Monday, February 28, 2011

Blame It On the Boogie

I have done my best to foist my musical tastes upon Sam. When I was pregnant with him, Ryan and I saw the Tragically Hip play at the Queen Elizabeth theatre, and when I caught a handkerchief that Gord threw into the audience, I rubbed it on my belly for luck. I got a feel for my changing balance and girth by dancing around to James Brown and Madonna. I worked through labour pains with mix CDs made up of painstakingly selected favourite songs that all carried their own memories of times that were good, times when I was tough, so that I would be able to call on those experiences, and mine them for the strength it would take to push that baby out. 

The first lullabies we sang to Sam were Beatles and Postal Service and Mamas and Papas - except for that one night when I heard Ryan successfully putting him to sleep with his renditions of House of the Rising Sun, then Piano Man. Apparently, nothing lulls a one month old like brothels and sad drunks.

As Sam got bigger, I took him to play groups and drop ins where I learned songs and rhymes that are actually aimed at babies, and I had to admit that he responded to the simple rhythms and repetition. Rather than be concerned, I was willing to take his love for any kind of music as a positive thing. When Ryan laughed at me for pointing out that Sam's skillful beating of a wooden xylophone and enthusiasm for his shaker egg might be signs that we have a musical protege on our hands, I comforted myself with the thought that it would be Mama to whom he dedicated his album of Radiohead covers when he was three years old and successfully captured the genius of OK Computer on a toddler tambourine. 

Though it must be obvious by now, I'll put it out there - music means a lot to me.

Certain bands take me back to highschool, and friends who took the crafting of perfect mix tapes just as seriously as I did, and joined me in planning our Friday evenings around the Much Music Countdown. Looking back at those years of perpetual melodrama, I can't scoff at my teenage self, because I remember so clearly feeling those songs resonate in a world where no one understood me, and they made me feel a lot less alone. Ninety percent of that pain was simple teenage angst, but for the ten percent that counted, those songs were a lifeline.

I was lucky enough to have a big brother with good taste in music, and to have the kind of relationship that made me want to do everything he did, rather than automatically scorn his picks. As I grew out of that teenage messiness, his favourite bands became my favourites too, and they've stuck with me since then. Thank goodness he made me love the Tragically Hip - otherwise Sam might not exist. I met Ryan when I was 15, and that very good brother had orchestrated a trip to Vancouver for his giddy little sister. I was almost as excited to see the Hip play at GM Place as I was to meet my brother's highly interesting university friends. I went home to Kitimat with a new love for live music, and a big crush on one of those boys. That crush came to fruition a few years later at my brother's wedding when I asked Ryan to dance, to what else - The Tragically Hip.

In university, I was introduced to a whole new world of thoughts and people, as well as downloadable music. Napster changed my world, as did burnable CDs. The many (many, many) albums of Ani DiFranco became my new soundtrack, coincidentally around the time that I became a card-carrying feminist - or rather realized that I had been all along. I've simmered down a bit since then, but I've made sure that Sam has been exposed to plenty of Riot Grrrl, especially when the world news makes his Mama angry.

As the years have gone by, and I'd like to think that I've grown up a bit, I've started to appreciate singers and and songs that are a lot older than me, like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, CCR, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell. Though he may not go for Ani DiFranco, Ryan and I converge on these, and have found that Hallelujah makes an excellent lullabye.

These days, I don't have as much time to search out new music, but when I do, I find myself gravitating to more upbeat tunes, which lend themselves to spinning around the kitchen and bouncing up and down with a wiggly baby. He likes Cee Lo, Florence and the Machine, and Arcade Fire. I'd pretty much do anything to get that little bottom bopping, as it tends to do as soon as certain songs start up, which leads us to the Raffi dilemma.

Now, it's not that I keep him away from all children's music. There are some great kids albums by indie artists, and there are all kinds of versions of popular songs done up for kids as well. We're talking Radiohead, Coldplay, Flaming Lips... everyone wins, right? Then there's Raffi. My mother, Sam's Gamma, has waged an open campaign to introduce Sam and her other grandsons to Raffi, heedless of my protests. And dang if the little turncoat doesn't love it. From the first strains of "Baby Beluga," to the last notes of "Joshua Giraffe," he's a happy guy, and that bottom, it is bopping. As for me, I'm working on ways to combat the insidious catchiness of those two minute tracks of baby crack, but I find myself falling asleep with "The More We Get together" dancing around in my head, and I'm humming "Little Red Wagon" at the veggie mart.

What's my problem with Raffi? Honestly, it's hard to pin down. I hate to admit it, but it's something to do with how in earnest he is. There's no eye-rolling, no irony, no nod to how ridiculous it is to sing silly songs over and over again to babies, and how much we're giving them by leaving dignity at the door. It's not that I mind singing these songs to Sam - I sing them every day, (with hand gestures!). It's that I recognize that I'm doing it because I love him, while shaking my head internally and chuckling at how much my life has changed since the utterly unaware self-interest of my younger days. Also, I know he's trying to keep it real, but couldn't Raffi find some kids who can carry a damn tune to sing back up on these CDs? Seriously. Are there no musically capable kids on Salt Spring?

Anyway, as much as it pains me and my music snobbery, Raffi is on my iPod's most played list, in fine company with Radiohead and Dan Mangan. Sam's got me wrapped around that little finger that points at my stereo while he cocks his head and says "Uhhhgh?" The fact is, when I sneak my own picks into his little playlist, and dance with him, singing the chorus of Signed, Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours), there's no irony at all. 

1 comment:

  1. Love it! I have Jean listen to lots of Ani DiFranco and Dan Mangan, though I happen to have a nostalgic soft-spot for Raffi and don't mind his music either. In fact, I think Raffi is behind some work aimed at honouring children, though I can't remember any specifics. Oh, and great dancing Sam!