A year or so ago, my family was driving to one of my daughter’s volleyball matches. My daughter’s teammate, M, was riding with us. My kid’s playlist hit Madonna’s Lucky Star, and my daughter began singing along.
M: “Who is this?
My daughter: “Madonna.”
Who? WHO? I didn’t know M’s mom when we were kids, but I can say with absolute certainty that once upon a time she rocked lacy, finger-less gloves and a fedora, and probably even drew in the fake mole on her cheek. I’d be less than surprised if she didn’t still listen to Madonna, singing along in the car or when of Madge’s classics popped up in a commercial or movie trailer. But her kid, clueless.
When it came to turning my kids into music fans, I started early. I still remember the summer vacation when my daughter, 5, started singing along with Guided By Voices’ Teenage FBI and my son, 3, began chanting”Get down, get down” from Kool and the Gang’s Jungle Boogie when we told him we were going to have to “get down” to the bottom of the ravine before he could exit his stroller and hike with us. Those songs were sandwiched around tracks by Strawberry Shortcake and offerings from The Lion King, but my kids were responding to them just as they would their favorites. Effective brainwashing starts early!
I still maintain a kids’ playlist, mostly for long trips, that includes songs and artists I think my kids should know, such as Diana Ross, The Ramones, Madonna, The Flaming Lips and more. And just like when my kids (now 12 and 9) were little, I mix it up with their favorite tunes and artists, such as One Direction, Pink, Lorde and Bruno Mars.
The mix is intended to do three things: First, the kids aren’t going to pay attention if I just play the tunes I want them to hear for hours on end. And just because they should know pop music from many generations doesn’t mean I don’t want them to enjoy the pop music of their generation. Part of growing up a music fan is connecting with those of your own age over the tunes you love. I remember a friend from church when I was a kid who I was pretty sure was an alien. The first time we met, I was playing the Thriller cassette. He had no idea what Thriller was. He could talk about the Beatles and more of the 1960s poppier artists like an adult, but had no connection to his own era’s tunes. I don’t want my kids to be the weird kids who don’t know what’s up, and I want them to have a broader education than what pop radio would provide them. It’s about balance.
Second, my parents completely disrespected my music, not unlike Jack Black’s tirade against the middle age, would-be I Just Called to Say I Love You purchaser. They were extremely condescending, to the point where it really drove a wedge between us during critical periods of adolescence and made me trust them less. I don’t want that to be the case with my kids. Part of what makes it easier for me to bite my tongue while One Direction’s lowest common denominator crap is being spewed is that I know soon I’m going to be treated to I Can’t Go For That, Stop! In the Name of Love or It’s Tricky.
Third, pop radio is crap. It just is. It was when my parents were kids, it was when I was a kid (because for every Madonna there was a Samantha Fox, Debbie Gibson, etc.) and it is now. You wouldn’t feed your children McDonald’s chicken nuggets and fries for every meal because it would turn their mid-sections to goo, clog their arteries and slowly drain the life from them. Well, what fast food does to you physically, pop music does to you mentally. It’s product spewed to draw advertising dollars and often not very artful. I don’t want my kids tummies or minds to be mush. So I can pick and choose the best of decades of popular tunes to get superior crafted material into their brains while brushing aside the aural refuse.
Someday, maybe my kids will be the freak who cares too much, screaming in rage at some clueless dolt who is just trying to buy his child a birthday gift. I hope not, but I could live with that. It’s definitely better than raising two children who don’t know who Madonna is.