the chest of whoever was holding her, “Maia is a head banger.” My suspiscions were confirmed when they started singing Mojo Nixon spontaneously while we were stuck in traffic one day, “Hey, hey, hey, Get out of my way…” I admitted defeat completely the day I tried to play the King’s Singers disc, Kids Stuff and they shouted me down with demands for the “monster music.” I was baffled, but they pulled the R.E.M. CD, Monster from the shelf, and I gave in and played it for them.

I knew when I married my husband that our taste in music was very different, but I never stopped to consider what that would mean for our children. They’re much more likely to know the lyrics to “Superman” by The Kinks than “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic.” I’m more likely to hear them singing “Godzilla” than “Skip to My Lou.” Not long ago, I heard our five year old singing “Dirty Old Town” by the Pogues. In fact, they were all so taken with The Pogues rendition of “Jesse James,” that my husband bought them Marty Robbins Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. It’s the biggest hit so far with them, with its tales of gunslingers and heroes. They can’t get enough of “Utah Carol,” the story of a cowboy who gives his life to rescue a girl from a cattle stampede, or of their all time favorite, “Big Iron,” about an Arizona Ranger who outguns a hotshot outlaw. In fact, one of our sons plans to act the song out in his school’s talent show. There’s only one problem – guns real and fake are barred from his elementary school. He plans to use a real iron.

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  • Eric Olsen

    This way all needs are met – you can’t expect a guy to listen to Raffi all day.

  • Great list. One time last summer, I heard my neighbor’s 7 year old daughter and 11 year old son singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” at the top of their lungs, and I was forever set against my offspring ever memorizing the likes of “Baby Beluga.”

    So far, we’ve been feeding our Panda (she’s just 13 months) a steady diet of Motown, Atlantic Records & Stax Records R& B classics, the Coasters (and other classic Lieber and Stoller tunes), and all periods of the Beatles.

  • Matt

    Your piece reminded me what my dad would play for me when I was young (I’m now 29). Marty Robbins’ “Gunfighter Ballads..” was among the records played, as were Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry and some bluegrass. My wife and I haven’t any kids yet, but when we do, you can bet there will be no vapid Barney re-writes on the playlist.