Wow! You always give such good advice, and now I find myself in need of some myself. I hope you can help ...
My husband and I are big music fans, and we like a lot of different kinds of music. There are few waking moments when there is not some sort of music being played in our house. But the other day something disconcerting happened. Our 7-year-old daughter started bawling when she heard Neil Young's "Helpless." She said it was scary! (Mind you, she's ultra-sensitive -- the kind bothered by things ranging from sock seams to bad dreams.)
Do you have any suggestions for music that we could play that would satisfy the grown-up needs for musical escape while at the same time not setting her off? (Oddly, or at least it seems that way to me, she doesn't have a problem with the death-metal screams that emanate from our teen-age son's room.) What would your playlist be if you were in my shoes?
--Musically Challenged in Raleigh
Dear Musically Challenged,
Oh, goodie! I heart making a playlist! (I really still think of it as “mixed tape,” but that totally dates me.)
I’m with your daughter. “Helpless” would send me into a deep funk, too. There are the lyrics, which are depressing enough, and then there’s that melancholy moaning he does. Yikes.
Not like all the songs I listen to are sweetness and light, mind you. While perusing my music library for ideas, I realized that a good 60% of it was a bit of a bummer. In fact, some time ago, when I was weepy and blue, I decided I needed to make a playlist of optimistic songs for myself. Intent on bucking up, I did all manner of purposeful clicking and dragging, yet the best I could come up with was a playlist I named “Moderately Cheerful.”
This discussion reminds me of a passage from one of my favorite books, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. The main character owns a small, not very profitable record store and, as such, he’s in it for the pure love of music. At one point in the book, he lists some of his favorite songs and realizes they’re all quite sad. He goes on to say this:
Some of these songs I’ve listened to around once a week, on average (three hundred times in the first month, every now and again thereafter), since I was sixteen, or nineteen, or twenty-one. How can that not leave you bruised somewhere? How can that not turn you into the sort of person liable to break into little bits when your first love goes all wrong? What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?
So, yeah, I appreciate that you don’t want your daughter to brood and break into tears over Neil Young. At least not while she’s this young and impressionable. Adolescence awaits! You want to build a foundation of good cheer before the real angst begins!
At the same time, you definitely don’t want to subject yourselves to saccharine kid’s music. Then you’ll be ready to jump out the window. With the playlist below, I’ve tried to strike a balance: for her, nothing depressing or potentially objectionable (no Prince, for example), but for you, nothing that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. (That's my hope anyway.)
No Bad News– Patty Griffin: “Don’t bring me bad news, I don’t need none of your bad news today”…admittedly not the best grammar, but a great song all the same.
Stay Up Late– Talking Heads: Anytime you can mention a baby’s “little pee-pee” in a song, kids will chuckle.
Pineapple Head– Crowded House: Fun, Dada-esque lyrics developed from some fever-dream-induced ramblings of Neil Finn’s young son.
Rollerskate– Call and Response: Come on, it’s about rollerskating.
Raise the Roof– Tracey Thorn: This one might be the tiniest bit melancholy, but it’s so pretty you won’t mind.
Once Around the Block– Badly Drawn Boy
Catch My Disease– Ben Lee: He’s not talking about an STI or Asian flu, don’t worry.
Tempted– Squeeze: O.K., granted, this song talks about being “tempted by the fruit of another,” so it doesn’t technically fit into a neat kid-friendly category. But do you think she’ll pay that much attention to the words?
Sourwood Mountain– Carolina Chocolate Drops: A shout-out to you bluegrass lovers.
The Ballad of the Daykitty– Lou Barlow
Happy Days– McCoy Tyner: A lovely, melodic jazz piece that usually puts me in a good mood.
27 Jennifers– Mike Doughty: He talks about when he was in elementary school and he “rode the bus with 27 Jennifers”…it’s probably Olivia or Emily or Emma these days.
Walking to Do– Ted Leo / Pharmacists
Camel Walk– Southern Culture on the Skids: This song sounds vaguely dirty (Baby, would you eat that there snack cracker in your special outfit, please?) but it’s silly and fun.
Linus and Lucy– Vince Guaraldi: a classic
Like I Love You– Justin Timberlake: I had to throw the kid a bone and include ONE performer her peers might also be listening to.
Bar Lights– Whiskytown: While a song about bar lights and how they shine in the liquor bottles won’t show up on an Raffi cds, it’s lovely and I think you’ll like it. It’s last, so maybe your daughter will have given up listening by now.
I’ll be happy to burn you a cd. (You know, just so you can give the songs a quick listen before you run out and purchase all the ones you like.)